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"The virtual attaches itself to the body to assuage its fears. The virtual is constantly reiterating: here is something, where actually there is nothing. The virtual is an appendage to life, the interface with life. The virtual belongs to the establishment of reality, not to what the virtual is accused of—unreality, immateriality."
William Forsythe, Frankfurt Ballet

In this work dancers Hellen Sky and Louise Taube perform a series of playful meditations on the body mediated by technology. As in their earlier work The Pool is Damned, though highly sophisticated and proficient in its use of technology, there’s still some sense in the company’s work of the poignancy of early experiments.

“What does the weight of my flesh and bones have on this conversation?” the recorded voice in Mediated persistently asks.

The work is installed in Gallery 101 in Collins Street, Melbourne, an hermetic white studio with a set of experiments in progress. Aluminium frames form mirrors, frames, screens, trays. The audience moves to each of the installations as the dancers animate them. They lie in the tray of sand at the rear of the room, 2 dancers of almost identical stature, spooning, shifting as in sleep. As the bodies move, the sand makes a space for the lacy projections of bodies on the screen nearby. As often throughout the performance, the audience focus is largely on the dancers until they gradually notice the projected images. They tap one another on the shoulders and point to screens. Gradually they take in the 2 at once, the mode mostly required of them in Mediated which seems less interested with the possibilities of delays and disjunctions, occasional dominations, than the experience of simultaneity.

The dancers move to a standing frame and dance in tandem against their own captured images from the sand. The image of the bodies is amorphous, then all edge. Its shape confined to a smaller frame, the shape of the choreography blurs. We look at the real dancers, glean the shape of their dancing and compare it with its vapour trail in the virtual. There’s less sense of the technology intersecting the dance or attempts at creating a choreography of the screen.

A large central screen. On blue squares the dancers perform a mirror dance at its most interesting when their separation moves them out of synch. Their live images vie with projections of another body. A series of spots on the screen trigger lighting and Garth Paine’s interactive sound environment.

Then something quite distinctive happens. At the other end of the room suspended horizontally less than a metre above the floor is a large tray full of water, another aluminium frame but with a glass bottom. A camera underneath the tray looks up through the water at the ceiling. High above is a screen. As Hellen Sky moves over the water, Louise Taube pushes the tray from side to side. Sky’s projected image above is sharper than we’ve seen up to now, then screen and body turn to water. A filter emphasising facial planes, the live body is transformed, becomes radiant, golden. The ceiling of air conditioning ducts becomes painterly. The audience gaze goes from the real body, through the water to the ceiling. Our fears are temporarily dispelled. Suddenly the screen is a liquid space, the body breaks the membrane momentarily fulfilling our desires for something more than mediation. Soon one dancer operates the camera to look at the other and there’s a sense of the two creating something in real time, at play with the technology. The performers’ action agreeably shapes the audience’s attention.

The final sequence occurs in a corridor broken up by small red laser lights. At the end of the space a monitor relays recorded images of a dancer’s body—like architectural drawings of hips and thighs and feet. The dancers moving through the lights trigger this sensual cycle of body images on CD-ROM.

Later we go backstage to see John McCormick’s own ‘installation’. Along one wall, a set of vintage Amiga computers and the odd Apple, cords, plugs and keyboards balanced precariously. He tells us that some of the technology is so old now you can’t get it fixed. He’s had to take to it with a soldering iron.

The scale of Company in Space’s investigation is as impressive as we’ve seen in interactive dance in Australia. In concentrating on the interplay between the technology and the dancers, Company in Space are well on the way to creating a work of significance. At this moment, the projected bodies are so different from the live ones that an act of dissociation occurs, the audience giving each a different kind of focus. The technology searches for its aesthetic and we look for the live and screen bodies to begin a more equal conversation with the audience, but the sense of an emerging hybrid fascinates.

Mediated, Company in Space, Gallery 101, Collins Street, Melbourne for Next Wave Festival, May 2, 9, 16, 23

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 14

© Keith Gallasch & Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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