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Laura R. Coe ’23 immediately immersed her audience in a breakdancing gathering straight out of New York City streets in her senior thesis performance “Falling Together.” Coe — inspired by her ballet background and her newfound love for breakdancing — combined several styles of dance into one emotional and amusing production. From the moment audience members entered the black box theater, they found themselves as active audience members bumping along with the music or sometimes volunteering themselves to dance in the circle.
The first section of the performance included familiar breakdancing moves like head-spinning, handstands, and isolated movements. Coe and her dancing partners took turns “calling out” one another to join them in playful dance battles on stage. After a couple of funk and hip-hop songs, the performance transitioned to duets and solos where the movement became more fluid.
Using a style called “contact,” Coe’s dancers moved almost acrobatically across the stage while they intertwined and disentangled their limbs from one another. They supported each other with their bodies despite never grasping the other person’s hand. Coe described the dance technique as “having this relationship with the ground.”
Coe expanded on this technique, sharing that “in contact specifically, that [relationship] becomes transposed onto another body. And so there’s this confusion of ground and body and architecture of the space.”
An important part of Coe’s performance was honoring the space and the ground upon which she and her partners danced. She focused on light and sound rather than on physical scenic elements to call attention to the importance that the ground has for both dance styles performed.
Music was also an important aspect of recognizing the history of these dance techniques that Coe employed. Coe’s DJ for the performance, Elmer Martinez, wanted to stay authentic to the genre of hip-hop from which breakdancing is derived.
“The music is all based on different episodes of hip-hop music,” said Martinez. “I was trying to place things in cities … There are city soundscapes in there, traffic, and a lot of little nuances in the songs that maybe only I noticed. And then part of it was jamming. A lot of this [performance] was improvised and I wanted the music to feel improvised, so I’m playing live.”
Martinez’s spinning was indeed not the only part of the performance that was improvised. Isaiah E. Coleman ’23, one of the featured dancers said that the performance was “probably 98 percent improv[ised].”
For these improvisations, Coe had recruited dancers from Harvard Breakers as well as dancers she had met through Eleganza. In fact, the level of experience with the dance genres varied across the cast of dancers. Coe herself only began breaking when she first came to college, and Coleman was also new to many of the dance techniques.
“It was so cool being in a room where everyone is dancing to the same song but in different ways, and everyone is adding their own flavor. I was like a sponge just soaking it all in,” Coleman said.
During each part of the performance, the dancers took in each other’s presence. Whether they were letting themselves fall onto the back of another dancer or responding to a callout in a battle, the dancers embraced both the art form and themselves. Audience member Isaiah A. Osazuwa ’23 was so impressed he couldn’t begin to describe it.
“It was definitely amazing. Left me with no words,” Osazuwa said.
Coe wanted to borrow and add to the dance style of breaking, and she recognized her privilege in her ability to do this through her written thesis. She certainly highlighted the importance of honoring the history of the breaking and the people who created it. “Falling Together” transports its audience from the origins of breakdancing to its current embodiment in the diverse communities that it has touched. Coe created an environment so mutually positive and uplifting that even the audience joined in, head-bopping and two-stepping.
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