The dancer, wrapped in nothing but beige bandages, crawls towards the blank screen with the same mesmerized idiocy as a Kubrickian man-ape. But unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey’s mysterious black monolith, this technological wonder responds immediately to her touch: golden strands of light warp around her fingers while a piano begins to tinkle, faintly at first, then rising to a frenetic crescendo as she presses into the screen further. Once she pulls back, however, it’s all over, and the screen returns to grey.
The convergence of dance and technology has spawned all kinds of multimedia experiments, which range from the sublime (see: Merce Cunningham’s haunting projections of motion-captured dancers) to the creepily profane (see: Stelarc’s six-legged dancing spider machines).
But Mizaru, a collaboration between new media artist Aaron Sherwood and choreographer Kiori Kawai which was performed last month at New York City’s Tribeca Performing Arts Center, stands somewhere between these two poles. The real-life couple’s lofty-minded dance spectacle, which aims to explore such existential themes as “our culture’s relationship with life and death,” is hinged upon a rather sleazy material: spandex.
Yes, spandex—the same stretchy material usually found on the toned backsides of bicyclists or fluttering capes of superheroes. According to Sherwood, it had the perfect contradictory properties: “soft and pleasurable to touch, and pliant but strong enough to resist tearing when pressed into.” Also important: “It was also transparent enough to project through.”
Sherwood stretched the spandex over two big frames and programmed them to detect the level of pressure being exerted—so it could translate that to visuals and music. These “Firewalls,” as they’re called, are “played” by dancers straining and prodding into the screens—in other words, they represent an effortless synthesis of human expression and computerized effects. But that’s only half of it.
The existential themes underlying Mizaru are exactly what you’d expect from a couple who met at a Vipassana meditation center. “With the Firewall we wanted to create a wall between life and death, one that the dancers can push through but never really reach beyond, just like we can explore the fact that we are going to die, but we don't really know what lies on the other side,” Sherwood explained.
Ultimately, the Firewall is as much of a distraction as it is an enhancement. In the same way that a glowing TV can zap up the attention of an entire roomful of people, I barely paid attention to the other dancers cavorting elsewhere on stage—fixing my attention on the light show flashing on screen. After all, spandex is seductive.
Watch the performance below…
All images by Momo Nakayama.
Video by E. Adkins.