With new work Suffix, Julianne Chapple dances along the line between tech and the human body

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      For her new show, Suffix, dance artist Julianne Chapple is stripping the seating out of the Scotiabank Dance Centre’s theatre and turning it into a sort of open gallery.

      “There will be chairs if people need to sit, or cushions if you wanted to lie on the floor. I thought of the ideal experience as an audience member,” she says with a laugh, sitting at a café a block away from the venue. “Viewers will have a lot of agency about where they want to go in the space. I do find it very claustrophobic sitting in a regular theatre.”

      It’s fitting that the black-box space will resemble a gallery: Chapple and visual artist Ed Spence will be filling the space with installations and sculptures. Those include a big, rolling, shiny metal ball, triangular metal wedges, and a curvy cage that the dancers will interact with.

      It’s all part of Chapple’s deep exploration of our fast-paced technological advances and the way they’re affecting the body, whether it’s through physical enhancements or the quest for immortality.

      The seed for the work was a creative stint that Chapple and Spence spent at 33 Officina Creativa in tiny Toffia, Italy, in 2012. The isolation there, working in a medieval church without cellphones or Internet, made her think about the way technology affects our lives. She and Spence also spent time in Rome, looking at the work of Italian futurists—an art movement that would influence his smooth, geometric sculptures.

      “Futurism happened during the Industrial Revolution, and it was all steel and machines and war and misogyny,” she says. “Ed and I talked a lot about how digital technology is really the big change that’s happening in our generation.”

      Antonio Somera performs in Suffix.
      Andi Mcleish

      Research back home, supported by the Dance Centre’s Iris Garland Emerging Choreographer Award, has led Chapple even further into advances in technology and so-called transhumanism. “A lot of Silicon Valley billionaires are investing a lot into life extension, and there are a lot of really weird things being done,” she says. “Life extension is where it’s all heading.”

      Those ideas influenced a central installation in the show, in which each dancer’s “physical archive” is eerily displayed on a lightbox set atop a wooden plinth. The performers had a death mask created, a dental mould made, and a DNA sample of their choice—hair, toenails, blood, or other contributions—immortalized in clear acrylic balls. “They’re very committed performers,” Chapple says of dancers Maxine Chadburn, Francesca Frewer, and Antonio Somera, then adds with a smile: “They’re bringing me their pee and blood.”

      The creation process required Spence to fabricate his sculptures early, so the dancers could begin experimenting with the pieces, which are tactile yet coldly futuristic-looking. “They had to be built to take weight and be durable,” Chapple explains, “so the performers can be rough with them and interact with them as they would with other bodies.”

      Chapple is known for her surreal movement, and that definitely will play out in Suffix, as limbs intertangle and move with metal. “I’ve been getting them to treat the body as you would an object separate from the mind,” she explains. “I’ve asked them to be so focused on their own tasks that they’re kind of dissociating from the environment around them. It’s kind of scary!”

      Adding to that sometimes chilling atmosphere are tall, rodlike LED lighting and the haunting soundscapes of the Wolves & the Blood. Chapple herself will take the stage to oversee the action for this ambitious piece—her first full-length and her first endeavour under the name of her new company, Future Leisure.

      “I’m around,” she says. “I’m just going to be taking care of the space and taking care of time—and I’m making sure nobody gets run over by a big metal ball.”

      What can viewers glean from entering this world of art, technology, and human forms? The messages are sometimes dark, sometimes ambiguous. “There are a lot of good things and bad things that could come from this,” Chapple says of our race to merge technology with our bodies, “but there’s a risk of losing something human.”

      Future Leisure presents Suffix at the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Friday and Saturday (October 26 and 27).