I’m guessing that a lot of you wouldn’t know about this competition: the Prix Ars Electronica CyberArts. Am I right? I mention it because Troika Ranch won an Honorable Mention there in 2004 to add to its other awards. You also might not understand everything about the process behind the intriguing Loop Diver by Troika’s artistic directors—Dawn Stoppiello, choreographer, and Mark Coniglio, media artist-composer, with the input of dramaturge Peter C. von Salis.
According to the program, the current performances of Loop Diver inaugur- ate a two-year process “to reflect the repercussions of violent interruptions of our lives. . . .” By means of two software programs, EyeWeb and Coniglio’s own Isadora, the movements of six dancers generate or trigger spiraling colored visuals; these are projected onto a line of filmy hanging “screens” that march down the center of a space flanked by spectators on two sides. They also affect Coniglio’s throbbing, roaring, pattering, whining urban music and possibly David Tirosh and Jennifer Sherburn’s lighting. The computer has also had a hand in shaping Stoppiello’s choreographed “loops.” Most of these rigid patterns conform to an overall rhythm: rush, pose, hold. Obsessive repetition drills them into our brains. There’s the shoulder-to-shoulder lineup, the clump with contact, the two simultaneous sets of defensive poses, the two-person encounters, the race to sit on chairs in the front rows, the very slow pulling up of one’s shirt. It’s as if these people are numbly replaying the embedded residue of crises. Their mechanical precision both undermines and sets off their humanness.
But as “divers,” individuals can interrupt, prolong, or break from the patterns in circumscribed ways. A dancer may get stuck, bouncing in and out of a single pose while the others move on. After we get used to seeing Robert Clark bite Jen (JJ) Kovacevitch’s upraised hand while she shoves her face into his chest, we refer back to that when Clark hits the position minus his partner. Benjamin Wegman’s repeated thrust of a curved arm resonates with a clustered moment when Lucia Tong thrusts her head through the space it encloses. Bit by bit, the performers alter the material or add to it. Kovacevitch rubbing Daniel Suominen’s head several times assumes the status of an innovation. If it weren’t for the frozen passion, the effect of Loop Diver would be like watching someone rearrange your furniture: “What would happen if I set this lamp on the floor and moved the sofa a foot closer to the corner?” “If I put the table here, does it affect the impact of the painting?” At one point, near the end, when Kovacevitch, Wegman, and Johanna Levy explode into some furious individual dance bouts, it’s a shock.
The dancers also periodically speak or whisper into mics, or bound the stands on the floor. I can’t make out most of the words through the layered fog of music; ironically, the clearest are those spat out in French by Levy, as she hovers over Tong, who’s quaking on the floor: “Il n’y a rien à dire. Nothing, nothing,” I did catch “Change; don’t change,” which expresses something about a work in which change itself is often static, an affirmation of non-change as the status quo. At the end, after Clark meditatively re-imagines and expands motifs, a mysterious swarm of inflated clear plastic bags roll into the space like tumbleweeds. Cases for memories?
My attention wanes about 45 minutes into the hour-long piece, I’m not sure why, and I can’t blame only the hardness of the folding chairs (requested audience feedback on the group’s website may influence future performances). But I do find the play of repetition and variation fascinating, knowing that the smart, valiant dancers are making on-the-spot decisions that affect the texture, loving their attentiveness to one another and to what they’re creating together.