Shaun El C. Leonardo, The Orchestra of Failure

On Wednesday, April 10th in Ryan Gym artist Shaun El C. Leonardo created a work of performance art, The Orchestra of Failure.  The orchestra, made up of Leonardo, 13 Haverford students, and one professor, performed four movements: The Chorus of Boos, Five Gestures of Celebration, The Huddle, and The Suicide Drill.  Each movement was conducted by Leonardo, each meant to produce an elegantly stylized image of a sports ritual, and all were performed for the camera. Leonardo will take this footage and some elegant shots of Ryan Gym—the lights and windows and poignant decrepitude—and make a short performance film.

The final movement, The Suicide Drill, put the orchestra into motion and direct competition with the conductor: the orchestra ran four suicides using the length of the Ryan Gym basketball court: they began at one end, sprinted first to the free throw line and back, then to half-court and back, then to the opposite free throw line and back, then to the end of the court and back. Leonardo asked the orchestra to chant “Fail!” as the drill began.

About the performance Leonardo shared the following observations:

A former coach of mine once screamed, “If you are not getting better, you’re getting worse.” A simple statement at first glance, but one that ten years after my time on the football field still causes me to ponder. It proclaims that stasis or the quality of simply maintaining carries with it a sense of mediocrity, or worse, complacency—that being good is never good enough. I’ll let you marinate on that.

It’s two weeks after the Orchestra, and I remain incredibly impressed by how well the Haverford participants performed. Without any rehearsal they executed the movements with precision and energy. I’m sure the footage captured will develop into a stunning video piece.

I am happy now…. no doubt, but have to honestly say that immediately following the performance, I was left rather depressed. Nearing 33, although by all means still young, I am faced with the realization that I can no longer perform my own work. This is not an awakening of some sort. This understanding has slowly crept up on me. Nevertheless, each time this reality surfaces it is no less paralyzing. Of all the artists I know personally, I am the only whose physical waning not only effects the outcome of my actual work but also conceptually weighs on my practice.

I will never forget the intensity on the faces of the runners who challenged me and wish I could have pushed them further—not for me or my ego but for them. We should have run more. I failed at allowing them to fail.


Prof. Christian Ducomb
Daniel Feller ’13
Nick Galef ’12
Ashley Gangi ’12
Hannah Garner ’12
Geggy Kenny ’14
Peter Loewi ’12
Karl Moll ’13
Lee Muller ’12
Walid Nashashibi ’15
Aubrey Penney ’13
David Richardson ’13
Michael Rushmore ’13
Travis Taylor ’13
Miya Ward ’12

—John Muse