glow: critter conflict @ PuSH

alex ferguson

Kristy Ayre, Glow

Kristy Ayre, Glow

Kristy Ayre, Glow

There’s something sub-human about her. There’s a woman down there on the floor below us, but genetically altered, injected with the genes of a tadpole. Or maybe the DNA of a newborn lizard. Yes, she’s just coming into being. She’s seems to be trying to figure out how to use her limbs. She’s shaking, reaching, rolling and then suffering spasmodic contractions. She can’t get off the floor. The floor, in this case is a pale, bluish-white rectangle set in the middle of the black box of the Scotiabank Dance Centre stage.

With every twist of the lizard-woman’s body, an outline of shadow-light traces her figure and changes shape with her. It seems to be a projection coming from above, but a projection activated by her movement. It’s very responsive: she rolls—it rolls, she reaches—it changes shape. It’s like an LCD halo conferred on the woman by the god-mind of a computer program whose eye is a surveillance camera. Wherever this twitching, spasmodic, humanoid moves within its elastic halo, it is always kept at the point of two bisecting lines of light, which have the ominous look of the cross-hairs of a rifle scope.

This is a new kind of dance partnering. I’ve seen other attempts to fuse dance and technology in ways that allow human body movement to automatically generate audio-visual response, but Glow takes it to a higher level. The software developed by Frieder Weiss allows the tracking system to respond instantaneously to dancer (Kristy Ayre and Sara Black in alternate performances) with sophisticated video imagery that superimposes itself on the dancer and floor in black and white geometrical, or amoeba-like, patterns. In one of my favourite sequences, the dancer makes extended sweeps with her limbs that generate spyrographs across the floor. Moving in another direction, a new graph overwrites the previous one, which is fading, creating a beautiful overlay of fan-like blooms.

There is an attempt here by choreographer Gideon Obarzanek to explore the theme of human versus software or, to put it more precisely, to investigate the dehumanizing threat of over-technologized environments. In this sense Glow is both pushing the limits of human-technological interaction, while cautioning against its potential abuses. The woman herself seems to be struggling either to control the technology, or to free herself from the metal-white projections that delimit her movements by putting grids or ropes of light around her. Sometimes her face contorts and she lets out little screeches that might have issued from the beak of a half-strangled tropical bird or a chattering monkey. Or maybe this is the sound an insect would make if its clicking apparatus was enlarged to human scale.

I’m feeling these possibilities stronger now than when I saw the show. To be honest, for all its technological brilliance, I found it hard to connect to Glow. The vocabulary of the floor choreography exhausted itself pretty early on. Maybe this is due to a limitation imposed by the technology. But even though the dancer generates the video display, she seems almost incidental to it, to a demo for the software. Prior to the show, Obarzanek told us that this was a first attempt at integrating his choreography with a new technology. So, fair enough, it may be that this is just stage one—an experiment to see if the technology is responsive. What’s missing is a genuine choreographic investigation, a developed theme or movement idea. Hopefully we’ll get that next time. At the moment the partners in this duet don’t have much to say to each other. Well maybe that’s because one partner is a software program and the other is a subhuman creature wondering what kind of world she’s been birthed into.

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

Alex Lazaridis Ferguson is a theatre artist based in Vancouver. He writes plays, acts, and occasionally directs. He’s also a founding member of the performing poetry ensembles, AWOL Love-Vibe and VERBOMOTORHEAD. His writings on theatre have appeared in publications such as Canadian Theatre Review, The Boards, Transmissions.

© Alex Ferguson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

7 February 2008