EDIT: I orinignally wrote this in my first week of university, about a month ago, but I put off posting because I wanted to seek permission from the choreographers first. They;ve kindly given their consent for me to share this, so enjoy.
So, if you don’t already know from my social media updates, I have just started studying for my degree in dance! I have just finished the welcome week- Week 0- and I can’t wait to bring some of what I’m experiencing to this blog.
I’m going to write more about coming to university from a personal perspective soon, but first I really wanted to share an experience I had as part of the Welcome Week.
BEFORE I DESCRIBE THIS EXPERIENCE— This was something that was as special and enlightening as it was because we went in without knowing what would happen, and without preconceived notions about how we would react. h2 Dance is taking this immersive performance to: Woking, Colchester, Norwich, Peterborough and Nottingham soon- check out the tour dates and venues here. I really urge you if possible to go and experience this for yourself BEFORE you read this post! Knowing too many details before hand will definitely corrupt the experience for you, so please do book, tickets are very affordable and in many cases ‘pay what you can afford’ events. It’s honestly not to be missed.
If you aren’t able to experience the performance first hand (or if you already have!) please go ahead and read about how I found it…
We were timetabled for an interactive performance on Wednesday morning- we had been together as a cohort of students for two days, but had yet to really interact with one another very much. We went in as almost-strangers, not knowing what to expect, as the timetable offered no description.
We began outside the room by leaving our bags and our shoes behind. We were given headphones which blocked outside sounds and played an eerie, fluid and otherworldly soundtrack. It was hypnotic at times, and at others jarring.
We nervously entered the performance space- in this case, the studio theatre at our university.
There was atmospheric smoke and the room was dark apart from some green lighting. We were told through the earphones that we would be given instructions, to which we were invited to follow and we could choose how to respond.
It was immediately apparent to me that some people were receiving different instructions to others, as some began to walk, whilst I had received no such instruction. The experience began with moving around the space, exploring and noticing who we were with. The instructions eventually led us to begin to interact with one another. The differences in people’s instructions and how they responded to them created some very interesting interactions and different arrangements in the space. We moved around in pairs or groups, we formed lines, we touched each others’ hands, heads, backs, hips. We looked into one another’s eyes, we led others around the space or were led, and we chased or ran away from one another. At different points we were in two lines facing one another, in small or large groups, in pairs, in a circle, a diagonal line, and stood against the wall around the room with some in the middle. Every part of the space was used, and we explored many of the physical levels available to us, with the exclusion of lifts or jumping. These situations occurred in many varying combinations, being created by chance as people interpreted each instruction, which was choreographically very interesting.
I was uncomfortable from an early point as I don’t like physical contact with others, but sitting with this discomfort and choosing to follow the instructions felt very cathartic to me. As the instructions caused us to become more personal, I refrained from some movements, but was surprised by my own openness to participation.
As the 75-minute experience wore on, the instructions became increasingly uncomfortable. We were requested to order ourselves by age, by skin colour and by class. We were asked to react if we had claimed benefits, or earned a certain amount. We grouped ourselves by gender, sexuality and status. We were asked to make judgements of one another, and to point at, go up to, and interact with people who we thought might be defensive, intolerant, poorer than us, or less powerful than us. I and many others refrained from some instructions which felt wrong to follow. Meanwhile, we could never be sure when others were hearing completely different instructions to ourselves.
At one point, some of us were asked to go up to someone we thought was defensive, and to put them in a corner. I looked around and decided to refrain from reacting, as I didn’t feel I could possibly make that judgement of anyone in this room as we had had almost no interaction. However, someone who was hearing the same sets of instructions as I was, who I had not met yet outside of this space, approached me and put me in the corner. I was surprised at how emotional this made me feel. I felt hurt and unduly judged, and I actually became defensive as a result. We were instructed to step back three times, and I walked forwards instead, feeling strongly that I did not belong in that corner.
As we explored and interacted, the soundtrack and lighting changed to create different atmospheres. It was truly surreal, as though we were suspended in this space where we were entirely vulnerable and entirely outside of the real world. Towards the end, we ran from each other, struggled, dragged one another, led people around with eyes closed, and lay flat on the floor with our eyes closed whilst the lights flashed and changed in a disorientating way. The flickering lights made me feel as if lots of people were walking by me, close to my head.
After we exited the space one at a time, there was a lot to talk about! Many people didn’t like the personal nature of many of the instructions as we were asked to reveal things about ourselves, and make judgements about others. I felt we bonded as a group through the experience, and we were all surprised by what we discovered about one another and more so about ourselves. I would have liked to really discuss the experience as a group, but we left it behind to continue our timetable for the day.
I have been thinking about the whole experience a lot ever since, and how I see myself in the world and in relation to others. I think that this would be an excellent way to carry out sociological or psychological experiments, perhaps into obedience or concepts of status or perception of self or others. I am now keen to seek out more immersive performances to participate in, and I encourage everyone to do this. I think I am going to go again if I can, because as dance students we were a very similar demographic. I’d love to experience the same thing with a group of strangers who are all different from one another.
Let me know in the comments if you have participated in this performance or are going to, and any other immersive performances you have been involved with. I’d love to learn more!
P.S. I have very big and exciting news coming up next week so please do keep an eye on all of my social media channels- you won’t want to miss this!