By Holly Fetter
When I first meet the Chocolate Heads crew they’re backstage, buzzing with laughter as they do their pre-show warm-ups. They carry that energy onto the stage as they flutter out the door and into the spacious Roble Dance Studio.
The driving beat of a tUnE-yArDs song fills the room as dancers prance across the floor. People are doing sprints, stretches and spontaneous dance moves as the tech folks adjust the lights and prepare the soundboard. I’m scribbling a description in my notebook: “hipster frat party meets colorful kindergarten classroom.”
We unite in a circle, holding hands, and as we sway back and forth, take turns declaring our role in the production. The choreographer and director, Aleta Hayes ‘91, starts speaking in an exaggerated British accent. I’m holding the hand of a homeschooled eight-year-old who loves linguistics, literature and astrophysics.
This is an unconventional rehearsal for an even less conventional performance. The Chocolate Heads Movement Band is an interdisciplinary group to say the least — Hayes prides herself in incorporating multiple art forms into her super-funky dance troupe. Their latest show, “Red Shift,” epitomizes the Heads’ unique approach to performing.
The show is about dark energy and dark matter. It “exploits the principle that gravitation brings matter together and dark energy forces matter apart.” I see you, humanities majors — don’t worry, you’re invited too. As their press release states, the group incorporates “themes of repulsion, attraction, distance, proximity, isolation, community, enmity and anomie into the piece.” It’s a perfect blend of science and art, successfully transcending the techie/fuzzie divide.
What sounds like an extremely ambitious project is actually a provocative performance that’s unexpectedly concise — wraps up in under an hour. Part astrophysics lecture, part dance show and part poetry slam, this piece is quintessentially Stanford. Dance can be hard for some of us to access, but this particular performance draws us in with its use of poetry and prose that complements the dancers’ movements.
It demands our attention, too, as it challenges our perceptions of performance. This dynamic show brings us into the process, asking us to constantly change our perspective on the piece as the dancers move on and off stage from all angles, the musician creates his tunes alongside the performers and a multicolored mobile spins just outside the traditional borders of the stage.
Music is an integral element of this piece. Freelance musician Ben Juodvalkis provides a live electronic score that is an exact reflection of the dancers’ versatility. He and the performers effortlessly glide between bass-thumping hip-hop beats and ethereal synthetic strings.
The dancers are incredibly skilled, but they never look stiff or restrained — their movements are both fluid and precise, and they truly seem to be enjoying the performance. Their movements are simultaneously scientific and sensuous, as they explore the mystery of physics. They turn the vastness of the universe into something intimate, creating constellations and clusters that display the interconnectedness of our galaxy and the real beings within it.
This sense of collaborative empowerment extends beyond the stage. Janani Balasubramanian ‘12, one of the members of the Chocolate Heads, tells me that she digs the “more than democratic” motto of the group.
“Everyone’s a Chocolate Head,” Balasubramanian said.
It’s that camaraderie and equality that attract performers and viewers alike. The audience can sense that these dancers are part of a unified collective with a shared artistic vision, and we, too, become a part of the show.
The Chocolate Heads will be performing “Red Shift” Feb. 3 and 4 at 8 p.m. in Roble Gym, Studio 38. The show is free and open to the public.