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‘figures;’: Harvard’s First Dance Thesis

Figures Production Still
Tiffany Y. Lau ’19 and Anna K. Antongiorgi '19 in a production still for "figures;" which premieres on Dec. 7.

Three years into its brand-new Theatre, Dance, and Media concentration, Harvard is celebrating another first: the first-ever senior thesis to take the form of a choreographed dance performance. Created and directed by Tiffany Y. Lau ’19, the show, “figures;” opens at the Harvard Dance Center on Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. and will run for the whole weekend. A showcase of all-original choreography inspired by both Lau’s experiences and those of her dancers, “figures;” sets out to explore the physicality of holding on, letting go, and connecting to others. With an all-student cast and production team, as well as a moving set complete with synthetic ice, “figures;” hopes to push the boundaries of student leadership and performance in dance at Harvard.

For Lau, the show’s theme of “groundedness” is a fitting synthesis of her many academic and artistic explorations over her four years at Harvard. Its inspiration includes everything from her research on the increasingly disembodied identity of her native Hong Kong to her personal experience leaving behind a nationally recognized figure skating career.

Those influences can explain some of the more experimental decisions Lau makes, particularly her choice to include moments of literal figure skating on special platform in the choreography. Conceptually, Lau incorporates the emotions associated with those experiences into the movement through the idea of “in-between structures,” the physical or personal things that tether us to the ground in moments of flux and change. “I want to see how through performance and performing identity, I can explore in the cultural and interpersonal sense the way people can find those connections that can enable them to navigate groundlessness and having identity taken away,” Lau says.

Because this is the first performance and thesis of its kind, faculty advisors in the TDM concentration are looking forward to it debut, which will also make particular use of its setting.

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“There’s an intimacy about the setting, and about the way that she’s thinking about dance as a non-verbal medium through which to talk about identity and belonging and the difference between those terrains in life,” says Harvard’s Dance director Jill Johnson, who serves as Tiffany’s faculty advisor. “It’s an invitation for an audience to come and experience that,”

The project is not only a personal one; the collective need to “hold on” transcends individual experience. For its audience members, “figures;” hopes to respond to that need by physicalizing an immersive, interactive portrait of groundedness, and be, as Lau puts it, “an invitation to connectedness.”

Correction: Dec. 4, 2018

A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that the dance performance "figures;" will feature giant synthetic eyes. In fact, it will feature synthetic ice.

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