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Captivating fusion of dance and video


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Proximity – the brainchild of Australian Dance Theatre artistic director Garry Stewart, in collaboration with French video engineer Thomas Pachoud – explores the idea of selfhood, perception and neurological connections between individuals and the world.

Video projection is crucial to the concept of this production, so it is fitting that it begins with a video camera in a spotlight and three large screens behind it that dominate the stage. Bright flashes of light randomly hit the camera, simulating rapid synaptic transmission and acclimatising the audience for the fast-paced, rapidly changing styles of movement and video effects to come. Video projections present headaches for lighting designers, but Geoff Cobham is a master of his art and he manages to strike a brilliant balance between the two.

The dancers appear initially as ordinary people in tracksuits but, as we discover later, there are layers of complexity within them that is undiscovered and unknown. The performers are tremendous: athletic, strong and flexible, they move fluidly from one style to the next. They seem to be as connected to each other as protons and electrons are within atoms.

Composers Huey Benjamin and Brendan Woithe have created an electronic, percussive and mechanical score that is relatively cerebral and unpredictable; musically, they encapsulate the momentary connections between the dancers. Their music is appropriate for the hip-hop and rap influence in the choreography; at times it is sustained and at others almost chaotic, creating an environment for random events to occur.

The live video images are always interesting and allow for details and distortions that can’t be seen when viewing the dancers alone. Although there are countless video effects, they don’t appear to be there unnecessarily or to merely demonstrate what technology can do: they complement the dancers and further explore aspects of human and neurological interconnection.

Aerial cameras provide a very different perception of a dancer compared with what the audience sees of the same dancer at floor level. It’s not an Esther Williams’ device to display patterns and synchronicity, but rather an opportunity, by seeing movement from another perspective, to explore symbols and meaning in our understanding of the world around us.

The dancers provide many beautiful moments on stage: their solo, duet and ensemble work is tremendous. When mirroring or shadowing each other, accompanied by the video interpretation on the big screen, there are exquisite images of tenderness and connection. Two dancers connect with a kiss, suggesting that perhaps electrons connect just as humans sometimes do.

Proximity‘s use of video projection close-ups allows the focus to be on the fingers and hands of the dancers: there are fascinating sequences when pairs or small groups simulate the rapidity of thoughts themselves and their hands signal codes and ideas almost more quickly than our eyes can perceive them. Hands frame the camera lens and dancers peer into the camera; complex concepts are presented aesthetically and wondrously.

With the performing arts and sport using video or photographic imagery more, audiences and spectators are torn between viewing live action or the same event on a big screen. Proximity was conceived to be what it is – a fusion of live dance with live video exploring aspects of connections between people.

Garry Stewart’s production is not an emotional dance; it is an artistic, inventive and innovative exploration of complex scientific understandings of human’s perceptions of themselves and the world. There is always something going on – and we are never sure where to look – but in Proximity, wherever you look, there is something interesting to see.

Australian Dance Theatre is presenting Proximity at the Dunstan Playhouse until November 8.

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