Simulating a claustrophobic media cave, seven screens are suspended from the ceiling. There are three dancers, one musician, and a singing choreographer. Three information technicians, their backs to the audience, control the images on the screens from behind a clutter of laptops and wires. All this technology and personnel are necessary for “live processing,” the methodology created by choreographer Koosil-ja in which dancers attempt to mimic a flood of images. David Bowie, models swathed in Gucci and Chanel, credit card advertisements, and paintings from the Louvre are randomly juxtaposed with clips of traditional dances from Africa, Tibet, Middle East, and India. Later on, multiple Wii remotes are strategically placed on the dancers’ bodies to stimulate faulty avatars. It is globalism at its gaudiest extreme—an anthropological experiment devoid of moral responsibility.
How does the body respond to visual over-stimulation? Koosil-ja attempts to answer this question through movement in Blocks of Continuality/Body, Image and Algorithm, which premiered Thursday, March 3rd at Dance Theater Workshop. In this performance, the three dancers engage in conceptual and process-based movement research as a means to devise a seemingly limitless choreography. The resulting three-part performance consists of: a long and relatively mundane demonstration of live processing, a brief introduction to the electronic knick-knacks that will be used in Part 3, and a final section where the dancers strap on Wii remotes to control barely interactive avatars in a three-dimensional virtual environment that brings to mind a slummed-out version of the Sims.
According to Koosil-ja, “Live processing depoliticizes body and movement…the dancer becomes pure potential to create new movement.” However, in reducing the body to pure form the performance falls flat, even for a dancer as physically versatile as Melissa Guerrero, and the images become more intriguing than the movement from which it is derived. Although much of the dance is decided by random juxtapositions, the results eventually become predictable—bodily movement is always limited by the choreographer’s structure, and the fast rhythm of the piece prevents any physical exploration outside the given formula. Presented with the option of watching the screens or the movement, I found myself gravitating more toward the video source. Instead of using the live processing methodology as a point of departure, Koosil-ja ends up trapping herself in the same redundant methodology.
As the eye rapidly fluctuates between image and dancer, one traces the progression of the body entering into a sort of panic mode. Unfortunately, what appears as a climactic conclusion from overstimulation results in entropic dissolution: Ava Heller manically tries to copy the six different images on the screens, which is then poorly mirrored by her corresponding avatar, which in turn is awkwardly re-simulated by Guerrero and Elise Knudson. Tautology ensues and maladroit movement eventually collapses beneath the weight of the images.
Christine Hou is a poet and arts writer living in Brooklyn.