TJ Dawe's The Fugue Fugue reimagines life in the digital age

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Boca del Lupo knows what it is to think big. Past productions have found its performers swinging from the trees in Stanley Park or inhabiting makeshift condos beneath the Granville Bridge; cast numbers can run into the double digits, and audience participation is often encouraged. But there’s another side to the inventive troupe, as Jay Dodge explains from the East Vancouver warehouse that it shares with its fellow experimentalists Neworld Theatre, Electric Company, and Rumble Theatre.

“Sherry and I have been invested in the form of microperformance for a number of years,” he explains, referring to the company’s co–artistic director Sherry J Yoon. “And we’re interested in it as not smaller versions of larger pieces, but in what can be accomplished only in an intimate space. That can include use of technology in a more immersive way, or because intimacy is part of the content of the piece, or any number of other things, I suppose.”

In the past, those other interests have included claustrophobia and confinement: Boca del Lupo’s Performance Art Trap collaboration with Radix Theatre involved one-on-one encounters inside large cardboard boxes, while The Voyage, about illegal immigrants, took place in a steel shipping container—in the dark.

Physically, then, the first offering in Boca del Lupo’s 2014 Micro Performance Series, TJ Dawe’s The Fugue Fugue, seems relatively conventional: it’s set in a theatre and features a single performer talking to the audience, aided only by projected images. But for Dawe, a long-time Fringe-circuit favourite known for his wildly adventurous rants, it’s an intriguing opportunity to explore a more condensed presentation, while using technology to examine technology’s impact on human consciousness.

This 20-minute multimedia show, Dawe explains, looks “at the way the onset of the digital age has kind of turned all of our lives into fugues, in that we’re very commonly involved in multiple communication threads at any given time, on different digital platforms, sometimes on different devices. And at least my creative life is very contrapuntal: I’m always working on a handful of different projects with different collaborators in different places. And I might work on a number of them in a single day.”

Fittingly, the occasional guitarist continues, the initial idea for the piece came when he was attempting to explain the fugue, as a musical form, to a nonmusician friend.
“Even as the words were coming out of my mouth,” he notes, “I realized, ‘This is so convoluted that there’s no way she understands what I’m saying.’ So I asked her, ‘Does this make any sense?’ and she confessed that it didn’t.”

Intrigued, Dawe searched the Internet and found a YouTube video that uses animation to show how the independent melodies of a fugue also interact with each other to create a larger form. That video is now both the model for The Fugue Fugue and its starting place; from there, Dawe goes on to expand on parallel and intersecting modes of consciousness, while the visuals become ever more disconnected from his words.

The idea is to reimagine life in the digital age—which, perhaps counterintuitively, Dawe is not entirely opposed to. “There’s no denying that Internet addiction exists, or that it’s easy to use all this technology to just wallow in endless distraction,” he admits. Yet he’s convinced that digital media—even television—can sharpen the brain.

“We’ll jump between these stories and keep all of these networks of relationships between different characters afloat in our minds, and we don’t even think it’s unusual,” he says, referring to the way that TV drama is now serialized rather than episodic. “So this is basically an examination of that: how that plays out in my life, and how it’s playing out through society altogether. And also the fact that this isn’t new: it goes back to Bach.”

The Fugue Fugue runs four times a night at the Anderson Street Space on Granville Island from Thursday to Sunday (February 13 to 16).

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