LENS AS MUSE

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The show hasn’t started yet, but a little parade of dancers plods across the stage and out the door. With their brightly colored bobbed wigs and feet slapping against the floor in shuffling, toddling steps, they seem like little aliens trying to figure out the world, exploring a wire, a curtain, a chair with comically wide eyes. I want to follow them around, see where they’re going. Luckily, that’s exactly what’s about to happen.

Photo by Jim Coleman.

Jordan MacIntosh-Hougham’s Bad! Bad! Bad!, the first of two works in the split bill glitch, is a humorous and human exploration of hyper-performativity in a world where cameras are ubiquitous and sharing our lives online is encouraged, if not demanded. The dancers act as camera crew, allowing us to follow them in intimate detail.

As the show starts, one dancer approaches a camera on a tripod pointed at the audience, shuffling up to it, then gleefully exploring what happens if they move it around, approach from different angles, make faces into it. As more dancers appear, they ham it up for the camera, all angular wrists and shimmying shoulders, shaking their heads so their wigs flip out, jumping up and down, seeing what happens when they come close to the lens, moving in and out of the frame. It’s like watching someone learn how to be a person based on YouTube videos. Or watching someone learn their personhood while on camera—over the course of the work, we as the audience get to see them grow and change onstage and through the lens.

The dancers commandeer and reposition the camera to show different angles projected onto the back wall. It changes the way we see the work—redirecting our attention to the parts of the dancers the camera chooses to follow. With dancers magnified and in focus, the camera highlights the differences in dancers’ expressions, the sharpness or softness of their gazes, the varying degrees of eye contact with the camera. In one duet, one dancer’s gestural movements are projected, while another dancer copies them, facing the audience, in unison but as if on different planes of existence. Another duet reveals more desperation and intimacy—dancers squishing each other’s faces, rolling on the floor, the camera pointed down at them to show them from above. There is something novel, but also slightly uncomfortable, about seeing these intimate gestures magnified to be larger than life. Occasionally a dancer pulls their wig off and back on again, and when we see their actual hair it’s like suddenly seeing them as a whole person. It draws the eye and creates a kind of vulnerability and intimacy that’s hinted at throughout the piece.

Photo by Jim Coleman.

Alex Nystrom appears towards the end of the piece in a pre-recorded video, un-self-consciously dancing, pulling faces, wiggling around, talking to themself in the camera. There’s a connection here to the way that artists turn so much of themselves and their lives into “content” for consumption. After a few minutes of this movement experimentation, they say, “You know, I just think I wasn’t ready for an audience.” This contrasts with MacIntosh-Hougham’s live appearance early in the piece, in which they are performatively self-deprecating, awkwardly thanking us for being there.

The last image is of the dancers out in the hall—they’ve left the theater and taken the camera with them—ecstatically waving, blowing kisses, gleefully jumping up and down, as they recede back through the hallway and out of frame. “Bad! Bad! Bad!” does problematize our relationship with the camera, but ultimately joyfully succumbs to its gratification and possibilities.

Video by Devin Muñoz.

Hope Goldman’s Dawn of an Old Age leans into technology as a source of possibility and discovery. With collaborator Andrew Moffat and a suite of equipment, the work showcases ways of integrating virtual or remote elements into live performance.

Dancer Kara Beadle stands solo upstage, lit only by the projection which shows, all around her, a 360-degree view from a camera out in the hallway, revealing the other dancers moving through the building. Paired with an industrial soundscape, the effect is eerie and claustrophobic, as well as slightly dizzying as the camera rotates, distorting the dancers’ images on screen. Their movements are carefully placed gestures; Beadle repeats them onstage as they surround her on the projector.

Part of the difficulty of this piece is that it’s not always clear who is manipulating what. I didn’t realize until I was halfway home, for example, that in this first section, a sensor on Beadle’s costume rotates the angle of the camera based on the direction she’s facing. In another section, the projected image turns into bubbles which dissolve onscreen, and it’s unclear why—is it her movement, or something else controlling it?

Photo by Jim Coleman.

The stage lights suddenly come on, and without the projection the space feels sterile and stark. The dancers eventually end up in a walking pattern that starts out seeming bleak and repetitive, but becomes hypnotizing the longer it goes on, morphing and iterating as they follow each other.

Then Beadle moves in front of a 3D rendering of calm waters under a bright sky. Over the course of the section the sun sets, the sky gradually becoming darker. The view of the scene rotates as she turns her body, and her movement generates “splashes” of black and white dots like little waves that kick up as she moves. It’s meditative.

Ultimately, the integration of new performance technology is the main focus of the piece, and the artistic intention gets lost in all the experimentation—there are hints throughout of the bleakness of mechanical sameness as well as themes of technology as possibility, but the overall arc of the piece lacks emotional clarity. I look forward to seeing what Goldman and Moffat make with the techniques they’ve developed in the future.

glitch was presented October 25-27, 2019 at Yaw Theater.

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