Friday, August 28, 2015

Fake Gems/"Like Lemon" at the Interurban Gallery

Last night I went to a party thrown by The Party, who are otherwise known as the artistic duo Kyla Gardiner and Layla Marcelle Mrozowski. Gardiner and Marcelle Mrozowski are both completing their MFAs in the School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU and, uniquely and somewhat amazingly given the normal bureaucracy of university administration, are collaborating on their final project. Gardiner is a director/lighting designer/scenographer (although she is so much more than this); Marcelle Mrozowski is a dancer/choreographer/performance artist (although she too is so much more than this). It might be best to call The Party stage conceptualists or, better yet, sensory fabulists: by manipulating bodies, objects, sound, light, space and time, they offer one an experience that is at once transporting and re-orienting. By that I mean that one is taken somewhere else at the same time as one is made to feel more present in, more aware of, the where of here.

In the case of "Like Lemon," the piece being premiered by The Party in the sweltering white cube space of the Interurban Gallery on the corner of Hastings and Carrall, this oscillating bodily and spatial perceptivity is initiated when four female performers already wired with head mics (Marcelle Mrozowski, joined by Deanna Peters, Rianne Svelnis and Lexi Vajda) gather together in the centre of the room, place white, semi-translucent sacks over their heads, and begin to move. Their motion is largely confined to their pelvic areas. They rock back and forth on their heels, or sway their hips from side to side, or drop to their haunches on the floor and rotate their bellies slowly and deliberately in a circle, or simply stand and undulate their legs and thighs. Occasionally the performers change levels and direction (although Peters always remained standing because, as she later told me, the floor was too dirty), responding to each other's bodily proximity--despite the fact, as I also later discovered, they couldn't see each other through the sacks on their heads. What the performers don't do is take any "steps," or worry about keeping time to the music--a deeply atmospheric electronic score by DJ Phoebé Guillemot. They move without moving per se, and it is this trick of relational being--or, rather, being in relation, both to each other, and to us--that is so mezmerizing and, dare I say, contagious. Over the course of the work's 45+ minutes, as one transfers one's gaze from pulsing body to pulsing body, watching in fascination as darker and darker holes seem to appear in the sacks where each performer is desperately sucking in air, one slowly and simultaneously becomes aware of the other bodies around one, and of how different pockets of the audience are moving in relation not just to the performance (it's hard not to begin some rocking or swaying motion of one's own), but to each other: leaning in, bending away, stretching up, ducking down and, yes indeed, actually touching. All those manifestations of besideness that constitute our being in this world together.

Not that there isn't also a score to "Like Lemon." It's just that it's a largely conversational one. Those head mics are affixed for a reason, as over the course of the piece's duration the performers don't just move together, but also talk to each other. It's not always easy to follow what they're saying, but constructing a narrative is hardly the point. To quote Gardiner and Marcelle Mrozowski's program blurb, the conversation is less about making sense than "sense making." Hence the one phrase--uttered, I believe, both near the beginning and end of the piece--that stuck with me: "sound is so hot." As coloured and shaded and stippled and, above all, warmly illuminated by Gardiner's lighting projections, the sound of this performance--by which, in the sensorially redistributive premises underscoring the work as a whole, I take to mean a total acoustic environment that encompasses not just Guillemot's music, the performers' voices, noises seeping in from the street, but also a synesthetic way of seeing-hearing-feeling--created a heat that superseded the actual physical temperature of the room.

While I unfortunately can't do them justice here, I should note that "Like Lemon" was preceded by two other engaging works that also played with space, time, and sensory perception. Daisy Thompson's "The Ongoing Wonder of..." featured Katie DeVries, Natalie Tin Yin Gan, Michelle Lui, and Ashley Whitehead moving to their own distinct rhythms and personal body scores, but also intersecting with, taking on, and sometimes taking over the movements of the others--all to the improvised violin and vocal sounds of Alex Mah. "Infinite Digressions" was a collaborative performance installation by Diego Romero and Jessica Wilkie that among other things juxtaposed successive mass manipulations of hundreds of tiny coloured figures from the board game Risk with the stationary dropping of one cigarette butt after another.

The Party definitely knows how to throw a great party.


Friday, August 14, 2015

Hakanaï at SFU Woodward's

It's been a while since I've posted. Following all of my dance activity (both the doing and spectating of it) during June and July, it's been a quiet August so far. Last night, however, I roused myself from my heat-stoked stupor and made it to SFU Woodward's for Hakanaï, an interactive dance performance and immersive digital art installation by the French company AM/CB (the initials of company principals Adrien Mondat and Claire Bardainne). The piece, which has one more performance this evening in Studio T, is being presented as part of the 2015 International Workshop on Movement and Computing (MOCO), itself an offshoot of the massive International Symposium on Electronic Art, which has taken over SFU Woodward's and various other venues throughout the city for the next week (see the cover of this week's Georgia Straight for more details).

Hakanaï features a lone female dancer (Akiko Kajihara) moving inside a translucent cube. Projected onto the outside of the cube are different black and white shapes, including a sea of floating letters of numbers as the audience files in to take their seats and awaits the start of the performance. As the dancer begins to move, so do the projections, responding to her physical gestures. Thus, for example, as the dancer lowers herself slowly from standing position into a low crouch at the top of the performance, so does the thin-lined square grid of light in which the cube is wrapped begin to descend and then disappear into the floor. A bit later on the dancer appears to raise with her hands thicker bolts of white, which to a thumping bass beat she then radiates horizontally about the cube. In these and other moments when the patterning of the projections was more geometrical I was reminded of the Jeff Bridges movie Tron, except in the case of Hakanaï it would appear to be the digital software responding to the body's hardware rather than the other way around.

Some of the projections are more fluid, constellatory and fractal-like, as with the sheer drape of connected lines and dots (molecules under a microscope, perhaps, or electrons interacting with each other in a superconductor) that the dancer sweeps this way and that and pokes rippling liquid holes into near the end of the piece. In these moments, when our perception is divided equally between the dancer's moving body and the projected images in motion Hakanaï succeeds brilliantly. By contrast, when the projections disappear and the dancer moves on her own inside the cube I found my attention wandering. The choreography, on its own, is not especially inspired and this is definitely a piece where our kinaesthetic imaginations are very much triggered by the complementarity and interactivity of real and virtual motion.

Following the conclusion of the 45-minute performance Hakanaï becomes an immersive installation for members of the audience, who are permitted--ten at a time--to interact with the visuals. I didn't stick around, as a massive line-up formed almost immediately. But I certainly understand the appeal. Who wouldn't want to experience that kind of gestural power--where, with the simple arc of one's hand, one can tangibly redistribute time and space? It's what dancers do everyday, and inside Hakanaï's cube everyone is a dancer.