Dance on the highest level to be seen in Fabrik Stahlbau Strang in Aachen for the opening of the 25th schrit_tmacher justDANCE! Festival
Back to the future
nightreview by Laura Brechmann
translated by Karoline Strys
The evening begins with Giacomelli by torchlight. A male and a female dancer of the highly esteemed company Wayne McGregor dance their pas de deux in front of the backdrop of an LED wall that is still lit and whose little lights stick our like spears in an archaic dungeon. Recurring to elements of the Bolshoi Ballet there is still some bit of storytelling going on in the beginning. The choreography of the British choreographer gives a hint of approximation, hesitating refusal and a mesh of relations. The dancers appear like two statues of classicism brought to life. Their muscular bodies move in waves with extensively expanding steps across the stage of Stahlbau Strang in Aachen. Yet, in the movement language everything seems slightly off. It becomes apparent that the choreography, created in 2010, of the opening of Schrit_tmacher festival’s silver anniversary in Aachen is not a tribute to the dance of the 18th century. Instead of banning the body and disciplining it via a movement corset, the body comes to the fore in all its flesh and muscular strength. As such the torches already snap shut after few minutes and the imposing 32,000 LED lights of the stage design, following the lighting concept designed by Lucy Carter and Random International, transform the setting into a flickering ahistorical cosmos of ciphers. The upcoming scenes follow an unpredictable score and appear like a choreographed timeline pointing out into the far future.
In “FAR“, which is an acronym of the text “Flesh in the Age of Reason” by Roy Porter, McGregor pursues the changes in thinking and body awareness of the Age of Enlightenment, inspired by Diderot’s “encyclopedia“. A tense period of time that on the one hand explores the human body, its anatomy and biological processes in art, science and philosophy to an unprecedented extent. And on the other hand bans its “flesh“ and body with all its instincts and lust from society, politics and arts. The choreography moves in the in betweens and the dominance of the corporeality develops such an attraction that makes it hard to look away from the dancing bodies.
The physical heterogeneity of the dancers is significant for McGregor and the most important source of inspiration next to his interest in technological innovations in the areas of AI and robotics. Each dancer of the ensemble works with their respective strength, tension and energy in order to cope with the demanding choreography characterized by its rapid changes. That those do not only arise from McGregors creativity but – as the credits mention it – have been developed in the artistic process in collaboration with the ensemble, is clearly visible.
The dominance of the individual bodies and the heterogeneous movement languages that come into dialogue in “FAR“ let us abandon the search for a narrative thread. It is a matter of bodies and technique, progress and origin, suppressed urges and strict lines of movement. There is nothing (being told) but pure corporeality when the limbs of the dancers smudge in the interplay of light and tempo in front of a blurred photo narrative or when they are facing each other lurking like animals in an arena. The choreography is dense and complex. It is rather difficult for the audience to access the piece. Solely the musical composition by Ben Frost, who is including, inter alia, reflective texts and the gruesome cracking of bones, provides the opportunity to reveal the connections of this cognitive experiment to the audience.
With his team of visual artists, programmers and dancers McGregor created an experimental space in his studio where there is space for intensive research of potentials and aesthetics of multimedia performances. Crossing borders of the disciplines is the trading mark of the company. “FAR“, already created in 2010, is going quite several steps further and does not remain in the Age of Enlightenment. Rather, the whole production takes us into a time that is dealing more with the future than with the past. By means of connecting the thinking and the world view of the Age of Enlightenment with today’s discourses around AI, the team around McGregor succeeds in creating an astonishing transfer. In a discourse that has been keeping the dance and performance scene busy for now over a decade, the meaning of the human body in dialogue with technology is put into question in a very new manner.
The usage of stage and lighting technology in “FAR“ is indeed ambitious and an aesthetic experience but does not nearly draw on its full potential. The more recent productions interlink dance and technology already in a fancier way. The visual settings designed by algorithms develop now their own creativity and agency. The installation brought to Schrit_tmacher festival that can be experienced at SCHUCK in Heerlen, gives a good impression of the progress in technological innovations. The light installation is reacting to the movements of visitors and dancers. Using artificial intelligence in art does not only arise to new questions concerning the body but also brings up the question of what (or who) will be choreographing in the future and what there is still to learn about human creativity.
“FAR“ already depicts a way into this future and is thinking the belief in progress and the philosophies of the Age of Enlightenment together with the discourses of today – but in terms of the usage of its possibilities this production is already outdated.