Theater archives

Digital Dynamite


I remember my first word processor with nostalgia. It was a Kaypro, bought around 1985. No hard drive, no graphics. Suddenly a wizard sat on my kitchen table. Via certain keystrokes, I could select and move blocks of luminous green text around the very small, dark screen! The portable machine (the size of a square metal suitcase) presaged an unimaginable technological future. Who marvels that much now? Upgrade to Apple’s OS 10.4 and get a Tiger on your desk? Ho-hum. And, of course, the more complex computers get, the harder they are to master, and the more that can go wrong.

The Kaypro popped into my mind, not for the first time, when I saw Laura Peterson’s I Love Dan Flavin and read, in her original project description the words “retro-futurism.” Her ingenious, witty little piece both honors and pokes fun at the glowing visions we had back when the neighbor’s kids were going wild with Atari. Dan Flavin’s installations of glowing neon tubes captured the zeitgeist. Set against walls washed with colored light, they pitted pseudo-functional austerity against gleaming, candy-bright sensuality. The words “I love Dan Flavin” rise up in thudding, growling, roaring, techn-pop music by the German group Kraftwerk (with additions and manipulations by Jorge Cousineau).

Cousineau has transformed Dixon Place’s tiny performing area into a Flavinesque site: a white ceiling, two abutting white walls, and a red floor, with the audience sitting along one side and one end. Low black barriers containing white fluorescent tubes define the space at floor level. Other lights periodically saturate the shorter of the two walls—turning it green, blue, red, magenta, lavender, and often rendering the performers as silhouettes.

The dancers (Eun Jung Gonzalez, Christopher Hutchings, Katie Harris, and Peterson) look like robot-astronauts in their sleek black outfits with silver trim (Costumes by Charles Youseff). Abruptly and rapidly, they semaphore their straight arms from the shoulder joints and twist them at their sides in a fiendishly clever sequence. Staring straight ahead all the while, they look like arcade-game warriors ready for the coin to drop and set them battling. Peterson, with her doll-like face and large, pale eyes, suggests a high-tech Coppelia.

Even when the dancers strike out in space, they preserve, for the most part, their abrupt, mechanical dynamics. Hutchings shoves the seated Peterson forward so that one of her straight legs jams into a Dixon Place pillar, then pulls her back in order to shove her again and again. While crazed taped voices count falteringly in German, English, and French, the dancers punctuate their stepping and their turns to face new directions by dropping into deep pliés and falling backward.

Repetition is a major element. Peterson, soloing, builds a string of varied movements in place, eliminates some, then reclaims them. She and Harris gradually advance cross the red arena by jolting into a sit and rolling into a push-up position, getting visibly tired and moist. Aerobics, too, are a product of the ’80s, and there’s a calisthenic insistency to quite a bit of the choreography. Flamboyance also plays a role. Smiling vivaciously, Hutchings launches into leaps and spins, while the blank-faced women form a jerky back-up chorus. All four performers take turns imitating another sort of robotic phenomenon: the runway strut.

Peterson has designed a smart, severe, oddly moving work. As the music grinds along, and the figures pump away under the lollipop-colored lights, you can ponder the moral vacuum at the core of our technological universe.