It’s difficult not to admire DASS Dance. Their style is always eclectic; their subjects, always diverse; their projects, always ambitious; their ethos, always unimpeachable. Everything they do shows full commitment. In Seattle where dance is dominated by academically trained female dancers, their work stands out especially for its concentration on the movements of vernacular dance.
Lights Camera Action continues DASS Dance’s interest in the effects of technology. Where last year’s Tale of Ten Green dealt with the meeting of the technological and primordial, Lights Camera Action is more futuristic.
Playing out against a backdrop of space age video projections, the dance is, at its core, a series of fluid partnerships that explore various combinations of male and female dancers. Some are relationships, especially the male-female combinations, others are more purely partnerships. Between the combinations are distinctly different extended solos. Tying it all together is the theme of human beings and their interface with technology.
In this case the effect of the technology dehumanizes the dancers and it is only through their pure athleticism that they can fight against it. While Mr. Wilkins suggests that the piece is a journey into light, the merging of the light with the dancers bodies is cybernetic, and suggests external control. The movement shows this, too. While various relationships and partnerships play out over the evening, there is a tendency for the dancers’ moves to be clinical. The strapping of their bodies to the EL wire seems to have limited the dancers’ expressive range. Too, the EL wire itself is often in colors identical with a given dancer’s costume: pink wire blends into pink top, yellow into pale beige.
I’m not sure how much of this color arrangement is purposeful. Certainly if one intends to show how technology affect human relationships then some amount of unity between man and machine makes sense. The only problem I have is that, while the theme is clear enough, I find the aesthetic mildly unpleasant. Either there is too much variation of color from dancer to dancer, or there is not enough. As it appears, there is too much interchangeability and too many unresolved questions of style.
They are not helped by the lighting conditions of the space. Under even the best of circumstances with the most straightforward of dances, the MLK Center arena presents a challenge. Without a truly precise lighting design for the whole area, the man-machine synthesis becomes rather more difficult to convey powerfully. Here I think the space overwhelms the poor dancers. Mr. Wilkins is committed to the space as part of the community and on that score I think he is correct. One has to break down the illusions that there are only just so many places where dance can take place in order to be considered “legitimate.” But the intention is not enough. It needs a solution, too.
For a group that is hi-tech enough to experiment EL wire, I should like to see them solve the more basic problem first–visibility. I’d also like to see the group impose their own style on the material, but with technology this requires first that you subdue it completely and on the night I saw the piece no such subdual had occurred. The reliability of the EL wire was not at least 95% which, to one of my scientific background, means it needs more attention, even at the expense of other aesthetic concerns. That’s probably heresy, and exactly why I am not a choreographer, but as a viewer with a mind for precision I hold to it regardless.
Having said that, the dancers made do. Their energy and athleticism and pure beauty carry the piece beyond its technical shortcomings. I was particularly impressed with the dancing of Raelani Kesler and William Burden. Mr. Wilkins’ kitchen sink approach to choreography–what he calls “all terrain” dance–makes demands upon his dancers to be explosive yet graceful, to build power moves out of sinuous yet fragile balletic lines. It is no short order, but Mr. Burden particularly makes it look smooth, simple even. Ms. Kesler also seems to thrive under this stricture and makes clear she will go toe-to-toe with anyone on the floor, male or female, and probably win the battle.
As William Gibson succinctly noted, the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed. Technology as a fact of dance is the future. It’s not fully explored yet. Or, if you want to be all l33t about it, it hasn’t been fully implemented. DASS Dance obviously love exploring that future. With a little more thoroughness I have no doubt they will produce something beautiful that unites the technological future with the primordial past. I can hardly wait to see it.