below is a review of Wasatch Contemporary's show at the Provo Library. we often miss shows in Utah and Weber country because we don't get press releases in time or lack writers who live in those communities. if you are interested in covering shows in either county, or present your own work there, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Upon entering the ballroom of the Provo Public Library, I felt washed in shades of white, gray, and tan: white walls supported by four columns in the center, delineating the performance space; large swaths of tan fabric stretched between the columns, diagonally and across the back, slicing the space into four segments; everything bathed in bright gray light coming from projectors and conventional stage lights. The dancers, wearing various shades of maroon tops and dark pants, were warming up with unison movement, separated into three groups by the swaths of tan material. Their confident execution of tendus and plies energetically filled the space already brimming with dramaturgy. Even though some sections of the stage were concealed, I was guaranteed by measured continuity (of set, costuming, and unison warm-up movement) that I could sit anywhere and experience the performance exactly how I was intended to, without any risk of indeterminacy or room for free-association. Wasatch Contemporary Dance Company was in control.
The company describes Articulate as, “a narrative performance that explores the theme of human connection and how it has been changed through time by the development of communication technology.” We were explicitly invited to indulge in our phones during the show as long as we posted photos and videos of the piece to the company’s facebook and instagram pages. We could also “get involved” in the show by turning our phone’s flashlight on during one section. These invitations were taken lightly by most audience members.
The piece began scratching. This sound was contextualized by a projected image of a pen writing calligraphically on paper. Hidden behind the fabric that was being projected upon, a dancer moved a phone light in a similar fashion to the movement of the pen. The comparison was understandable if not overstated since most people actually hold their phone still to communicate, the light beaming up, illuminating their face.
Articulate’s narrative was primarily driven by projections beginning with black and white footage of female telephone operators, then fingers typing on typewriters, followed by a lengthy interlude comprised of a compilation of vapid DIY videos found on the internet today. And finally, the work incorporated projections of the dancers themselves posing for “selfies”, live, throughout the dance. This final type of projection was intriguing because of its disorienting effect: what is the location of the subject being projected? How is the rest of their body moving? Those questions were usually answered conventionally – the choreography alternated between how ridiculous we look when we take photos of ourselves, and duets and solos that were combative or pained, illustrating the company’s perception of our relationship with technology. The swaths of fabric also served to demonstrate a literal web of problems and complications that come with communicating virtually - namely, the fact that it feels like a sheet is shrouding interactions in real life now that we interact on our phones more frequently.
The dance portrayed the frenzied movement required of mechanical communications of the early twentieth century. The quick choreography was constant throughout the work, possibly to illustrate the frantic mental/internal activity of people obsessed with curating their internet presence, but they did not seem to investigate the concept of communication technology kinesthetically. External/physical aspects of communication like sitting in one place, or pacing around, or trying to gesticulate via skype on a frozen computer, were not included. The movement was a continuous stream of poses, partnering lifts, and impressive weaving with the swaths of fabric, but manifested the equivalent of a run-on sentence using only three vocabulary words. There was no stillness or repetition of movement acting as punctuation or emphasis. Just as the movement vocabulary was limited, the representation of ways in which people communicate via technology was also limited. If an extraterrestrial being were to land at the Provo Library and witness this show, they would have no idea that entire social movements like Black Lives Matter and the Arab Spring have been fueled by online communication, or that there is a thriving net-art scene, and myriad memes, or even that there are much darker aspects of the internet besides people fixated on making themselves look better for the sake of taking photos of themselves.
Although limited in scope, Articulate was a genuine representation of how members of Wasatch Contemporary Dance are processing their relationship to technology with flowing movement tumbling constantly from strong, precise dancing bodies.
Emma Wilson is a graduate of the University of Utah and contributor to loveDANCEmore. She frequently jams with Porridge for Goldilocks and was a choreographer for Red Lake at the Fringe Festival.