Dancing on the Edge projects new ideas with Inheritor Album
Once upon a time, when dance troupes started experimenting with multimedia, videos were almost always projected on a screen behind the dancers.
But now a bold new collaboration by the 605 Collective and hot young L.A. artist Miwa Matreyek is showing just how far projected moving images have come, and how innovatively they can be integrated into a dance work. In Inheritor Album, Matreyek’s animation surrounds and plays off the dancers with projections on both the floor and the walls. A pile of bodies sprouts giant, twisting roots that turn into limbs, or crawling dancers leave smudges of black as they drag across the floor.
The 605 Collective’s Josh Martin says rather than relegating the video to the background, his company is fully embracing it in Inheritor Album, which is broken up into distinctive “tracks”. “Sometimes it’s interactive, sometimes the dancer just lives inside it [the animation], sometimes dancers leave the stage and it’s just animation, and sometimes it’s just dance,” he tells the Straight over the phone, soon after the work’s premiere at Ottawa’s Canada Dance Festival and right before it headlines this year’s Dancing on the Edge festival (which runs from tonight [July 5] to July 15). “The animation is all around the dance—you’ll see it framing the dance or the dance has caused something to happen.”
The work is a major new step for the troupe, which is known for its explosive, urban-influenced movement. Inheritor Album has meant moving onto a larger stage—in our nation’s capital it was at the esteemed National Arts Centre, and here it’ll be at the Playhouse—and up to a new, multisensory level. The movement, influenced by everything from hip-hop to martial arts, has become bigger too, Martin reports: “On a smaller stage it would have looked like we were half dancing.”
The collaboration happened after the 605 Collective met Matreyek at San Francisco’s Left Coast Leaning festival in 2010. Matreyek was there with her own performance work, in which she inserts her shadow form into projected animation, creating an illusory world. In past pieces, her silhouette has stepped across the screen, spurring the sprouting of coiling ferns wherever she set each foot, and the shadows of her hands have turned imaginary book pages and set off rays of magical light. Matreyek had collaborated with theatre troupes, but the 605 immediately saw the potential for dance.
“When I think about our work, there’s something very electronic about it and yet we try to make it human at the same time,” says Martin, whose score for this work pulses with club beats. “And it’s kind of the same with her: she’s using all this technology to do it, but the end result is this warm and rich experience where it’s coming naturally from her body.”
Reached at her home in L.A., where she’s just returned after an appearance at a theatre fest in Paris, Matreyek saw similar potential in collaborating with the Vancouver dance troupe. “When you see their work, even though it has a bare stage and it’s very minimal, the way they dance feels cinematic—it feels like there are things that they’re dancing in the presence of,” she explains. Matreyek saw that she could give those imagined “things” form.
To understand how groundbreaking her meld of performance and animation is, it’s important to understand where she comes from—and why she’s in demand at everything from film festivals to tech conferences in cities as far-flung as Santiago and Istanbul. She credits her education at CalArts (the California Institute of the Arts), a school that puts animators alongside dancers, musicians, filmmakers, and visual and theatre artists, for opening the doors for her to other forms. But the live-performance element always came naturally to her. Echoing Martin’s comments about her work, she says, “Even when I was making a short film, I always put myself into my animation: I would put my hand in as part of a machine or something—I always liked having that physical, visceral side to it.”
Matreyek travelled here twice to work on Inheritor Album with the 605, talking extensively with the group about imagery they wanted to use: roots and family trees reflecting the idea of “inheritance”, say, or repeating circles of life. Then, as you might imagine, came the logistical nightmare of working those images around the dancers’ lightning-fast forms. Matreyek says she videotaped the dancers’ movements and then replayed them as she created her projections; there was “a lot of measuring involved”. The idea of projecting from far away, from the ceiling, limited the palette to stark black and white. “We had to simplify it, but that ended up being a good choice because you don’t want it overbearing the dance,” Matreyek says.
As for the troupe, the animation lent the piece a technical side that was challenging to the extreme.
“Everybody told us, ‘Oh, you’re going to try projection? It’s really hard!’” admits Martin. “So we knew it was going to be tough, and it was even tougher than we thought, even knowing that. But in the end, it was just about getting the right people in the room to show us how we had to do it. It was such a great learning experience.”
You might guess—given how challenging the process has been—that the troupe might not be as eager to integrate moving video in the future. Quite the opposite: the 605 is now hooked on multimedia, a form that seems to suit the way its work so often samples and comments on our wired world.
“After going through this ‘torment’ you want to, knowing what you know, have another crack at it,” Martin says with enthusiasm. “I feel like, knowing Miwa’s talent, we only scratched the surface of what she could bring to a live dance show—we didn’t even get to use her to her full capacity.”
Inheritor Album is at the Playhouse on Friday and Saturday (July 6 and 7), as part of Dancing on the Edge.