Koosil-ja/danceKUMIKO: Live review
I had a good connection with Koosil-ja on the phone a few weeks ago. Our conversation about her new work, which premiered Thursday at the Dance Center, bounced from intuition and alpha wave meditation states to Ogre and Max/MSP/Jitter. It was all over the place, but I was able to stay with her and felt like she was on to something. Which is what made tonight’s experience of Blocks of Continuality/Body, Image and Algorithm so enormously frustrating.
It was never decided whether BOC/BIA was going to be a performance or an experiment. The theater, devoid of any set and functionally (if moodily) lit, was decked out with more hardware than the Batcave: I counted five laptops, two PCs, four portable DVD players, 13 flat-panel displays, three large projectors, and a dark corner filled with who knows what kind of audio equipment. Later in the game, Wii remotes were shoved into sheer pockets in the sleeves and crotches of the dancers’ Irma Vep outfits. The start-up of these Wiimotes is a perfect example of the piece’s commitment issues: One by one, the dancers are called to the technicians’ table—in the middle of the house—and ceremoniously calibrate the remotes’ sensors, announcing “calibrated” when they’re ready to go. This moment, and others similar, makes BOC/BIA a performance, and asks us to view it under those terms. Even if it were an engaging observational experience—it isn’t—BOC/BIA is a thankless performance experience, and the veneer of regal self-importance that covers its purported experimental goals kills the possibility of our engagement with it through either frame.
For most of its 90 minutes, we watch the dancers watch the screens for instructions on how to move. I happened to have a seat that allowed me to peek over the technicians’ shoulders to see some of the source material and recognize how it was manifest in the movement, but most in the audience weren’t that lucky. (Half of the displays, in fact, are hung with their backs to the house: they’re for the performers’ eyes only.) The disjointed live processing of input did result in a burst of compelling Frankenstein dancing here and there, but with the dancers’ eyes locked on one or more screens for instruction, none of the movement could involve the head, neck or shoulders. It was like watching someone learn a dance off of a video, which is not the same as dancing.
Koosil-ja’s notes discuss how “Live Processing depoliticizes body and movement” and its practitioners become “pure potential to create new movement while the realm of body is constantly questioned.” Another referent might be the proverbial infinite monkeys at their infinite typewriters: the odds of accidental Shakespeare are slim.