Technology infuses new dance performances

March 3, 2011

Produced by Lucia Mauro

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(Photo courtesy of Mark Jeffery and Judd Morrissey)
From 'The Precession' on stage at the Hyde Park Art Center.

The internet is proving substantial material for artists trying to come to terms with the pros and cons of technology, and dance is no exception.  Two dance  performances examine how social media might be reshaping our collective consciousness. Dance critic Lucia Mauro brings us these reviews.

Live video feeds and sound collages make regular appearances in contemporary dance performances. Yet rarely is the technology the driving force behind the movement. Performance artists Mark Jeffery and Judd Morrissey seamlessly integrate dancers and a digital environment in The Precession. It’s a multi-layered piece that invites audiences into the Hyde Park Art Center’s gallery and catwalk to go on a journey through time and space.

The idea came from the artists’ visit to the Hoover Dam. They were struck by the two pre-modernist winged workmen sculptures flanking the Dam and the perceived merging of a large-scale labor endeavor and celestial matter. The workmen, you see, are seated within a complex celestial map. This map examines the notion of Precession, which refers to changes in the earth’s axis of rotation. It also singles out the position of the pole star, which is aligned with the earth’s axis. The sculptor had an intriguing futuristic intent: If extraterrestrials were to discover this map, they would be able to determine the date and time the Dam was dedicated.

Jeffery and Morrissey pull the idea together by having six dancers embody the earth on a tilt and, later, circulate around a professional fire twirler as the sun. The dancers are also positioned in relation to their individual star digitally projected from above. They’re even joined by a physicist giving a lecture. Then science and labor join hands. The performers, dressed as denim-cad laborers, don inflatable wings and move to opposite sides of the space. They recite text that they receive in earphones. These words are Twitter updates culled live from within a mile-radius of the Hyde Park Art Center and the vicinity of the Hoover Dam. So the performers themselves become a collective chorus of the people.

Spanish choreographer Fernando Hernando Magadan has thought a lot about how an addiction to Tweeting and texting can alter the way we relate to each other. For Luna Negra Dance Theater’s spring engagement, he took cues from human evolution. So, for his new work titled Naked Ape, picture a graph of stooped Cro-Magnon men eventually standing upright. Except, in Magadan’s updated version, humans have now become machines. Four dancers, and one pontificating scientist, navigate around sculptures in the shape of disembodied clothing. They begin as one amoeba-like unit struggling to break into individuals. This movement is set against a classical Bach score overlaid with electronic tracks. The dancers embark on a journey of self-discovery…from mechanical clenching to the desperate touching of another’s face. One woman softens her fingers and loosens her torso so that her bones seem to emerge anew.

Both The Precession at the Hyde Park Art Center and Luna Negra Dance Theater reflect on ways technology can bring people together and tear them apart.