The Automated Body Project
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Dawn Davis Loring, Fri., May 4, 2001
The Automated Body Project: Back to the Future
Technology is finally beginning to catch up with Yacov Sharir's imagination. Sharir + Bustamante Danceworks has been experimenting with computer animation and dance performance for the better part of a decade, and I think they are onto something that current technology can support. The Automated Body Project filled the UT Department of Theatre & Dance's Brockett Theatre (formerly the Theatre Room) with first-time audience members, longtime fans, and a glass bead curtain sculpture that shimmered in the light like fiber optic threads. Noticeably absent from view were the computer equipment and crew -- they were tucked comfortably into the corners of the theatre and the booth. Silently filtering data from EKG and EEG electrodes placed on Sharir's body, the CyberPRINT system displayed minute fluctuations graphically on the screens behind him. In another piece, movement-sensitive video equipment triggered text and sound collages as dancers played with the zone where sound occurred. The choreography juxtaposed sequential movement rippling through flexible spines with complete stillness, the start/stop nature of the choreography producing a stirring duet between cacophony and silence.
Sharir's glow-in-the-dark wearable computer housed stored animations he could manipulate in real time to allow cyber dancers projected on movable screens to interact with the real dancers moving behind the screen. Choreographic echoes ricocheted between flesh and ether as real dancers effortlessly partnered their cyber counterparts. It was simply beautiful and impossible in the real world of gravity, but this piece actually existed on the screen between the two worlds. Traveling farther into the cyber realm, a duo of real dancers attached to the ends of one bungee cord interacted with two weightless cyber dancers on the screens in front of them. The real dancers, bound to each other in a constant state of precarious balance, leaned and hung, floated and dove headfirst toward the ground, mimicking the weightless counterpoint of the cyber dancers. The bungee idea is not new -- it has allowed dancers to perform weightless feats and partnering from the moon -- but in the context of cyber-partnering, it is fresh and inventive and begs for the creation of deliciously thorny classifications of "real" and "not-real" dancers.
This company has gone from performing in smaller, more intimate venues like Synergy Studio and Capitol City Playhouse to productions in larger proscenium venues like the McCullough Theatre, yet, as an audience member, my visceral connection with this work has waned over the years. I have not been able to identify it until now, but the missing element that nagged me with its absence was intimacy. Subtle connections among the dancers and low-key facial expressions had been previously swallowed up by increased distance from the audience at larger venues. Up close, one can fully appreciate the dancers' expansive and expressive arms, the three-dimensional use of space and the intense focus on each other throughout smoothly acrobatic partnering. This work would not have benefited from a larger space -- it needed immediate contact with the audience. Let the accountants reconcile the dilemma of needing larger spaces to house performances and satisfy budgets. I find it gloriously ironic that the tiresome but true adage that you have to go backward to go forward applies to technology as well. In order to move forward with the act of synthesizing dance and technology, S+B Danceworks had to step back from larger venues and embrace a smaller space and as a result, the humanness and beauty within the movement became more evident.