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Flash Review 1, 9-10: Flow
Surprises and Fusions from high-tech Troika

By Peggy H. Cheng
Copyright 2001 Peggy H. Cheng

Troika Ranch, known for its use of interactive digital media and technology, opened the new season at Williamsburg Arts Nexus (WAX) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn this past weekend. I arrived on Friday night for the program, excited to experience innovative technology at creative work. Founded and co-directed by Mark Coniglio (Music and Interactive Media) and Dawn Stoppiello (Choreography), the company strives to bring life to media and technology through its interaction with the performers.

The first piece of the evening, however, purposely kept the level of media low. "Flowing of Honey" (2000) is a duet choreographed and performed by Dawn Stoppiello and Anthony Gongora. The two dancers seemed to negotiate between connection and disconnection with each other and the world around them. The latter half became much more engaging, expressing the moments of contact, unison and separation, in tightly-woven movement and choreography. As sounds from a small boom box on one side of the stage played independent of the stage speakers the dancers began to move through their various moments of connection and disconnection more aggressively. The atmosphere felt alive as the performers began to move the air and use the space, aware of the other body even when not connected in any physical way. This led me to believe that they were finally arriving at a point of being "ready for the end" (spoken aloud as both question and answer by the dancers during the dance) as opposed to stuck somewhere in the middle. Afterwards, reading the press release, I find out that the dance is in fact about how the "two dancers shed technology and turn to text and movement to explore mortality when faced with a chronic disease." For me, this chord was struck most clearly in the last part of the dance, through movement and choreography.

The premiere of the evening was entitled "Reine Rien." Four dancers are outfitted in MidiDancers, interactive costumes that have sensors at the elbows and knees, allowing data to be sent from the sensors (through radio transmitters) to a computer that interprets the movement information, then creates the sound and video score. There is a feeling of extreme formality and austerity; dancers move mostly alone, and with stiff, straight arms and legs. We begin to see more and more of the interactive technology of the MidiDancers at work as the dancers begin to move with more physicality, ensuring that the elbows and knees are bending and sending sensory data to create sounds. This direct link between the mechanics of the body and the creation of the soundscape and video images was very interesting to observe, although I felt my observations were cold; I interpreted the dance as very careful and plotted. As with the duet, I felt that as the piece picked up in physicality, so did my engagement with the work. The costumes by Katrin Schabl/Miche.Kimsa, which concealed the wires of the sensors, were gowns of subdued jewel colors, one-shoulder bared in a open, slitted sleeve, lined with velvet, and beautifully evoked a picture of lonely queens solemnly walking through large, empty halls.

"She is Not a Fictional Character," noted as a First Version in the program, was a solo for Dawn Stoppiello. The dance begins with a moment which took my breath away: Stoppiello holds a television in a swing contraption to one side of a pendulum swing; as the lights come up she lets it loose in a swooping curve and then leaves the TV to swing back and forth in the upstage space for the rest of the dance. An image appears on the telvision screen: A beautiful blue sky with fluffy white clouds in clear, crisp air. The costume, by Akiko Sato, was made of some kind of shower curtain-like material, in a pale gray color, resembling a girl's play smock, or jumper. This solo was filled with mysterious gestures and stirring and rippling arms. It left me with many questions. Stoppiello is a wonderful dancer, moving with excitement and coolness in this solo.

As a grand finale to the whole night, and certainly a grand way to end the evening, Troika Ranch gave us the First Version of "Suite Devo," a thoroughly fun dance to classic Devo tunes: "Jocko Homo," "Beautiful World," "Jerkin' Back and Forth," "Gates of Steel," and "Through Being Cool." The Troika Ranch company arrived on stage in true Devo fashion: in the conical, ribbed devo hats and askew zippered jumpers by Akiko Sato. A big, happy, visceral celebration of the fun and funniness of Devo, this dance was the party. "Suite Devo" can also boast some exciting video, and the opportunity for audience members to get one step closer to the fun by donning 3-D glasses. Troika Ranch continues Thursday through Sunday at 8 p.m. For more information on these performances, please call 718-599-7997.To read more about Troika, please visit its web site.


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