‘Brave New World’ performance brings dystopian vision to campus

Four decades ago, Wichita State Director of Dance Nicholas Johnson was asked how he would depict the birthing labs from the beginning of Aldous Huxley’s highly influential novel “Brave New World” in a live performance.

His answer was simple: do it in water.

It never went anywhere at the time, but that small kernel of an idea sat in the back of Johnson’s mind for years until he decided to turn “Brave New World” into a fully-formed, campus-wide dance production this year.

“It’s been stewing in my brain for a very long time,” Johnson said. “It’s incredibly modern and very innovative.”

The production ran through most of last week and invited the audience to roam between the swimming pool (or birthing lab, in this case) in the Heskett Center, the dining area of the Rhatigan Student Center, the Shocker Hall courtyard and the exterior of Hubbard Hall. Each area depicted a different aspect of Huxley’s hierarchal, passionless world.

The major conflict in the novel involves a non-conforming outsider finding himself at odds with a futuristic society. Johnson said the dancers’ performance across the WSU campus was designed as a parallel to the theme of society being interrupted by something new.

“We’re entering into their space entirely on the WSU campus,” he said. “We’re like the savages visiting another world.”

Johnson said the biggest challenge for the production was figuring out how to tie that theme into the choreography. When the dancers depicting the “outsiders” entered each scene, those playing the regular citizens had to use body language to react with no verbal cues.

“How do you say that in dance?” Johnson said. “That was probably the most difficult part for me to convey to the choreographers.”

Senior Garrett Welch was in the audience Friday, and said he is familiar with many of the performers in “Brave New World.”

“I had heard a lot of buzz about it — that it was going to be something different,” Welch said. “That they were going to be not in the normal theater setting.”

After the show, Welch said he specifically enjoyed that aspect of the performance.

“I liked the fact that you would walk around and see it in different areas because it made it more special,” Welch said. “It got the audience out of their own heads a little bit.”

Sophomore Noah Montgomery was one of the dancers in the swimming pool segment. He said bringing that world to life made the pool feel like a different place entirely.

“It felt so real,” Montgomery said. “It’s a little bit creepy.”

Montgomery also said that, while incredibly bizarre, this performance is one that he will remember.

“I didn’t really know what to expect at first, because this is kind of a huge undertaking,” Montgomery said. “It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever performed with.”