Illustration by Sara G. Levin for The Villager
100,000 years of evolution, live
By Sara G. Levin
Watching Troika Ranchs new work, 16 [R]evolutions, is like tuning into a nature-show version of the Matrix. Projections of coded bars flash across the floor like grass; digital bits flow up like a river and cave across the background. The piece, which was co-produced by 3-Legged Dog (3LD) and premiered Jan. 18 at the Eyebeam Art & Technology Center, effectively blurs the line between digital and corporeal movement, though not always toward a meaningful end.
Like Keanu, the four post-intellectual humans of 16 [R]evolutions never smile, and instead looked trapped inside a melodramatic mist of digital dreariness. At times, their stillness loses its poignancy and becomes painfully slow. But true to Troika Ranchs mission, digital projection dances are the best parts of the full-length work, as media takes on a creepy life of its own.
Formed in 1994 in New York, Troika Ranch attempts to hybridize dance, theater, and interactive digital media. It is 3LDs first resident show of the season even though Troika Ranch is not performing it at 3LDs new, 12,000 square foot performance and gallery space at 80 Greenwich St.
Were expecting to open February 6, 3LD director Kevin Cunningham said of the new space, which will replace the original headquarters destroyed on 9/11. Later in February, 3LD plans to host a symposium with Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center to demonstrate interactive technologies used in performace. Among the participants will be Mark Coniglio, co-founder of Troika Ranch, who will demonstrate the Isadora software he created for company productions.
Designed in 2000, Isadora, a reference to modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan, generates digitized images of dancers on stage. Using a camera and software called EyesWeb, which instantaneously generates skeletal maps of the dancers bodies, Isadora spits back projections of their silhouettes with hardly any delay. The images become more than a backdrop they become a persona.
During one solo, four digital silhouettes decorate the background screen at once, comprising a chorus. Another scene shows impressions from the dancers bodies sunken into the background like pins from a Pin Art frame.
All of the performersJohanna Levy, Daniel Suominen, Lucia Tong and Robert Clark have beautiful control of movement, and there were moments when the hi-tech effects could have been eliminated so that the audience could focus on the individuals. But admittedly, this piece is not about the individual.
In theory, what Troika describes as a multimedia work that condenses 100,000 years of evolution into an evening-length performance, illustrates the innate conflict humans feel between their pre-evolution animalistic selves and the modern beings we are today. At the beginning, the dancers appear almost naked, moving slowly to sonar-like sounds that replicate the sensation of being inside a womb. Corrugated projections envelope the stageAdams rib cage. Then a loud boom represents the fall out of Eden, leading to a chaotic mix of projections and buzzing jungle sounds.
Digital media effectively becomes a natural force. Sound bites of everything from rushing wind to crickets and loud booms are strung together, enhancing the disruptive nature of the piece.
But the moments when conflict and story are elevated often feel forced. Levy finds a red sandal so foreign that she bites it, even though she comes on stage wearing a perfectly modern pants and sweater set. Cereal that doesnt pour (because the pourers do not think to open the plastic wrapping) symbolizes the inability of the post-intellectual mind to think. Besides being banal in their metaphors, such symbolism detracts from the dynamic duets and solos.
The most enjoyable parts are when the performers dance with the technology as if it were a steady part of the landscape. When not focused on symbols like a sandal or cereal, they simply allow the digital media to become an eerie, but intriguing character, almost paralleling Mother Nature. One cant help but be moved by it.