Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) Theater, San Francisco
January 15, 2016
Bryn E Namavari
San Francisco Performances presents
Concept, Direction and Set: Wayne McGregor
Choreography: Wayne McGregor in collaboration with dancers
Music: A Winged Victory for the Sullen
Lighting Design: Lucy Carter
Film and Set Photography: Ravi Deepres
Costume Design: Studio XO
Company Wayne McGregor’s collaborative performance of Atomos played at the YBCA theater this week. But can we call it just a ‘performance’? It is a layered, interactive, complex system of parts. If we think of the piece as a ‘network’ it would be a closer definition. Synesthetic? Yes. Metaphysical? Absolutely. In many ways, chaotic and nihilistic. This sort of process-driven post-modern piece (give or take a ‘post’) can easily produce signs of horror from traditionalists. But, the monopolists have long since lost their monopoly on our understanding of dance and expressive movement.
Choreographers like McGregor are free to demystify the process between the artist and the audience. Liberated by the contemporary age and entities such as the Internet, McGregor’s work is one amongst many subgroups and genres. Dance has become about the community, the collective, a complex and varied dialog, and more and more about the audience. Artists are free to borrow from almost infinite influences—in this case even science and anthropology—and explore the intersection and the interplay between disciplines.
Company Wayne McGregor places this collaboration at the forefront of the audience’s mind employing a varied cast of artists including the vivid geometric lighting of designer Lucy Carter, filmmaker Ravi Deepres, neo-classical ambient composers A Winged Victory For The Sullen, and androgynous color-blocked costumes by Studio XO.
Atomos dissects these many elements, breaking them down to their basic forms and then sets them against each other as individual players. The audience too, becomes integral to the experience. There is a shuffle through the auditorium as the whole theater obediently puts on their 3D glasses for an entire third of the piece. Images come to life displayed across a series of flat screen televisions suspended from above the stage.
The act of wearing, then removing the glasses requires that the audience be more than a simple passive viewer. There is a perception shift, a heightened awareness. The audience is at least as important as all of the other elements—almost as if the viewers themselves are accompanied by the music, the dancers, the lighting. The piece explores our concept of physical awareness and the existential (what is our place in the chaotic world?) through movement and inter-relational bodies (bodies: human, bodies: atomic, and/or bodies: celestial/heavenly).
The dancers’ fluid movements often appear random, but periodically come together to form recognizable patterns, flows, synchronicity. We glimpse for a moment that perhaps there may be a larger order beyond our perception that is driving the individual pieces as part of a whole. We have to ask ourselves – which is it? Do we exist in fragmentation or as part of a society with a singular understanding of the world? Arguably, we can no longer believe that there is one common set of ‘known truths’—there is pluralism, a duplicity that provides a soft-focus view. Atomos embodies this idea.
If this all seams too cerebral, don’t let it deter you. Beyond the intellectual exploration, beyond the process, Atomos is a singularly beautiful piece of art. It sits on the cusp of something both exhilarating and terrifying and we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.