Alexander Whitley Dance Company, Lilian Baylis Studio
A fresh new work by Alexander Whitley and his company is always something to get the blood pumping of dance aficionados. A premiere, in the Lilian Baylis Studio, exploring technology’s distant future and transhumanism promises to bring that blood to a boil.
So, the huddled masses of ballet’s vanguard march into the hazy black barn, moisture from the wet autumn evening still clinging to their hair and coats. Always attracting a crowd, the venue is full, and fidgety with expectancy. Three large screens are arranged in a line, with a corridor in between, the same size screens are in mirror formation upstage. No need for a set when you have projection and boy do they have projection.
Taking the Curious Incident mode even further we have a live motion capture system envisioned by Uncharted Limbo Collective (George Adamopoulos, Eleana Polychronaki, Chris Waters). The dancers spinning, swiveling bodies are mirrored, anticipated, and followed like a lazy shadow by moving artworks in various shades of monochrome. This is the piece’s UPS (unique selling point) and it is utterly mesmerising. Odd line-drawn figures look like an Egon Schiele painting, duet with the dancers like they are dancing with their own desiccated corpses. Figures comprised of smoke, and shuffling numbers move slightly slower than their human bases, the machine always fighting to keep up the flesh. Keeping our eyes fluttering, always flowing between real human dancers and the visuals and pulsating patterns.
Now I don’t know whether I’m showing my age. But do you remember when you bought a CD in the early 2000s? and played it on a computer? and got those strangely beautiful permutations of line colour and kaleidoscopic fluctuations. It’s a little like that, but made goth, and live.
Away from my Y2K moment, musically Hannah Peel & Kincaid make me miss my clubbing days (God I’m back at it). Thumping but theatrical techno clash and clatter, dance music but make it clever if you will.
But what of the dancers? Where are the people in this silicone-inspired, synthetic dream? Possibly the point, they are somewhat left behind. Stranded between the line of frames, their movements inform the projections downstage and behind them. Yet they are lost in the sea of binary code and flashing lights. Dressed in Juliette Ho’s black militaristic vests and mesh, with nubbins of sensors positioned at joints they look like they’ve jumped straight out of Blade Runner. Overall Whitley’s choreography is expansive. Swinging windmill arms are pivoted to give the projection mapping the best chance of latching on. The dances kept in the slit of space work in threes, swapping out (in blackouts) for the more effective solo pieces in the centre. Flanked by flashing shapes behind and their own digital reflection in front they are swamped and stuck in the matrix (you knew this pun was coming) of the technology showmanship around them.
Constantly changing visual wizardry contrasts with a rather shallow physical exploration. The dancers Joshua Attwood, Hannah Ekholm, and Chia-Yu Hsu energise the piece but feel trapped in the interconnected but limiting universe created. The two-dimensional frames impose a flat overall sense and like a ghost in the machine the concept although intriguing feels limited, not limitless.
So what future-finding show is on next in the Studio, Click here!