Digital Eternity

Roll the dice, wind the music box, focus the camera, plug in the laptop, and dance forever

The dusky snake charmer raises a small horn to her lips with mechanical regularity. As the serpent weaves before her, she slowly opens and closes her eyes; under her tiny gold bra her chest rises and falls. Two feet tall, made in 1902, she's one of the automatons in the National Museum of Monaco's extraordinary collection. Across the street, overlooking the Mediterranean, the Grimaldi Forum's huge tentlike glass structure houses the biennial Monaco Dance Forum. Coincidentally, many in the week's dizzying glut of events—multimedia workshops, public interviews, installations, live performances, video showcases, conferences, etc.—deal with reimagining or extending the human body, digitizing its landscapes, or creating simulacra.

Descending an escalator to the below-ground halls, I spot a child frisking delightedly across Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar's installation: a digital film of a city sidewalk crisscrossed by tiny digitized pedestrians. Before me is Bandits Manchots, created by students at Monaco's Pavillon Bosio, a school of scenography. Ten small screens frame solos by various robotic human figures. In body-altering costumes, they call to mind Bauhaus choreographer Oskar Schlemmer in an s/m mood. Around the corner, in Maïder Fortuné's video Combat, two faceless people are locked in a slow, unending inkblot struggle.

Requiem, an installation by Marcel.li Roca, spookily blends the automaton and digital technology. In a small, dimly lit room hangs a figure that suggests both ancient armor and a medieval torture device. Pass in front of sensors bordering one wall, and the metal suit dances selections from its repertory. At appointed times, Roca climbs into the thing and lets it dance him.

Greenfield with Australian Dance Theatre
photo: Monaco Dance Forum
Greenfield with Australian Dance Theatre

Interactive video is the multimedia world's reality show. Gregory Chatonsky's Ce que peut un corpsdares us to approach a keyboard and meddle with Fred Astaire's on-screen rhythms. In Canadian choreographer Marie Chouinard's Cantique No. 2, a video strip shows multiples of two profiled talking heads (Benoît Lachambre and Carol Prieur) conversing in primal sounds. Wearing headphones and manning two keyboards in front of another video of the pair, you can create your own "cantata"—arresting one antagonist in mid scream, prolonging a head-thrown-back laugh, forcing a synthetic drama of undreamed interactions.

Attaching sensors to a dancing body and grabbing the image, artists working with motion capture can design ghost figures who move eerily like their human models. Daniel Rassinier and Philippe Cheloudiakoff have a different use for sensors in their multimedia theater piece Augustine, inspired by photographs (taken in the 1880s at the Salpêtrière Hospital) of female patients suffering from "hysteria." Augustine's attacks, Dr. Charcot discovered, could be triggered when she was touched at certain points on her body. In one scene of the fascinatingly complex piece—we saw only videos—a male performer touching sensors attached to the same pressure points on soprano Barbara Trojani caused her voice to be played briefly back on a loop as she continued to sing.

Not all the live performances involved media. I was extremely impressed by the musicality and the lean, robust clarity of four works by Britain's Henri Oguike. But Garry Stewart's Held, choreographed on his Australian Dance Theatre, depended for its effect on the collaboration of photographer Lois Greenfield (whose work graced this column for many years). Images Greenfield snapped onstage were almost instantly projected on large free-standing screens, shaping and taking us deeper into rare still moments and suspending the dancers' kamikaze hurtlings in midair. In his Les Morts Pudiques, Rachid Ouramdane (a nominee for the "Best Emerging Choreographer" prize given at the climactic Nijinsky Awards, hosted by Charlotte Rampling) tried to deal with too many of the shameful deaths documented on the Internet, including online suicide. But he's a compellingly eccentric mover. He created some powerful images set in a partial prizefight ring whose transparent rails, continuing into coils on the floor, became thick veins pulsing with clear, red, or red-white-and-blue fluids.

Eventually, the dancing body wears out, which may be why capturing its image, playing around with it, and simulating it so fascinates us. The Monaco Dance Forum and the aDvANCE Project, with the support of the Princess Grace Foundation, also hosted an international conference on career transition for dancers. Co-chairs Philippe Braunschweig and Harvey Lichtenstein and aDvANCE's board coordinated presentations relating in part to its just published, rich-in-statistics research report Making Changes: Facilitating the Transition of Dancers to Post-Performance Careers, which details how dancers in 11 countries are informed about life-after-dance possibilities; how they are, or can be, helped by dance companies and government programs; and more. The findings and reports by various speakers were illuminating, and discussions—inevitably involving dancers' mind-sets, self-image, and training, as well as the discrepancy between their contributions to society and their low economic status—were absorbing, depressing, encouraging. Mindy Levine's masterfully succinct Beyond Performance: Building a Better Future for Dancers and the Art of Dance can be downloaded from danceusa.org, and Making Changes from tc.columbus.edu/centers/rcac.

Amid the dance buffs, video mavens (kids in a candy store), and hardworking technicians, the Mediterranean's waves offered a paean to eternal unpredictability.

 
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