Dancing Students Take Yard

At exactly 1:03 p.m. yesterday, a funky jam began to blare in front of the John Harvard statue in the Yard. Within 10 seconds a crowd of at least 40 was circling a cluster of rainbow chairs, dancing freely in an enormous game of musical chairs.

This “spontaneous moment of joy” was the brainchild of American Repertory Theater’s new Artistic Director Diane M. Paulus ’87 and A.R.T. Artistic Fellow Allegra Libonati, but was executed with the help of dozens of unknowing participants strolling through Harvard Yard yesterday afternoon.

Paulus is spearheading the A.R.T.’s “EXPERIENCE THE A.R.T.” program, which “seeks to revolutionize the theater experience through a sustained commitment to empowering the audience,” according to the A.R.T.’s Web site.

“The goal [of yesterday’s performance] was just to bring some life into the Yard and make people talk,” one of the event’s instigators, Lexis B. Ross ’13, said.

Earlier this year, a similar event called the “Human Rights Theater Happening” invited students to engage in performance art at a human rights reception at the Harvard Faculty Club.

Participants from that event received an e-mail a few days ago from Libonati, seeking “instigators” for a “spontaneous moment of joy.” These volunteers in turn advertised the impending event through mysterious e-mails with messages inviting students to “join an undercover mission to create a 15-minute spontaneous, unexplainable, random act of joy.”

Rebecca S. Goldstein ’13, tipped off by one of these e-mails, cautiously approached the John Harvard statue at 1:00 p.m. yesterday. Within minutes, the musical chairs party was in action.

“Everyone I talked to right before said they were just there to watch, but then pretty quickly they all just joined in the dancing,” Goldstein said.

She said she thought the event challenged conventions about what constitutes art and simultaneously challenged stereotypes about Harvard being a “stuffy place.”

The party’s playlist included tracks such as “Hit the Road Jack” by Ray Charles, “Brick House” by The Commodores, and “Lollipop” by Mika.

At the end of the 15-minute game, scores of spectators watched as Libonati awarded the winner free tickets to “The Donkey Show,” an interactive, dance club-inspired rendition of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” co-directed by Paulus.

As the crowd in the Yard yesterday began to disperse, one runner-up yelled “Reset!” in the hopes of sparking a second game. Although the participants continued to trickle out, Ross said Libonati and Paulus would like to facilitate many similarly random occasions in the future, not only at Harvard but in the greater Boston area as well.

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