When a blind date becomes performance art

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To connect to another person means to let yourself go and to give in to the dance. In Yokohama, Japan, as part of an experiment, a writer goes on a blind date — eyes literally blindfolded — and has two options: whether to deny the pull of a stranger’s arms, or to let herself move to the music. Illustration by CARINA SANTOS

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — I was running late for a blind date. Nervous and angsty, I tried to make my way through the cold streets of Yokohama, following the directions on a map only the Japanese could understand. This wasn’t just a blind date. It was also a show, a one-on-one performance, an experiment.

It’s “blind dating with body movement,” where two strangers are blindfolded then led to each other to co-create a “dance piece” with each other. The experiment by Michele Chung, called Move to Meet, seeks to find what would ignite an experience between two strangers. If contemporary art is supposed to act like a mirror that reflects the current society we live in, what would this piece say about me? What does it say about us that people would willingly take part in a dating experiment they knew very little of, just to take a stab at finding true love?  

When I finally got to the small cafe filled with people, I was sweating despite the four-degree weather. There was a woman cooking by the counter. I showed her my ticket and asked her what to do next. She led me to the back where there was a blindfolded woman standing at the edge of the room, with a really long piece of red string tied around her wrist. I was asked to put down my belongings and before I could ask what I was supposed to do, I was blindfolded, and the red string was tied around my wrist.

blinddate1.jpg Move to Meet is “blind dating with body movement,” where two strangers are blindfolded then led to each other to co-create a “dance piece” with each other. The experiment by Michele Chung seeks to find what would ignite an experience between two strangers. Photo by SAMANTHA LEE

“I should have asked for instructions,” I thought to myself as I stood still, waiting for something to happen. I started to think about whether my belongings were safe, or if I wore the right clothes for the camera. Suddenly, I felt a pull coming from the string. I pulled my hand back out of impulse, but the pull kept getting stronger. I tried to stand my ground as I listened to the clinking of the utensils coming from the diners behind me.

The red string of fate is an old Japanese legend that believes that each person has a red thread that connects one person’s heart to another. The two people tied together by this thread are supposedly destined to meet, no matter how far apart or how different their lives are. The symbolism of the color of the string, which was tugging at my wrist, wasn’t far from my mind.

The force from the other end of the string became so strong that I couldn’t not move — so I did. I took a step forward, and another, and another until I bumped into her — the person I was supposed to “dance” with. She grabbed my arms and put them around her waist. The Carpenters’ “Close to You” started playing on cue, another reminder that we were not alone, that people were watching.

The red string of fate is an old Japanese legend that believes that each person has a red thread that connects one person’s heart to another. The two people tied together by this thread are supposedly destined to meet, no matter how far apart or how different their lives are.

As someone who usually shies away from physical contact, to say that this experience was uncomfortable would be an understatement. As the song progressed, so did the dancing. My partner was determined to lead me through a series of twists, turns, and lifting. I spent the entire span of the song intent on standing as still as possible. With each new and bizarre move, I told myself that I would pull off the blindfold and walk away. But then I heard the clicking of the cameras and the hushed conversations taking place around us. I felt pressured to stay, to see this thing through, even if it wasn’t making me happy.

When the song ended, she disappeared. I tugged on the string in the hopes that I would lead her back to me. But there was resistance on the other end. I decided to keep pulling on the string until she found her way back to me, but she never did. I decided to let the string lead me to her. I spent a few minutes bumping into wooden chairs and tables until I felt her on the floor. I wondered if I was doing the right thing, if this was a part of her plan all along. It struck me as something so characteristically myself, that I would look for something I was desperate to lose.

I pulled her up from off the floor. She wrapped her hands around me but I didn’t return the embrace. We stood like this for a while. Letting everything sink in. I wondered about how we looked to the people watching. It never really felt like we were alone.

After a while, my partner took my hand and led me to an empty chair. When she pulled off my blindfold, I found myself seated in front of a table with a copy of “The Little Prince” in front of me. She took a seat on the opposite side. She pulled off her blindfold but our hands were still tied together by the string. She took the book and opened it to a page with a passage that said:

“‘You must be very patient,’ replied the fox. ‘First you will sit down at a little distance from me — like that — in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day ...’”

blinddate3.jpg An iPad displaying a video recording of the performance sits beside a copy of "The Little Prince." Photo by SAMANTHA LEE

As a waiter arrived to serve us each a bowl of curry, he also put down an iPad that started playing the entire performance back at us. As someone who hasn’t been in a committed relationship in a while, having to sit through a meal with someone I just “broke up” with was a daunting experience. I couldn’t look her in the eye so I pretended to be really interested in the video of our performance which was also painful to watch. I couldn’t stand seeing myself so stiff, so stubborn, so unaccommodating, when my partner was doing everything she could to get me to make a move — a highlight reel of everything I did wrong.

In another world, I would have let her lead me into the dance. I would have let every movement, every pull to guide me into what I was supposed to be doing. I wouldn’t have cared if there was an audience. I wouldn’t have been distracted by the smell of curry cooking. I would have been the kind of person that would so willingly take part in a performance art piece in front of strangers in a foreign city. I would have let the art been a proper reflection of the self I thought I was.

After a few more awkward moments of nothing happening, they told me I was free to go. I hastily gathered my things and bumped into a girl on the way out. She told everyone that she was 20 minutes early but that she was there for the next performance. The waiter told her to take a seat, because they needed time to finish setting up. I already knew she would perform better than me.

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“Move to Meet” is part of TPAM (Performance Arts Meeting in Yokohama) Fringe, a space for emerging artists in Yokohama and Tokyo to discover new audiences. The experiment runs from Feb. 12 to 16 in Taisei Po_Chi, Yokohama, Japan. The member organizations of the Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama 2017 Executive Committee are The Japan Foundation Asia Center, Kanagawa Arts Foundation, Yokohama Arts Foundation, and PARC - Japan Center, Pacific Basin Arts Communication.