Dirty Dancing

“My body speaks to me in rhythms…”

Residents in Eliot entryway D may think they have members of Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk dancing in their basement.

“It’s all about the attitude—the attitude must be there every time!” Choreographer Katie O’Brien ’04 claps her hands to keep the beat for the dancers. The tap is both precise and funky. As a tap section closes, four urban step dancers, choreographed by Jenn Hawkins ’04 use the ground, every part of their body and clapping to complement the pulsing rhythm of the tappers. The energy in the room is contagious.

When Ex-Rated, a completely original show conceived and directed by O’Brien, Adrienne Minster ’04 and Ryuji Yamaguchi ’03, storms the Loeb Experimental Theater this weekend, it will not be as simply a dance show but an all-around audience event.

Past all-dance shows Against the Grain and Perpetual Motion were successes in the A.R.T. mainstage, but the creators of Ex-Rated felt dance wasn’t utilized by Harvard and the HRDC enough. Performed in the round, with a dance center and stadium seating on four sides, “Ex-Rated” is sure to be a new experience for anyone at Harvard.

Breaking away from the tradition presidium stage style of past dance shows gave the choreographers a chance to “play with the space” says O’Brien. “We get to utilize dance, music and tech to transform this even, four walled room into a different space with a different feel for each piece.”

“Two audience members can sit in different seats in the room, and come out with two completely different but 100 percent purely correct interpretations of what they saw,” says producer Dan Hoyos ’03 as he leans forward intently. Hoyos emphasizes that Ex-Rated “always has something in motion, even during intermission…the variety of dance styles gives the show its universal appeal, not to mention its dynamism. Some pieces may elicit fear, laughter, or shock—we’re not sure what the visceral impression will be for the audience until showtime.”

Ex-Rated begins with a modern piece choreographed by Shelby Braxton-Brooks ’03, utilizing not just dance but kazoos. The piece transitions into Suzanne Jenkins’ ’03 lyrical dance of two women who mirror each other’s movements perfectly as they glide across the stage to the sound of a live five- piece chamber orchestra. Aaron Tanaka ’04 and Natalya Davis’ ’04 hip-hop inspired dance is next. The music, provided by a bassline and Neal Ellingson’s human beatbox, appears to act as a puppeteer on the dancers, dancing as if completely controlled by the music. The first act closes with Hawkins’ and O’Brien’s dynamic tap and step number. After a short intermission, the fun will start up again with a piece by award-winning choreographer Tina Tanhehco ’04. Entitled Toys, the dance explores gender issues through the role reversal of a typical strip club. Seven men are objectified by three women, dancing in response to the women’s orders. Director Ryuji Yamaguchi’s introspective dance follows, and director Adrienne Minster’s closes the show with a jazzy finale.

“I would say we have the top choreographers at Harvard…each is so good at what they do,” said Hoyos. As a producer, he strove to provide a “platform so every choreographer could be as creative as possible, without being encumbered by the technical aspect.”

Because of the obvious creativity and mix of styles, it’s hard to classify each piece in the show as a certain genre of dance. Each choreographer came into the show with different strengths and training, and they ended up inspiring each other. Performing in the round challenged the choreographers to manipulate angles and levels to make their dances interesting from every angle.

To O’Brien, the mix of choreographers acted as inspiration. “This is a totally uncouth, brand new way of thinking about dance. Each choreographer took his or her particular style and, in a sense, messed it up. We challenged ourselves and each other.”

The choreographers also benefited from a strong cast of 25 dancers with a broad range of training and style. “You get totally different perspectives from the cast because of the wide variety of background,” Hoyos says. Tanhehco reports of her dancers, “It is rare to get to work with many male dancers, and I feel grateful to be able to work with men who wouldn’t usually associate with the modern dance community.”

Tanhehco’s piece Toys has generated considerable buzz in the Harvard community. Inspired by her own observations of men disrespecting women, Tanhehco co-collaborated on a script with Abby Fee, Joe Small and Pippi Kessler. The dance is largely improvised; Tanhehco strove to give her dancers creative freedom, offering tips on motivation, focus and blocking. “I thought it might be interesting to deal with the issues of female exploitation by placing men in their shoes. At first the piece was a fluffy sort of examination of exploitation with women yelling commands at men in a giggly fashion, but suggestions from two of the dancers influenced me to want to make the piece have more weight and a clearer message about the sexual inequalities that still exist in terms of power and exploitation.”

One of the women who reads the script, Sasha Weiss ’05, feels the dance is especially relevant to the Harvard community. “Dance is a great medium to explore gender issues, especially at a very traditional, patriarchal school.” Tanhehco agrees: “I hope that this piece might make people think more about the way women are treated at parties or club situations as well as in general, and also show that there is still a need to think about the inequalities that exist …This isn’t something that happens only in certain areas. This is at Harvard just as much as it is elsewhere.”

All the dances are performed to an original, live score, directed by Matt Corriel ’05. Visible to the audience throughout the show, the musicians are just as integral to the dancers. Clearly the musicians share the co-creative atmosphere of Ex-Rated. “Developing music and dance at the same time is a challenging process,” says Ryan Blum ’04 as he warms up his bass. In his 10 years playing, Blum says he has never been a part of such a unique show. “The mix of music got me involved—during the show I play chamber music, Jewish folk music and hip-hop. It’s a new thing for me as a musician.”

Hoyos laudits the 15-hand technical crew for the “seamless transistions” of music, dance and production. “You could hand our tech crew anything and they will find a way to put it up…the show is nothing without them.”

So what does it mean to be Ex-Rated? “Challenging, fun and interesting,” says dancer Dusty Lewis ’04 as he warms up for his hop-hip dance. “The show weaves together a mélange of not just dance, but music and general atmosphere created. Ex-Rated is original and ambitious in its scope.”

Ex-Rated will be performed in the Loeb Experimental Theater located in the A.R.T on Brattle Street on Oct. 18-19 and Oct. 23-26 at 7:30 pm, and Oct. 20 at 2:30 pm. Tickets are currently sold out, but there will be a wait-list starting at 7:00 pm the night of every show. Ticketholders are asked to arrive promptly by 7:30 to ensure their seats.

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