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Flash Review 2, 10-31: Cyber Dance in the Church
Random Dance at Danspace, UKinNY

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2001 Josephine Leask

NEW YORK -- One doesn't usually associate churches with cyber space, so for Random Dance, a company whose work is about new technology and virtual dance, St. Mark's Church, home to presenter Danspace Project, might have seemed a strange choice of venue. However, having seen the company many times in London, I felt that its New York appearance was a particularly strong one. St. Mark's is not a high- tech venue, and Random had adapted its performance accordingly, but the high ceilings, elegant architecture and the intimacy of the church seemed to show off the projections, virtual images and live performance to their best advantage. In spite of the downgrading, the dancers appeared confident and totally in the work from start to finish.

The company presented "The Trilogy," a culmination of several years work and three major projects which have all explored digital technology and movement. Random is one of the first British dance companies to have worked in this field, under the directorship of choreographer Wayne McGregor, whose interest in computer technology together with an idiosyncratic movement style has made him one of the UK's most popular choreographers. He has evolved a new technique for a younger generation of dancers whose liquid softness from a training in release techniques has been treated with an angular precision, then performed at speed to create a complex dance language that bodies of older generations could not articulate. McGregor has done to release technique what William Forsythe has done to ballet - taken it to a daring extreme, stretching the limits of the body.

"The Trilogy" is based on the components of Water, Fire, Air and Earth. Both the choreography and images seem to focus on how these elements merge, are broken down or mutate into different forms. A net cyclorama hangs between the dancers and spectator onto which are projected digital images. Behind the hazy mirage of the net curtain, the eight dancers appear and disappear in solos and groups joined by other virtual bodies as if on a computer screen. With the pulsating industrial sounds of zoviet*france and the fast, punctuated movement of the dancers, the atmosphere is one of intensity and suspense. The effect of the bodies in slippery blue costumes moving like androids in the dim lighting creates a particularly alien nuance which juxtaposes with the familiar spirituality of the church.

Next, a huge image of what appears to be a flame morphs into one dancer's body and signals the transition of Water into Fire. Now, bathed in brighter lighting and dressed in tight red body suits, the dancers resemble the crew of a spaceship. Their movements are purposeful and they work together as a team, as if their lives depend on it. To the loud ambient sound of crackling, two dancers appear stripped down to their underwear in a hot wash of light, as if in the process of burning out to some pure raw state. Accompanied by their virtual partners on screen, they seem to grow out of one another in an endless confusion of limbs.

As if a carbonized copy, McGregor himself appears in black, accentuating his long aerodynamic body. His brief solo, in which his razor-sharp long limbs seem to cut up the space, is as disturbing as it is striking. As he leaves, the net curtain separating us from the dancers falls and he drags it off like a strange alien bird of prey hauling its victim. We are left with images of membranes or floating amoebas that menacingly fly around the walls.

A radical shift in light, sound and mood takes us into the final phase of the 'Trilogy,' which includes Baroque music, baroque touches to the costumes and partner work, all still with the jagged aesthetic but softened with more human interaction and playfulness. This conveys the solidity of Earth although it is the earth of some futuristic planet, where elements of the classical clash with some reinvention of nature. Somehow, clearly visible for the first time, the movement loses some of its intensity, and the work becomes less unique. We are definitely out of cyberspace now.

The company was invited as part of the modest UK in NY season to bring a taste of British culture to New York, and I couldn't help thinking that its cool, detached, precise aesthetic had a particularly British look.

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