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A Fresh Take on “Brave New World”

Dancers move in unison to portray the uniformity regulated by the government in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”
Dancers move in unison to portray the uniformity regulated by the government in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” By Amy Y. Li
By Nicole T. Sturgis, Contributing Writer

With a series of 12 interconnected dances, the Harvard-Radcliffe Modern Dance Company channeled Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” to demonstrate the oppression that results from a lack of individualism and creativity. The show performed in the Loeb Ex from April 6 to April 8. Although Huxley wrote “Brave New World” in 1931, Harvard-Radcliffe Modern Dance Company’s adaptation expressed the relevance of its themes today through costume, set design, and emotionally expressive dancing.

The dancers’ near-identical outfits reflected the novel’s exploration of the suppression of individual identity. With each dancer moving in synchrony with all the others, the dances evoked an eerily extreme collectivism.

The show also followed the book’s timeline. In the beginning, the dancers showed no signs of rejecting or questioning of the status quo. They seemed perfectly content acting and behaving the same, wandering around the stage with deliberate and robotic arm gestures. However, in the dance titled “FOOLS,” the dancers began to run in place with exaggeratedly long strides and their arms pumping, signaling a desire for change from the monotony. Moreover, in several of the dances from there on, the dancers reached through the torn fabric projection screens as if they were looking for something more. Finally, in the last dance, an individual broke away from the group as the others watched. Ultimately, the dancers executed this dance very well, effectively showing that thrashing against the state without real purpose will not be successful.

Student dancer performs against projected images of international riots and rallies.
Student dancer performs against projected images of international riots and rallies. By Amy Y. Li

The show further relates the novel to the present through its political messages, clearly demonstrated in two dances. “America Divided” opens with an empty stage and a recording of Trump’s infamous speech about illegal immigration as pictures of the subsequent riots and rallies were projected onto the torn fabric screen. The haunting, voice-only music compounds the drama displayed at the dance’s opening. Particularly moving was the ending, as the dancers retreated from the stage to Justice’s song “D.A.N.C.E.”

A piece titled “who i am” was a poignant depiction of the alienation experienced by the central characters in “Brave New World.” The dancers emerged with strips of duct tape covering their mouths and their shirts. Each had a demeaning label written on the tape, ranging from “stupid” to “fake.” As the dance progressed, the dancers removed the tape from their mouths and their shirts, literally shedding the inflammatory comments. Underneath their shirts, they all had “me” written on their stomachs, as the music chanted “I feel lovely just the way that I am” from Sara Haze’s “Lovely.” Rejection of an unsatisfying status quo is a central message in Huxley’s book and beautifully represented in this dance. Overall, the choreography that went into this dance maximized the emotional response brought about by the choice in costume. The shedding of the negative labels moved the plot along so that the characters finally showed signs of rebellion against the state.

Overall, the Harvard-Radcliffe Modern Dance Company produced a nuanced exploration of themes of emptiness, loneliness, and repressive collectivism that both reflect on Huxley’s novel and connected it to the present day.

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