The spirit of collaboration and love of movement comes alive in the Dance Bites program for 2022 from FORM Dance Projects and Riverside Theatres. Let’s DANCE brings together a double bill of movement works roots in connection, reciprocity, and collaboration between artists, performers and audiences, and art and technology.
The opening number titled FALL! FALTER!! DANCE!!! was a solo piece written, choreographed, and performed by Ryuichi Fujimura as the final instalment of his three-part autobiographical work HERE NOW. Through remembering a conversation he had with a fellow dance student after a modern dance class in New York City in 2011, Fujimura reflected on his dance and performance career alternating between recordings of the conversation, Fujimura directly recounting past projects, and illustrative choreography. Much in the vein of Debra Oswald’s Is There Something Wrong with that Lady?, Fujimura’s career highlights could appear like a running list of failures and disappointments for anyone not familiar with the barrage of rejection that constitutes all artistic industries. But also like Oswald, Fujimura injected humour and humility into his experiences in gentle recognition of his purpose as a dancer: to dance.
The production considered the many challenges and contradictions of pursuing a career in dance including the limitations of the ageing body, few opportunities afforded to perform and even fewer to be paid to perform, and the seemingly random doling out of success where the career trajectories of contemporaries can vary so wildly. This was most clearly demonstrated in Fujimura’s subtle evocation of the other dance student, revealed to have been Greta Gerwig researching her 2013 film Frances Ha. After taking those classes with Fujimura, Gerwig has gone on to be nominated for three Academy Awards, one Golden Globe, and three BAFTAs amongst other nominations and awards. And yet the artist must strive to balance the destructive energy of comparison alongside personal feelings of failure and success, a balance represented by Fujimura’s costuming in silver reflective track pants and a sequinned jacket paired with a prop disco ball. While the flashy, shiny surfaces attracted attention, especially under the pulsing lights of Frankie Clarke’s design, the mirrors equally reflected that attention outwards in a reciprocal process akin to the artistic exchange between performer and audience. At the same time, the video projection by Laura Turner covered the back of the stage in many multiplications of Fujimura’s blinking eyes, amplifying his presence as another audience gaze on stage looking outwards. Both sides have positive and negative attributes: external attention is the connection at the heart of performance but it can also be judgement and rejection, while internal attention can bring comparison and envy alongside self-validation and joy.
Fujimura had a playful, silly performance style with self-deprecating humour and dramatic vulnerability as he remembered moments of particular embarrassment or disappointment. He moved fluidly, literally with his body under the falling confetti but also metaphorically through the reflection on his career. Despite the air of simple celebration conveyed in the pop tunes and funny anecdotes, FALL! FALTER!! DANCE!!! navigated complex contradictions in the professional lives of artists with an intricate and interesting examination of the very art of performance itself.
The second performance of this double bill was also a demonstration of a video game designed by Chris Chua. BeatStorm is a movement and rhythm game similar to the classic Dance Dance Revolution but involving motion capture technology that turns the player’s entire body into an avatar. During gameplay, the player collects tokens and avoids obstacles by contorting their body into different shapes and rapidly moving across the play area. In this iteration Chua has also integrated a level of collaboration with sequences in the game that require two players to share the same play area and collect the tokens in tandem.
In the performance, Chua and Nasim Patel demonstrated multiple rounds the BeatStorm with increasing difficulty. The involvement of the body in gameplay was extensive with Chua and Patel jumping, lunging, leaning, lying on the ground, and reaching in all manner of ways in order to reach the end of each level intact and with all tokens collected. Judging by the vocal reactions from the audience as Chua and Patel hit obstacles or died in the game, the intensity of the neon pink, green, and blue graphics, digital dance music, and frantic body movement was arresting. While their performances in the game were impressive, their skill became especially clear once general audience members were invited to give BeatStorm a go for themselves.
The format of BeatStorm feels like a natural progression from popular music- and dance-based games like Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero with the added advances in motion capture since Just Dance. But the feature of collaborative multiplayer levels incorporates the innovative addition of in-game problem solving with a nod to physical partnered dancing that brings the game back to its inspiration. Watching Chua, Patel, and audience participants navigate their way through the dance obstacle courses, BeatStorm seemed to come to the same conclusion as Fujimura that regardless of the challenges, the mistakes, and the setbacks, you just keep dancing for the joy of it.
Let’s DANCE ran at Riverside Theatres from August 11th – 13th
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