RECYCLED AIR: Boston’s aspiring choreographers play well with others?
There’s nothing like the first weekend of beautiful weather to raise skepticism about digitally mediated experience. Yet huddling with the explorers of sensors and video delay, remote broadcasting and haptic interfaces, as well as some of the international cadre of conceptualists of the new performance practice meant that last weekend in Boston you could see the augmented future of theater coming over the spring horizon. Eventually.
At the Boston Cyberarts Festival’s second biennial “Ideas in Motion” conference, which was held at Green Street Studios, polished artmaking took second place to discussions of the labor-draining challenge of developing and learning to manipulate all these new toys. Much of the work on display in “The Body’s Limit” was tedious. Other items reflected conceptual strategies that amounted to Merce Cunningham’s low-tech I Ching chance operations tarted up with bar-code scanners. As MIT’s Noah Riskin pointed out in the conference’s prickly closing plenary, much cyberart — visual and sonic arts included — is subtly shaped by the “grammar” of tools created for science. Too often those tools are leading the art instead of the other way around.
Which doesn’t mean that “The Body’s Limit” didn’t include moments of beauty and enlightenment. In Palinopsia, where Pauliina Silvennoinen wore a constructivist white dress, half sail, half armature, a camera crept under her skirts to broadcast images of her wriggling toes and Peter Kirn’s computer reanimated the image with poetic, painterly effects. Sarah Drury offered tape from her ongoing work with disabled artists including Cathy Weis, whom Cyberarts will present at the ICA April 28-29 in her Electric Haiku: Cool As Custard, turning signals from her sensor-equipped shoes into vectors that looked like packs of pick-up sticks.
There was direct, gorgeous movement by former William Forsythe dancer Antony Rizzi. In his inventive Every Body Tells a Story, a helium balloon attached to his back pocket stood in — first comically, then horrifyingly — for the head of a closeted high-society gay man. There were a range of video projects too, “extending the body” through digital camerawork and animation effects. Hans Beenhakker’s Shake Off, running in a loop from dusk till 2 am in Harvard Square, updates Maya Deren’s famous experimental film study of Talley Beatty, here danced by Prince Credell and a crew of digital doppelgänger. Both Rizzi and Nell Breyer provided footage that isolated body parts and mirrored them to create comical new creatures, an effect made without any technology — and without any underwear — in a Mummenschanz-like episode by Xavier Le Roy.
But throughout the weekend I repeatedly heard disclaimers: there was not enough time, not enough resources, the technology didn’t work, the piece is still in development. In the theater, the curtain goes up by 8:10, no excuses. In software, there are missed ship dates and buggy releases.
CRASHarts’ Maure Aronson made a similar disclaimer as he introduced this year’s edition of “Ten’s the Limit,” which was guest-curated by New York choreographer Robert Battle and held at the ICA. Mentioning that some of the works were still in progress — without indicating which ones he meant — kept open a window of hope for the more unbaked offerings.