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Flash Review 2, 1-18: Techno-Dance
Sweet "Suite Devo" from Troika
By Vanessa Manko
Copyright 2002 Vanessa Manko
NEW YORK -- The New York City performance
venue Here has established itself as a purveyor of hybrid performance -- that
which combines elements of various art genres, creating entirely new forms. Culturemart
2002, Here's annual winter festival of hybrid performance, is full of artists
exploring the possibilities of this sort of interdisciplinary work. What makes
this festival even more noteworthy is that all of the featured artists are, as
the program explains, in mid-career and taking part in Here's Artist in Residency
Program (HARP). The festival includes hybrid performance forms of dance, media,
theatre, music, and performance art. Troika Ranch, which combines the choreography
and visual artistry of, respectively, artistic directors Dawn Stoppiello and Mark
Coniglio, brings its particular brand of hybrid performance to this year's festival:
interactive media dance, a genre that is changing the way we view dance and most
especially how we think about and experience dance.
For the uninitiated, inter-active
media dance, as envisioned by Troika, is far more then choreography performed
in front of a series of computer-generated images. Rather, the dance and the technological
aspects of the scenery are geared to interact. Dancing bodies control the performance
environment through sensors. The images and sound that make up the scenery, then,
are not merely passive props meant to compliment the choreography. Instead, they
are integral parts of the choreography and vice versa. In short, dance and technology
are engaged in a symbiotic relationship where each benefits from the attributes
of the other. The result is a cohesive relationship between the dancers and the
technology and allows for dance audiences to experience technology through a highly
I am always fascinated by this particular
pairing of genres because, for all sense and purposes, it seems a highly unlikely
union. Technology, and the information age in general, has continuously moved
us away from all things corporeal. We now live in a cyber-culture, and experience
things in virtual time. Yet dance takes place in real time and is intrinsically
reliant on the real flesh and blood body. So it is pleasantly surprising to see
choreographers exploring what types of relationships can be formed between dance
and technology and even more interesting when a choreographer doesn't view technology
as a threat, but rather, sees it as an experimental-dance ally. Such is the case
with the work of the Troika Ranch company.
While Troika Ranch's "Suite Devo"
is certainly a deft example of interactive media dance, it is more then just a
sample of this type of hybrid performance. It is a witty and sly series of dances
set to a catalogue of the techno music of Devo. A vigorous and ambitious work,
"Suite Devo "is full of athletic dancing: lunging, reaching, cartwheels, single-handed
springs from the floor, and high-powered jumps and leaps. And throughout this
cheeky work, there is something very reminiscent of (dare I say) early MTV. In
fact, at times it seems a parody of '80s rock music videos, with club dancing
references strewn throughout and coy, teasing looks at the audience. But the smart
choreography of Dawn Stoppiello saves it from getting too campy.
With two large screens placed upstage
and dancers donning ridged helmets and the uniform-like costumes by Akiko Sato,
"Suite Devo" gets off to a high-energy start. The four women who open the piece
are also pictured on the two screens. What ensues is a sort of competition between
the actual dancers and their life-size flashing-image counterparts. The screen
images picture the dancers clad in simple white bras and underwear, dancing amid
such urban spaces as New York City sidewalks, the steps of what looks like the
Metropolitan Museum of Art, and, most visually interesting, in front of a graffiti-covered
wall. The flashing images bombard the audience and allow us to see each movement
sequence in constant instant reply. The choreography becomes dissected; we get
to watch four dancers extend into a develope again and again. These images are
quite powerful and have the intense, yet disorienting, effect of strobe lighting.
A particularly interesting and whimsical
section of "Suite Devo" was a duet performed against the backdrop of New York
City buildings. The dancers seemed to literally float through the air, dancing
from building to building. There was a great sense of movement in this section,
a sense of going or traveling somewhere. A simple outstretched arabesque or lift
seemed to suggest that the dancers were using the cityscape as their playground.
But irony was not absent from this section of "Suite Devo" either. The dancers
moved swiftly from partnering to playing air guitar. However coyly the choreographer
decided to tell the audience it was time to put on the 3-D glasses they'd been
given when they entered the theater, what didn't work as well as one had hoped
in this section, was the 3-D effects. A single head emerges from the screen in
3-D and mouths the words to the song. Rather then complimentary, I found this
distracting and felt it almost took away from the pleasurable effect that the
real dancing couple and the moving images of the cityscape had. Perhaps it would
have worked better if the 3-D image was of an actual dancer.
Towards the piece's climax, a dancer
wearing the simple white bra and underwear of the earlier screen images, dances
herself to exhaustion. The solo is a constant crescendo of movement. And while
this solo dancer drops to the floor, the same energy level she establishes continues
on into the finale. The dancers in "Suite Devo," including Stoppiello, Danielle
Goldman, Lisa Herlinger Thompson, Kim Reis, Michou Szabo and Sandra Tillett are
all strong and capable performers with excesses of energy and distinct stage personalities.
In some ways, "Suite Devo" is almost
too large a piece for such a small performance venue as Here's black box theater.
Troika offers so much to take in that the eye needs more of a stage, and perhaps
some distance, to absorb it all. Yet, despite this minor drawback, the energy
level of the dancing, combined with the challenging visual imagery, made "Suite
Devo" leave a powerful statement in the minds of its viewers about the kind of
visceral effect that can result from collaborations between dance and technology.
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