Review: Glow ~ theatre notes

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Review: Glow

Melbourne Festival #11

Glow, conceived and choreographed by Gideon Obarzanek. Concept and interactive design system by Frieder Weiß. Original music and sound design by Luke Smiles, additional music by Ben Frost. Dancers: Kristy Ayre, Sara Black, Amber Haines and Bonnie Paskas. Chunky Move @ Chunky Move Studio, until tonight.

After 16 days solid theatre-going, TN is at the point where, when the program announces that a show is "30 mins, no interval", she gives a little skip and thinks hungrily of an early night. Appalling, I know, since this is the surfeit of privilege. But so it is. And Glow demonstrates that the length of a show is no measure of substance.

A collaboration between the endlessly ingenious Gideon Obarzanek and theatrical computer wizard Frieder Weiß, it's a richly detailed dance solo that exploits the technology of motion tracking, permitting the lighting to be responsive to the movements of the dancer's body. Performed on a white square with seating on four sides, it has the intimacy and some of the agon of a boxing arena.

When the lights go down, strips of light flash across the floor and vanish into darkness. And then a dancer, dressed in a simple white costume that suggests scales, scrabbles to the edge of the floor like some exotic sea creature. She writhes, contorts her limbs, utters inarticulate noises, as if she were an entity in the process of becoming.

For all its technological ingenuity, Glow, which is mostly performed on the floor, is an intensely visceral experience. It becomes a fascinating battle between the dancer's body and light and shadow: the luminous patterns enclose her, possess her, stalk her, stake her out. Her movements leave traces that fade out, gorgeous geometrical afterimages of gesture.

She cannot escape the light, because her body is defining and controlling it: it is like trying to escape one's own shadow. At one point as she lies on the floor, the purple strip of light around her body is exactly the shape of a coffin. At another, she is enclosed, even crushed, in moving grids of light. She is scanned and pinned, defined and darkened, or illuminated by auras that follow her every gesture. At times she is absorbed by the patterning, as if she is scarcely human, scarcely there at all; at others, we hear her panting, or the scuffle of her legs on the floor, and are made suddenly and intensely aware of her sensual body.

Perhaps the most compelling sequence is where the writhing dancer leaves body imprints of shadow on the white floor, which then coalesce into inky demons that stalk and repossess her. When the shadow leaps and shrinks into an ordinary shadow under her feet, she screams, and lunges desperately across the floor to rid herself again of her darkness. It is a startlingly nightmarish image, as if we are watching her soul being gobbled up.

For a dance-illiterate like me, it was fascinating to see Merce Cunningham the night before seeing Glow. Obarzanek is almost at the other end of the spectrum: where Cunningham creates form with the classical purity of a Greek vase, Obarzanek's choreography reminds me of the asymmetries and grotesqueness, the complex and unpredictable rhythms, the vulnerabilities, of the human body. The idealism of Cunningham here gives way to a darker but surprisingly humane vision.

Picture: A moment from Glow. Photo: Rom Anthonis

1 comment:

xofro said...

I saw this in its earlier incarnation last year - I believe it was slightly reworked for the Festival? The images that stayed in my mind were exactly those of the stalking shadows. I found the performance exciting and thought provoking well beyond the geewizzery of the technology. But then again, my partner said afterwards "why?"...