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Synesthesia: Chocolate Heads explore art and culture


Courtesy of Tamer Shabani
Courtesy of Tamer Shabani

Folks from every corner of the Stanford bubble are gathered in Roble Gym doing jumping jacks set to synth-heavy trap tunes. Some students in sweatpants dance across the space, while others spit poems about station wagons and blond afros.


This is just a typical Wednesday evening rehearsal for the Chocolate Heads Movement Band, Stanford╒s most outrageous and innovative art collective. This deconstructed dance crew, directed by Aleta Hayes ‘91, invites musicians, artists, poets, DJs and designers to contribute to their creations.


And tonight, everyone is invited to become a Chocolate Head. At 8 p.m. in the Bing Concert Hall, the Heads will be joined by renowned jazz bassist William Parker in their annual performance. Despite the formal location, the crew will undoubtedly maintain their artistic irreverence, infusing the recently christened hall with their signature wild vibe.


The Chocolate Heads defy categorization, dancing at the intersections of genres, identities and histories. They transgress boundaries of musical genres, not afraid to mix a drum kit with a Japanese koto. Their dance styles are similarly diverse; the artists weave ballet into vogue into hip-hop without hesitation. The show is a powerful interaction of disparate styles, experiences and skill levels, resulting in not only an erasure of differences, but also a celebration of those differences as the dancers come together to create this new work.


Courtesy of Tamer Shabani
Courtesy of Tamer Shabani

This interconnectedness is reflected in the theme of this year’s show: synesthesia, or the dynamic between the world of sensory experience and perception. Different bodies, beings, genres and styles interact with one another, and the audience engages with these exchanges. When watching the Chocolate Heads, we become aware that these are more than moving bodies–these are real people with their own stories, experiences and knowledge. The Bing Concert Hall is well suited for this particular performance, as the vineyard-style seating allows for everyone’s perspectives to be included and affirmed.


Within the dance itself, the theme of synesthesia is embodied. The movements are synchronized, harmonious–even if they are distinct. At once, three bodies move together in unison as if part of some sensual machine, seemingly symbolizing the potential for production when we collaborate and interact across difference. And that is perhaps what makes the Chocolate Heads’ project so brilliant–itis a student-driven lesson in diversity, one in which dance moves replace buzzwords and the only texts are the lived experiences of the fellow artists.


Tonight’s show reminds us that art is crucial for progress and change. Throughout the piece, each dancer generates new modes of expression and empathy as they move upward, forward and outward together. As observers and participants, we leave the space convinced that the deep connections between beings are best expressed through music, dance and poetry.


The Chocolate Heads, with special guest William Parker, will be performing at 8 p.m. at the Bing Concert Hall. The show is sold out, but the box office will be giving away unclaimed tickets beginning at 7:45 p.m.