[2012077] Proximity

[2012077] Proximity

Australian Dance Theatre @ Her Majesty’s Theatre

8:00pm, Sat 3 Mar 2012

I’ve been feeling increasingly miffed with the ADT’s output in recent years; but when I look back through my archives, I’ve no idea why. Sure, I thought that 2006’s Devolution was arse, but I skipped over G completely, and then there’s nothing else until 2004’s Held, which was really quite wonderful… so I’ve got no real explanation for my escalating dissatisfaction with their work.

It turned out, however, that my unexplainable inclinations were spot-on.

House lights drop; the audience hushes. A spotlight snaps on, picking out a video camera sitting atop a wheeled tripod in the middle of the stage. Stage lights mounted lower down snap on and off in sequence, casting clean shadows from the tripod – oooooh, the shadows are dancing. Initially, I’m somewhat taken in by this; it’s a clever foreshadowing of what is to come, I thought… and, after all, I love my light’n’shadow.

But this sequence just keeps going and going and going… it feels interminable, and – worse – it’s adding nothing after the initial impact. In fact, it’s sapping my good will away – my mood descends entirely into the negative.

And there I mope for most of the performance, as cameras are heavily used to manipulate the form (and effectively control the function) of the ADT’s dancers (once they take to the stage, clad in bold colours). As the dancers perform their movements, the cameras capture them, with various effects – time-delayed image trails, snapshots, wireframe detection – applied through software before being presented to us on a screen at the rear of the stage.

This sort of melding of dance and image processing has been seen in the Festival before: Chunky Move’s Glow was an entertaining, but unsatisfying, piece of performance art back in 2008. So none of this technology really feels new… and, in fact, it really hurts the piece.

Because there’s short fragments of movement, wedged between technological set-pieces, which allow the dancers to perform their choreography without the watchful eye of an onstage camera… and they’re really quite enjoyable, focussing on all the wide stances and deft hand movements and harsh angles that epitomise the ADT to me. The final piece, in particular, was really really good – but then the whole thing becomes tainted once pre-recorded footage of other dancers jumping and falling starts staining the screen behind them. Not only did the footage distract from the more immediate performance, but it was displaying horrible compression artefacts… and that just shows a lack of respect to the audience.

From the ludicrous intro to the bitter ending, Proximity felt like a real mish-mash of ideas… most of which seemed to be exercises in self-indulgence that alienated this audience member, who remained steadfastly un-engaged for 99% of the show. I can’t help but think that the ADT would be a lot better off if they forgot about the techy themes and stuck to some dancing, rather than piss-farting around with wireframe-marionette simulations and having dancers framing shots for the camera with their fingers.

But, let’s face it, at this stage “ADT” stands for “Asinine Dicking with Technology”… and that’s a massive shame, because the actual dancers are bloody great. And, despite the fact that Her Majesty’s was maybe only half full (certainly the dress circle was sparsely populated, and the front two rows – and much of the wings – of the stalls were empty), that didn’t stop some (younger) enthusiasts in the audience from screaming up a storm upon the show’s completion… the dancers (and presumably video artist Thomas Pachoud) were permitted four curtain calls. I can only assume that the rampant applause and hollering was because this was their final performance of the season; the other option, of course, is that I’m horribly out of touch with what constitutes good “dance”.

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