In 1971, in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, a site-specific dance efficiency — one by which the ‘web site’ in query encompassed a dozen rooftops over a roughly ten-block space — was staged by the Trisha Brown Dance Firm (TBDC), one yr into its inception. Thought-about as a seminal work that’s a part of founder Trisha Brown’s “revelatory early oeuvre”, Roof Piece might be described as motion in transmission. On a roofscape strewn with standpipes, chimney-tops and fireplace escapes — so inviting an impediment course for latter-day traceurs — up to date dancers in sheer pink held fort on terraces and parapets that stretched out into the space.
When one dancer would execute a sequence of gestures utilizing their head, torso and limbs, one other dancer stationed at an adjoining constructing would comply with swimsuit trying to duplicate the transfer as faithfully as potential, and so forth and so forth. Spectators, standing atop buildings or trying up from the bottom, may watch the indicators shift and undulate from one physique to the subsequent. It was like a sport of corporeal Chinese language whispers.
In these ‘socially distanced’ occasions, communication throughout a number of levels of removing has acquired a newfound urgency. In March this yr, TBDC mounted a tribute piece, Room/Roof Piece, with dancers — nonetheless in pink however now safely ensconced of their respective dwelling — transmitting motion from one Zoom window to the subsequent. Whereas Roof Piece’s authentic thought was inventively retained, audiences at dwelling may now observe all 9 dancers in a single body of the now-familiar Zoom interface (a recording of the efficiency is on Vimeo). This spoke, fairly remarkably, of the nice intimacy and contemporary views supplied up by the know-how of our occasions, and little or no appeared to have been misplaced in translation from dancer to dancer in a technology that thrives on digital similitude by which digital proximity trumping bodily distance like nothing else. For these watching with contemporary eyes, the piece doesn’t instantly supply a clue to its raison d’être — the relaying of ‘motion phrases’ and certainly the route of that transmission is, maybe for a lot of, fortunately found solely in the course of the course of watching it.
The reimagined Room/Roof Piece is one in every of many ‘new’ performances for the digital age unleashed upon an unsuspecting public throughout lockdown in every single place. The positioning of engagement with audiences is often a streaming platform — for recorded works, each archival and freshly created — however the area of efficiency, the place actors and collaborators trade energies, concepts and notes, is now the omniscient video-conferencing utility, and it’s right here the place new acts are more and more being carried out dwell.
It’s an setting that has develop into utterly normalized to many, not simply to the legions of Work@Dwelling recruits spawned by organisational SOPs, however to freshly minted arts aficionados for whom logging in for a gig comes a shade extra simply than dressing-up for the theatre.
The way by which the brand new materials is acquired can be not standardised within the mien of the darkened auditorium of yore. Some would possibly watch on a telephone with headphones, or on a tv, others nonetheless would possibly mission visuals onto a wall.
The way by which theatre is skilled throughout lockdown is far more cinematic than one would possibly like. It raises questions on its very veracity, and its adherence to a type that has stolidly stayed alive for hundreds of years. In theatre, we have now skilled ‘blended areas’ earlier than — by which bodily and digital environments are carefully built-in — in high-tech immersive theatre or in augmented actuality works. This intersection will live on lengthy after issues revert to what’s being described as ‘The New Regular’. Nevertheless, the absence of tangible presence in lots of lately exhibited works — and this author comes off the again of 1 such mission — makes embracing them as prototypes of a brand new theatrical expertise a tad disorienting. After all, a suspension of disbelief was already an enormous a part of the proscenium set-up with its large curtains and pitch-black fade-outs. If Zoom or its numerous different rivals could make us purchase into the ‘right here and now’ efficiency of a chunk, then it can go a good distance in establishing the legitimacy of a digital medium as one by which theatre can discover a true, albeit short-term, footing.