Taking your experience for mine conjures the ghostly traces of our lives online
Choreographed by Sara Coffin. A the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Friday, April 29. Continues April 30
There is a moment in Sara Coffin’s clever, multimedia new work when two dancers move with one hand cupped out stiffly in front of them, each with her eyes fixated on her palm. In one simple gesture, the young Vancouver choreographer has captured the body language of a world wired to smartphones. And it’s a perfect example of the way she’s somehow able to communicate virtual ideas through the visceral.
The piece is at its best when it’s least literal. The opening finds two dancers pretending to be live bloggers talking into webcams; at other moments, dancers pose for instantly-projected photos of each other and performer Jacinte Armstrong races to describe a frenzied series of YouTube clips. But most of taking your experience for mine inhabits a more intense, kinetic territory where the multiple screen imagery (designed by Andrew Hawryshkewich) enhances and deepens the themes of technology’s effect on our existence.
At one point, the four female dancers (Armstrong, Julia Carr, Meghan Goodman, and Amanda Sheather) race around the stage to Phil Thomson’s trippy electro-beats. They are tapping, reaching, pulling, and moving the invisible—like cursors flickering frantically around the stage, never interacting, in a physical metaphor for the way technology has amped up the pace of life. In one of Coffin’s characteristically witty touches, the frenzy ends suddenly with the hanging monitors jamming up in system overload.
In another more sublime sequence that comments on our diminishing ability to connect directly, one dancer interacts with the projected image of another performer instead of her real self. It’s hauntingly gorgeous when she cups the projected apparition’s moving head as it lolls back onscreen.
But the piece has no stronger moment than its ending, in which the arresting Armstrong dances in the dark with live video projections of three ghostly, Norman McLaren-esque images of herself onscreen. It’s rare to see video this well integrated into a dance work: Armstrong is literally partnering with her own moving form. But it’s also a poignant sequence about the traces we leave behind us in a wired world. Will our digital remnants outlive us? Can we have any meaningful identity these days without some kind of virtual presence?
It was something to think about as you raced home to check your Facebook—and a sign Coffin is capable of going deep behind the shallow surfaces of social networking.