story | Michelle Lee, Staff Writer
photo | Joshua Vargas
R21 , a multimedia dance production, was held on Feb. 1 and 2, 2020, and it aimed to spark a conversation about the silence that accompanies acts of sexual violence in our shared spaces. It was a collection of emotional responses from members of the Yale-NUS College community. The dance production was co-directed by Crystal Low ‘20 and Tay Jinghui ‘20.
How ‘R21: Multimedia Dance Production’ began
Low said that “The trust in our community has been breached by acts of sexual violence occurring on campus grounds. Collectively, we have yet to do enough to support the survivors. While we castigate perpetrators in our community and sympathize with the injustices experienced by the survivors, we often only express and talk about these attitudes in private.” At Yale-NUS, we enjoy a great degree of freedom of speech. But why do we silence ourselves on the topic of sexual violence on campus?
R21 is an attempt to create a platform for everyone to openly acknowledge the impacts of sexual violence on the victims. Directed by Low and Tay, the performance was initially conceived by a larger group of individuals involving the dancers and choreographers.
When R21 was first thought of, knowledge about a recent case of sexual violence was circulating the campus. But only a vocal minority talked about it and the majority was silent. This gave Low greater conviction that R21 had to be done. R21 assumed the form of a dance production, offering a non-aggressive way to express ideas and emotions.
“I met my closest friends through dance and since we all share a strong love for dance, I was motivated to further explore our relationship with dance and how dance can be used for purposes beyond ourselves,” said Low.
Tay added, “While the production started off from a place of anger, it evolved as we explored the topic and reflected on our positions as silent and passive community members.”
Along with dance, R21 was accompanied by multimedia such as audio, video and text. This grounds the abstract form of dance to film and text, giving more clarity to the message R21 brings across.
Though sensitive, administration gave support
Sexual violence is a sensitive topic. Despite this, the team did not run into problems in receiving approval from the College administration. The administration was more concerned about the logistical and financial planning involved to make R21 happen. However, they managed to receive sufficient funding from the Arts Spaces Committee and the Dean of Students Office.
“I felt confident that we would be able to bring the production to completion in a manner that did justice to our community and I was also ready to hold my ground if we had received any pushback from the school because I strongly believe that the arts should not be censored, especially if there is proper research and care taken into creating the work,” said Low.
Though sensitive, the College community gave support
When the call for dancers and production team members was made known, concerns came from members of our community. Questions were raised on how R21 would represent sexual violence and whose perspective would be adopted to make it. In response, Low and Tay assured that they would only represent their feelings and their capacities as members of our community.
Tay knew that it was impossible to accurately represent the experiences. It would also not do justice to a survivor-centric production. Instead, R21 adopted the perspective of a community member.
To get another perspective on R21 before practices began, they contacted Andrew McGeehan, Associate Director of Residential Education, who looks after sexual misconduct discipline on campus. Mr. McGheehan is also in charge of Kingfishers for Consent (KFC), a program led by DOS to build a culture of consent on campus. Mr. McGeehan gave advice on how to prepare the audience such as using trigger warnings and having trained people on duty during the shows.
The R21 team also conducted internal dialogue sessions about the aftermath of outrage, the role of third parties and ways that the community can support survivors.
Dean’s Fellows, Residential College Advisors and members of KFC were also invited to full dress rehearsals to offer feedback.
“We put in effort to have some preemptive measures put in place because we are well aware that we are dealing with a sensitive topic, and also put in effort to establish connections with the relevant groups so that our efforts were not isolated from our community,” said Low
So what now?
Now, even after the R21 performances are over, Low still wonders how and what else can be done to sustain the conversation. While worried that R21 has not created enough space to engage the entire community, she hopes that our community does not stop talking about sexual violence.
“Our biggest hopes for R21 are centered on sparking change and it is important for us to be involved in this conversation because this is about us,” said Low.
You may check out ‘R21: Multimedia Dance Production’s’ event booklet here.
R21 will also be having a dialogue session after the production and will update the school after the details are finalized.