Koosil-ja at Dance Theater Workshop

Interactivity in digital arts and performance is at its best a marvel of discovery, rekindling childhood feelings of intimate connection to a vast inexplicable and beautiful world.

In his book Digital Performance, Steve Dixon notes that interactive works encourage a childlike fascination with the pleasure of cause and effect from the audience.  In the first section of Koosil-ja/danceKUMIKO’s Blocks of Continuality/Body, Image and Algorithm at Dance Theater Workshop this weekend, Melissa Guerrero, Ava Heller, and Elise Knudson are the responsive component to the interactive system.  Taking the input of still images and video clips from, among other things, traditional dances of South and SouthEast Asia, Africa, Tibet, and the Middle East, and providing the output of three simultaneously different mimic-based combinations of moveemnts, the dancers offer the audience a primer for Koosil-ja’s Live Processing technique.  Unlike some of her previous work with Live Processing, Blocks, allows the audience to see the video sources which provides us with some of the fun of witnessing cause and effect.  However, my excitement as a viewer resides in my appreciation of the actual production of unexpected and individual dances within the process.  The interactive process proves fascinating with a performance product that satisfies my interest in watching the effort of live, “real” bodies in front of me.

Based on her experiences working with The Wooster Group, Koosil-ja has been refining Live Processing as a method for achieving a physical realization of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s theory of a Body without Organs.  Like any proper techno-wannabe, I’ve banged my head against some Deleuze (and Felix Guattari) theories, primarily around their theory of the Rhizome.  I don’t hold a Doc of Philo but my best understanding of how Koosil-ja translates Deleuze is to consider a BwO as one that is freed from analysis or personality, one with, as she calls it, “pure potential.”  Composer Geoff Matters explained during the pre-show Coffee and Conversation on Wednesday night, that the selection of performers has to do with their ability to most cleanly shut down extraneous movement histories and simply serve as clear conduit for the visual information on the screens before them.  BwO considers multiple bodies, including virtual and physical ones.

In the third section, following an open explanation and demonstration of the forthcoming processes, an arm swing or pelvic rotation from the dancers become the cause for domino effect responses from onscreen avatars.  The dancers’ movements are still dictated by the LP system, but now the product is not their execution but the actions of animated characters projected on three screens at the front of the stage.  Once we enter the land of virtual bodies, I can feel both my desire to understand the interactive system’s rules and my engagement with the work as a performance wane substantially.  I start thinking about Philip Auslander’s arguments about “Liveness.”  What is the value of live performance in a world dominated by mass media?  What is the value of live performance when the product is a 3D image projected onto a 2D surface?  In an age when the audience/participant divide continues to disappear and we culturally have become increasingly more willing to author our own scripts and direct our own experiences in virtual landscapes (I mean, back when I had a Second Life, my avatar could fly to see the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling), what is the ultimate value of my body’s presence in the theater for this?  The “Slum” world of this final section may be inexplicable, but in comparison to the vast and beautiful worlds already available to my first-grade daughter via a cousin’s Wii or even a trip to Farmville, I don’t think Dixon’s quote from above is represented in Blocks final realization.

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