Saturday, August 23, 2014

At the Culture Lab with Plastic Orchid Factory

Yesterday evening Richard and I, along with 15 or so other invited guests, were given a behind-the-scenes glimpse of plastic orchid factory's new work-in-progress, Digital Folk. The invited showing was the culmination of a three-week creative residency at the Cultch that involved an interdisciplinary collaboration between dance artist James Gnam, visual artist Natalie Purschwitz, sound designer Kevin Legere, and lighting designer James Proudfoot. The work also features the expert simulacral movement and air guitar skills of Natalie Lefebvre Gnam, Vanessa Goodman, Bevin Poole, Dario Dinuzzi, Jane Osborne and ... (I know I'm missing somebody).

As James explained in answer to a question from Dances for a Small Stage's Julie-anne Saroyan, and as Natalie put it in her email invitation to the showing, the work seeks to explore "the role that immersive movement and rhythm based videos games have played in defining a generation’s approach to identity, physicality, social dance and performance." James sees these video games as in many ways defining the folk identity of a generation of millennials who have become virtuosic adepts of mimicked musicality and movement (holy alliteration, Batman!), but in ways that paradoxically alienate them from a kinesthetic awareness of their own bodies in time and space, and that thrust them into an isolated feedback loop with the technology that then becomes an extension of themselves.

In what Saroyan usefully suggested was a "reverse engineering" of the video games themselves, we thus see in the 35-minute piece as it currently stands the dancers responding to different dance routines supplied by various immersive videos, before turning the cameras on themselves as, in a series of slow duets, they start to mirror each other's movements in more intimately responsive ways. We also see the six dancers call upon the arsenal of standard club grooves that gets repeated in many of these videos (fist pumps and hip thrusts and booty shakes) as they respond collectively to the same set of repeated instructions in digitally altered voice-over. A similar repertoire of rehearsed and stored moves is called upon by Dinuzzi in a standout solo to "Pump Up the Jam" that certainly made me see the Ballet BC company member in a brand new light.

There's a whole circuit (as it were) of additionally complex ideas at play in the piece, and it's gratifying to know that the Canada Council, together with the Cultch, is still willing to support this kind of research phase to the building of a piece--in which a lot of smart and talented artists can get in a room together and play. It was a privilege to be able to witness the results thus far, and I look forward to seeing the finished work.


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