Anarchy Dance Theatre Taiwan - Seventh Sense

Seventh Sense | Anarchy Dance Theatre

June 2014 | HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity

I remember the first time I was going to create a performance in a theatre with a revolve. We spent several months working with all of the latest revolve techniques, and hired a revolve designer and a group of donkeys who could rotate the revolve at a variety of different speeds – some faster and more nauseating than anyone had ever before witnessed – to create different moods and atmospheres. With only one week to go before the performance, we realised that we had accidentally failed to create any material to perform on this, it must be said, gloriously rotating platform. We did what any group of experienced theatre artists would do in such a situation, and hired two dancers to make up some contact impro on the revolve (as it rotated beautifully) so that the audience would know where to look. The revolve work was outstandingly accurate, with at least four different speeds of rotation. Afterwards when the donkeys and their handlers came out on stage they received a standing ovation, and we took our rightful place at the forefront of contemporary theatre technology.

Seventh Sense is the kind of show that it might be possible to enjoy if you have never seen projection mapping used with motion tracking before. If you haven’t, just watch some on YouTube. Anarchy Dance Theatre’s write -up claims that the audience is able to interact with the projections, which would have been great! Unfortunately, it is not true, and the whole basis of their advertising and claim to ‘artistic’ vision is an outright lie. The ‘audience’ on stage is comprised of what appear to be a few students from the arts school they are performing at, who have been drilled beforehand in exactly what to do (they do it with a great deal of embarrassment, but it is clear they are dance students).

I would also say that calling themselves ‘dance theatre’ is more than a little bit of a stretch. This 30 minute multimedia presentation has no development, no arc of narrative, rhythm or structure. It could perhaps pass as a music video, if the music were at all compelling. As it is they manage to make 30 minutes seem like an hour, perhaps to make people feel as though they got their money’s worth.

The two dancers doing contact impro are perfectly capable – things had the potential to become interesting right at the start, when only the two of them were onstage, ‘experimenting’ with the projections. Each had a different coloured ‘bubble’ following them, which would stretch as they stretched out towards one another. Unfortunately at this point the awkward dance students were ushered on stage, and began to pretend to experiment in the same way, in an artless mess of projected bubbles. This continued for some time, accompanied by the theatre’s ‘house rules’ (Cantonese, Putonghua, English) as well as some specific announcements for this performance – hilariously and unironically referred to as ‘the art work’ throughout.

Things improved temporarily when the fake audience sat down around the edges and their bubbles were turned off. The dancers continued with some animalistic movement. However, when one of them got too near the edge, the fake audience would be picked up again by the infrared, and a bubble would appear around them. Inevitably they would shuffle self-consciously sideways in surprise, drawing even more attention as the operators struggled to get the focus back on the the right person. This continued roughly every thirty seconds for the duration of the show. I guess if it weren’t for this problem then the three operators (who also came out for their bow at the end) would have been out of a job.

The projections themselves were quite accurately mapped, with six different effects: bubbles, spotlights, rotating lines, a grid of nausea-inducing rising columns, some green tentacles (not reactive), and a green outline with red rotating sticks around it. I would guess they’re using Isadora – one of the effects is identical to something I’ve seen before, so I guess they haven’t exactly programmed this themselves. The bubbles are the most effective, having some potential to add to the dancers performance rather than merely decorating it. It seemed that they were also trying to make them sound-reactive, though without a great deal of skill, and this would definitely be a good direction for them to take things in future. Some genuine audience interaction could also improve things, rather than sitting people in a proscenium auditorium to watch some students naively demonstrate what an audience is, perhaps they could risk having the audience on the stage for real.

About Ivor Houlker

Ivor runs Rooftop Productions in Hong Kong, a theatre company known for multidisciplinary contemporary work. He trained as an actor at Rose Bruford College, and completed his MA in performance at Goldsmiths College, London.

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