Review: In The Ether by ARCOS Dance
by David Glen Robinson
The central motif of the livestreaming performance of In The Ether was two concentric black and white circles, unadorned but otherwise reminiscent of 1950s TV registrations. They pulsed, grew, shrank, hypnotized, and otherwise drew us into a sequence of dance and performance imagery arranged and manipulated on a series of webpages. The circles came back between segments, leading us through cyberspace. They were our robot guides, more so than the dreamy young human face that questioned us on our feelings through the hourlong journey we took.
The journey flew us through a colorful landscape. The first view was of 24 active windows showing one- and two-second loops of ARCOS group performances with exposed artifice video recording, reflexive and delayed. This was followed even more interactively by a performance with windows manipulated on the screen, moved, realigned, and resized. Just then, as one’s creativity was juiced up to rearrange the screens to our greater liking, a time-storm sped up the action to jerky blurs that finally settled on another planet of performance, one with dancers in different costume concepts, sets, and variant choreography. The constant between the two universes was mutual video recording by any performer with a video cam or cell phone, some of which live-streamed to projection on large screens framing the performance space. The feeling, since they asked, was of an unlimited expansion of the self, unrestrained by large screens or cute selfie videos. Much more. Nam Jun Paik’s “Electric Buddha” has nothing on ARCOS.
The reflexive quality of ARCOS’s video image surge reaches deeper than mere democratized cyber technology. It is insistence that we are all in this together. Moving with the dancers, making our own videos of their performances, rearranging the interactive windows in the livestream, all these are baby-step self-actualizing manipulations of the human-techno entanglement. The more complex manipulations as engineered by the ARCOS web team of co-artistic director Eliot Gray Fisher, media designer Ben Randall, and web developers Georgina Garza and Leon Cai, are meant as inspirations and guideposts on where we can go with our empowerment as flexible embodied identities.
In the first installment of this contemplation of ARCOS Dance and In the Ether, the preview interview with co-artistic director Erica Gionfriddo, I said dance was the central act of corporeality in In the Ether, and this was certainly true. But over the course of the sequence of performances, it became clear that the live performances were seeds that were encouraged to grow in many directions through the ether and cyberspace. Further, these growing seeds of being were unquestionably transformative, becoming the wholly other when frames were bent to breaking and the life force spilled out.
Given this reviewer’s historical passion for live performance, such were sought out first, on Saturday, August 7th. Two dancers played to the cameras with skill and acknowledgement of the audience, characterized correctly as witnesses to multiple births of agency, fluidity, and expanded boundaries. The ARCOS dancers’ abilities to dance for a solid hour gave a lasting impression as did their creativity in becoming new characters in their use of costume pieces. I was especially fascinated with the chameleonic power of a fuchsia hat and one dancer’s manipulations of it. Snakes shed their skins to grow, and when these stage creatures grew, their surface patterns changed, too, to symbolize their progress in new directions. Not just larger, but different. The live performance convinced me that the human-techno entanglement serves the great need for agency in all human beings, and that it need not be a source of disempowering frustration, as it is for many.
This isn’t to say that old baggage may not drag along into this brave new world. When the witnesses were invited to participate, I did. And then the old thought sequences played, about not being good enough, that I didn’t get it and should sit down; and that the witness who left and didn’t come back (half of an audience of two) didn’t like me, was embarrassed, or that she was intimidated at perhaps being pressured subtly to perform herself. These were the knots in my human-techno entanglement. But then the realization struck that I had grown through the fourth wall of the stage and had become a hybrid witness/performer, and this was my fluidity and creative boundary expansion. These thought and behavior intrusions resemble what the producers call “wildlife,” our organically based everyday experiences, mental traps, and insecurities. They come inevitably into the human/techno entanglement, add to its complexity, and when recognized (meditation practices address these issues very well) are well used as resources to support agency and becoming more of an embodied identity. In my case, I had found agency in the human-techno entanglement by also taking three cell phone videos; customarily, home videos of live performances are banned by show producers who prefer to control and restrict imagery and other captures of the material. Therefore, I don’t usually shoot. But by my acts I had widened the distribution and flow of ARCOS through our complex realities; I had contributed to the success of the live performance in ways ARCOS anticipated but did not design in specifically. Liberation set in.
I looked forward to the live-streaming performance, scheduled for me on August 12, 2021. The production was high-tech stuff, but I was uncharacteristically fearless in navigating my end of it. The facility amounts to a bespoke livestreaming app, mounted on several pages of the ARCOS Dance website. Much of the design is highly credited to the wizardry of the ARCOS web team. The graphics were spectacular, and the semiotics, the directions by sign and symbol through the livestream, were consistent and intelligently forgiving. I only got lost once but got back on (swiped too hard in one direction).
ARCOS moves actively toward an ever more complex hybrid world navigable by diverse groups that may themselves move toward equity and harmony. They outline lofty ideals and offer signposts and guideposts for the gender fluid and the marginalized along any dimension. ARCOS may well form a new acronym for hope.
In The Ether
by Erica Gionfriddo
August 07 - August 14, 2021
unspecified in Austin
somewhere in Austin
to be announced
Austin, TX, 78700
August 7 - 14, 2021 in Austin, Texas -- in-person or streaming
August 7-9 at 8 p.m., August 12-13 at 8 p.m., August 14 at 9 p.m.
The ONLINE EXPERIENCE is a bespoke interactive website originally presented by the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Theatre & Dance as part of the virtual Fall 2020 season. In July 2021, ARCOS workshopped website revisions with students at the American Dance Festival who performed the online experience in the Festival’s showcase. For these August viewings, we have further updated the website and generated new content with ARCOS’ professional company, including a pre-filmed performance with over a dozen interactive camera angles in addition to live portals into the in-person locations’ simultaneous streams.
The IN-PERSON EXPERIENCE is our most recent experiment in hybrid performance. But “performance” no longer describes what we’re exploring here. Should you choose to join us at one of the in-person locations, you will be entering and witnessing a complex experiment in hybrid forms; body processing, imagining multiple realities, and sensing into the non-physical as reality. This is our first gentle reach back into live gatherings. ARCOS is closely tracking the health precautions and protocols of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Travis County, and the City of Austin, and is in communication with participating dance artists regarding their personal safety needs. In-person audiences will be required to affirm they are vaccinated and will wear masks indoors for the duration of the presentation. We reserve the right to cancel any in-person events.
Special Drive-In Experience on August 14, 2021
at the Museum of Human Achievement
Welcome to the Ether. You are there. I am here. And together we are creating a third space, between yours and mine. In the Ether, we encourage you to find ways to slow down and listen to your body. Feel any sensations that come up. Let us know how you feel. Send a message and help our host navigate this space alongside friends and strangers. Feel free to wander: we're not sure what we're looking for, or whether we'll know if we find it. But remember, we are all journeying in the Ether together.
ARCOS experiments rigorously to discover adventurous new forms of performance, in part by making hybrid work that integrates newer and older technologies through bodies in movement to question dominant understandings of the world. Provoking interplay along a spectrum from human to mechanical to digital, virtual and physical, live and asynchronous, ARCOS seeks to imagine tangible new relationships that may be surprising, intimate, and immense.
Enter the Ether from your laptop or desktop computer. This browser-based experience is a digital meditation; you will be guided through the interactive website and be offered opportunities to slow down, breathe deeply, and connect.
Google Chrome web browser and a broadband internet connection are required to join us online.
>> CLICK HERE to reserve your ONLINE experience.
Spend time with the Ether artists as they engage in their hybrid, durational movement practice. Each location will feature 1-3 dancers with an intimate audience. The dancers will be live streaming into the online experience while you witness in real time.
Verification of vaccination and wearing of masks are required to join us in person.
Take a look at the map on the next page to confirm locations before completing signup:
>> CLICK HERE to reserve your IN-PERSON experience.
This project us supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department.
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