20
Jun
17

Wireless

 

Wireless

Judith Wright Centre, Lisa Wilson Projects, Paul Charlier & Metro Arts

Judith Wright Centre Performance Space

June 15 – 17 2017

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

We should perhaps not ask each other what we think about surveillance, but rather whether we understand it—because privacy may be an invention without a future.

Co-Directors Paul Charlier and Lisa Wilson

 

Whoever would have thought that smartphones—the objects themselves—could be used to create beautiful visual effects? The glowing screens of multiple devices around the edge of the performance space, and moving in floating patterns or frenzied twirls in the darkness as they are manipulated by the dancers, create a mystic, meditative effect.

But, as Wireless makes clear, this seductive superficial appeal overlies a darker, more sinister dimension.

There is so much happening in this work by Co-Director/Choreographer Lisa Wilson, and Co-Director/Composer/Writer Paul Charlier: dance, occasional spoken words, live music created by sensors in smartphones held by dancers or strapped to their limbs, and video projections, including security camera footage, recorded drone footage, and live footage of dancers filming each other and creating images on tablets.

Integrating all these human and technological elements is a complex feat—congratulations to the team who brought it all together (including Co-Directors Wilson and Charlier, Designer Bruce McKinven, Sensor Designer Joshua Minor, Video Artist Nathan Sibthorpe, Lighting Designer Ben (Bosco) Shaw and Dramaturge Jennifer Flowers).

Dancers, Storm Helmore, Craig Bary, Gabriel Comerford and Joshua Thomson, effortlessly managed the many smartphones (I counted up to 14 at one point), as well as a large movable structure that doubled as a black wall, and a series of small rooms or cells.

The movement is grounded and acrobatic, with dancers often shadowing each other like stalkers. Comerford, in particular, is menacing, prowling like a leopard stalking prey. His fluid strength and his waist-length hair make him an arresting presence.

Helmore, the lone woman in the group, has some speaking to do, which she performs with conviction. In a very early sequence, she plays with a phone, experimenting with different movements to produce different sounds, shaking it, flinging her arms and running. The feeling is playful, with a sense of wonder, and she finishes by saying one word: ‘Cool!’

Later sequences reveal the dark world underlying this seemingly innocuous attraction. With Thomson, Helmore illustrates the sinister potential of dating apps. Standing behind and against her, Thomson manipulates her with a phone, won’t let her speak, and creepily takes selfies of the two of them.

Bary plays a character who spies on a woman (Helmore) in an apartment, and assaults her. He objectifies her by videoing, in closeup, different parts of her body. Multiple frames of these disconnected images, including the look of fear on her face, are projected live on a large screen at the back of the stage, with chilling effect.

In a hallucinatory sequence, images of dancers are projected on the wall, with sections then removed to reveal small cell-like spaces. Video of the dancers overlies and alternates with appearances by the live dancers, and openings and closings of sections of wall, so that the viewer loses track of what is real and what is illusory—a powerful metaphor for the real and illusory contacts and networks that wireless technology enables, and for the infinity of cyberspace.

The ‘cells’ also evoke imprisonment, with dancers literally climbing the inner walls, and faint noises seeping in from the outside world.

 

 

Movement sensors in the smartphones borne by the dancers affect the music/soundscape of the work in different ways. For example, sometimes sound is generated by the movement, and sometimes the dancers trigger certain sequences of sound. The sounds vary from pure piano-like notes, to klaxon-type blaring sound, sounds like whale-song, and staticky noises. As well, there are ambient noises, such as distant cries of children playing, and muffled sounds of people in apartment buildings, heard through adjoining walls and floors.

The glow of the phone screens and the multiple video projections dominate the visual impact of the work. The dancers’ costumes are low-key: shorts, T-shirts, checked shirts, long pants, all in nondescript colours. The living human beings in Wireless are dominated by the technology, which also usurps our attention.

The drone footage at the end of the work, with the camera rising far above Thomson lying on the ground in an anonymous cityscape, emphasises the insignificance and powerlessness of the individual in the face of this pervasive technology.

 

Wireless is intriguing, powerful and sinister, but with moments of beauty and of ‘cool’.

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