glow: analog passion, digital driver

meg walker

Kristy Ayre, glow, Chunky Move

Kristy Ayre, glow, Chunky Move

The sharp beams of light pulsing off her body are clearly digital, so a simple harmony is established when dancer Sara Black shuffles forward or swirls half-moons backwards in synch with the pulse of highly digitized music. The light often forms outlines that make the dancer’s movements seem liquid, erasing the stutter of a shuffle or a small leap. Other times Black looks like part of a video game, light shattering wherever it touches her edges. Glow takes place in a digital world created by Australian choreographer Gideon Obarzanek and German software designer Frieder Weiss. Highly sensitive video tracking software projects shapes in real time in response to movements below the lens. The images created this way are, in turn, read by the lens as well, allowing the dancer to manipulate the video world.

We are at the edges of dance technology and the challenge is to blend the fascination with tech and the meaning that choreography must provide. Fascination with sensors and the capacity for motion to generate real time sound and image thrives in gaming, new music and installation art. Audiences want to see what this new tool can, maybe can’t, produce. Glow satisfies that need but takes care, smartly, to create more than a software demonstration, partly by allowing the body be a familiar analog passion-maker as well as digital driver.

When a dancer shifts, rolls or twists inside Glow’s video environment, there are restrictions to work against. The tracking technology is most responsive to horizontal movements—to the points and edges the dancer’s body makes across the flat surface of the floor—and the technology creates shapes that are much more blunt than a body’s articulate arcs, angles or tremors. The choreography seems pushed towards horizontality because of these particulars.

A few times the work does feel like a demonstration, showing how many kinds of tracking this admirably sensitive technology can produce. Dark lines follow the performer’s outermost edges (finger, foot, elbow) as she dances on the white floor; there are dark shadows that only trace the dense core of her body; white lines that outline her silhouette like chalk against pure black. These effects are immediate and compelling, as if the light is magnetically attached to her. Most times the lines look about an inch and a half thick. In one passage they become very fine and the choreography is more focused on the floor, so when the dancer’s hands or feet land and the lines “stick” to them, it seems like Black is dancing inside an extremely stretchy elastic band. In other sections, the tracking produces smudged or delayed images. One passage becomes quite figurative: the dancer lies prone on the pure white floor and when she moves her arms up to meet above her head, soft grey blurs follow, slightly delayed. She looks like a child making angel shapes in snow.

This is where the choreography takes over from the machine. The dancer seems to roll over in shadowy snow, but then her body leaves dark tracks instead of gentle blurs and they, in turn, seem to rise and stalk her. Just when it appears that the show will be an intelligent but mostly pretty examination of software—just when Obarzanek has the audience used to this new “viscosity,” so to speak, of the air-and-light medium the dancer is immersed in—the dance suddenly moves into a struggle. It may be human against technology, or some struggle we’re not privy to, but Black breathes heavily, roars, hisses, screams: the analog body working with its own, ancient strengths. She returns to calm but the emotional arc is what brings Glow from tech study to art.

Clean, bright digital lines can create noise and tension but they can’t communicate this kind of visceral grit alone. In Glow, bodies shine and also decay. The contrast invigorates.

Chunky Move, Glow, concept, choreography Gideon Obarzanek, performers Kristy Ayre, Sara Black, concept, interactive System Design Frieder Weiß, music & sound design Luke Smiles (motion laboratories), additional music Ben Frost, costume designer Paula Levis; Scotiabank Dance Centre, Vancouver, Jan 31-Feb 2; PuSh International Festival of Performing Arts, Jan 16 – Feb 3

RealTime issue #83 Feb-March 2008 pg. 5

© Meg Walker; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

7 February 2008
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