The dance of the screen savers...

Chunky Move, Glow, The Studio, Sydney Opera House, 22 March 2007

Just a short post for a short performance. Perhaps lesser than even the 26 minutes of Glow. We'll see. This afternoon I've actually been making progress on the chapter, so I don't want to procrastinate for too long...

First up I'll admit that while I am interested in dance, I will always read it in theatrical terms. I can therefore in no way be described as a dance connoisseur, and look for meanings that exceed the visceral pleasures of abstract movements, no matter how well executed. And trust me, this was well executed on all levels of the performance and the mise en scene. And I'd really been looking forward to this one - I tried to get in while we were performing in Melbourne last year, but it sold out. And all the press was rapturous. I think that by now, dear cyberspace dweller, it will be clear to you that I am somewhat less than rapturous.

The set up is simply described: a solo female dancer on a white square on the floor engages in a a routine, rolling on the floor, creeping along on her hands with her legs extended forward, twisting and contorting within the confined space at a speed only a highly trained and highly skilled dancer or a demon-possessed individual can do. Above her is a video projector, and its throw fills the square and provides the only light source. The projected imagery is the product of a highly sophisticated motion capture system, tracking her shape, movement and velocity within the performing area and translating it into ghostly glows, shadows, and lines that precisely wrap themselves around her. The 'glow' of the title is produced by a computer programming set up, one that I shudder to think of the price tag for its r & d. But it does look great. Money well spent. I guess. Well better than the last round of defence purchasing (today's news is a threatened billion dollar lawsuit against the defence department by the dumped US contractor Kaman on the abortive Super Sea Sprite helicopter project, a $2 billion flushing of public money down the toilet already that might get even more expensive.... and they say the arts are a waste of public money?!)

We the audience are seated above, and look down on the interactive proceedings below us. Its a duet really, between dancer and computer programmer. But I couldn't help thinking of it in terms of the old Microsoft screen savers and generate random lines and patterns in ever-increasing complexity. In spite of all the skill, talent and technology, Glow just didn't grab me, even when it did a bizarre late gear change toward horror movie land with the dancer pursued by multiple living shadows that she made earlier and left behind on the floor. The shadows develop a life of their own and turn nasty for no apparent reason, and the soundtrack momentarily lifts a few bars from the horror genre as well. A moment genuinely frightening and quite funny at the same time, like the best of the horror movies, but one that sat oddly with the rest of the piece. Though I suppose that if you view the first half of the piece as a performance that tests out the technological interface, then perhaps the final section is the interface refusing to be tested anymore, and trying to take possession of the body whose movements it had been responding. Kind of The Grudge meets 2001: A Space Odyssey meets The Red Shoes.

For my money, as a piece of interactive technology driven performance Glow has neither the sheer interactive joy of Children's Cheering Carpet-Japanese Garden (Melbourne Festival 2006) nor the thrilling energy of Circa's time and motion studies (3 ball) (my review of that here). Motion capture and live interactive technologies show great promise for performance, but they require careful contextualisation and dramaturgical interaction. Glow while beautiful, did not for me exceed the decorative.


Geoffrey said…
Welcome to the blogosphere David. Congratulations! I look forward to dropping in regularly as I found your blog title and mission statement very much to my liking. Good luck!
David Williams said…
Thanks Geoffrey. Hopefully I can keep posting at an appropriate rate to maintain your reading interest.


fiona said…
As a late-dweller of Sydney, I will enjoy seeing the blue city through your eyes. Keep up the good work. Looking forward to V1.0's new work. Save me a seat!

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