It’s an early morning for the Chocolate Heads Movement Band. Having heard little about their upcoming show, “The Fierce Urgency of Now,” I’ve come not quite sure what to expect. Still carrying the stress of midterms and life at Stanford, stepping into the Nitery Theater feels calming. Keenan Molner ‘15, the show’s lighting designer, has transformed the tiny venue into an almost ethereal reflective space. Tiny footlights surround the stage, a large square of white canvas is taped to the floor, and dancers are accompanied by a backdrop of moving water. After a warm welcome from the crew, Tess McCarthy ‘16, the show’s stage manager, calls places, and their tech rehearsal begins.
As I watch the piece this talented group has created, I’m struck by the interdisciplinary nature of their work. Two musicians sit at the side of the stage and play every song (a combination of electronic, jazz, and soul) live for the collective, and each dancer comes from a diverse array of backgrounds, majors, and artistic styles. Sitting in the second row, I can hear the sound of their breathing over the music, and am reminded of the hours of collaboration, energy, and production effort which goes into the creation of new work.
During intermission, Professor Aleta Hayes, the show’s director, explains that her process differs from that of many other artists. Part of Aleta’s larger project, “Performing Ambassadors for Social Good,” the Chocolate Heads Movement Band was founded in 2010 as a collective dedicated to exploring the role of dance in modern society. Their collaborative project, “The Fierce Urgency of Now,” examines the nature of movement in our every-day lives – what creates physical, emotional, and social movement, and how that movement can be channelled into something beautiful. “That’s what dance should be,” Aleta tells me when I ask her about the process leading up to this performance. “If doesn’t move you, if it doesn’t make you want to move, what good is it anyway?”
Formulated through her 2-unit class, “Chocolate Heads Movement Band Performance Workshop,” “The Fierce Urgency of Now” is devised entirely by Aleta and her students. Everything that has gone into this production – the music, the choreo, the narrative – has been created by members of the ensemble specifically for this performance. “Every year is beautiful because every year is different,” she tells me. “It always depends on who takes the class and what they want to contribute.”
As the rehearsal continues and they stop to troubleshoot each number, her focus remains on movement – the magic of the body navigating its way through open space. “See one another,” she tells her performers. “Feel your way through the space. Imagine it more liquidy.” Their movements are all self-choreographed, and are reminiscent of gymnastics, modern dance, contact improv, vogue, and even athletic exercises. “The content comes from the bodies,” she says. “My job is to direct that into a show.”
Though the show is, in part, inspired by the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Fierce Urgency of Now” does much more than attempt to reconcile art and politics through the means of “diversity.” Rather than feeding into the cookie-cutter narrative of inclusivity for the sake of diversity, Aleta strives to form an organic union of the diverse by creating art that is inclusive. At a time in our history and politics in which the legacy of Martin Luther King is constantly being evoked, discussed, and occasionally misrepresented, this ability to transcend the empty rhetoric of “affirmative casting” – which is often treated as a blanket solution to creating more diverse art, even here on campus – enables us to shift the conversation towards something even bigger.
“We focus so much on the PRL as a collaborative space,” Aleta tells me, “but this kind of work exists here too.” The continued emphasis on the importance of process in the sciences, but not the arts, is not a new theme for artists and teachers on this campus. But by taking the importance of the collective and integrating it into the work she does with students, Aleta and the Chocolate Heads have created one of the few opportunities on this campus for dancers to create work which extends beyond the limits of a traditional recital.
“The Fierce Urgency of Now” will be playing in the Nitery May 8th and 9th at 7:30p.m. Tickets are sold out, but a waitlist will be opening one hour before each performance.
Contact Madelaine Bixler at mbixler ‘at’ stanford.edu.