New York Live Arts, New York, NY; 13 June 2014
Technology is omnipresent in modern society and infiltrates nearly everything we do. From paying bills on our smart phones to the rampant popularity of social media, there is hardly an area of our lives not affected by technological advances. Privacy has been washed out by the proliferation of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and I am hard pressed to walk down the streets of New York City and see anyone’s eyes- nearly all the faces that pass me are buried in their phones and devices, mine often included.
In “Surveillance”, Artistic Director Zvi Gotheiner explores how we respond to the pervasiveness of technology in our daily lives, and specifically to the pervasiveness of the surveillance camera. Through a thrilling collaboration of contemporary dance, interactive video and animation, Zvidance blurs the lines between voyeur and exhibitionist. The piece openes with dancers entering and forming a line downstage, dressed only in scanty undergarments, subtly seducing the audience with gestures and facial expressions. Suddenly, one by one they back away, gasping and sometimes falling to the ground, making sounds that range from choking, gasping for air, and orgasm, hinting at the myriad reactions people can have to constantly being watched.
Perhaps it is a feeling of claustrophobia one feels knowing that they are being watched in subtle but socially agreed upon ways. Perhaps it is absurdity that comes up for others at the reality of an Orwelian prophecy straight out of the pages of 1984. Either way I take this vignette to be a statement about personal reactions to being watched and the human tendency to want to exhibit ones best qualities, the almost obsessive need to look good in the face of social media, where everything you do can be posted, tweeted, judged and displayed for all to see.
In another section, text reading “SEARCH ONE,” “SEARCH TWO,” and “SEARCH THREE” was projected on the back wall. One dancer manipulates the arms, head, and torso of the other dancers in ways reminiscent of an airport security search. In “Search Two,” dancer Todd Allen, stark naked and blindfolded, “searched” Chelsea Ainsworth quite lecherously, a statement about the growing invasion of privacy inherent in these seemingly innocent searches. In “Search Three,” Samantha Harvey performed the movements on herself with a deadpan expression, giving the feeling that she had been brainwashed into thinking such searching was necessary, perhaps not believing in her own right to privacy.
I was extremely impressed by the unyielding stamina of the company. The movement was full-bodied, extremely athletic and robust, plyometric and a cardiovascular challenge- and nearly non-stop for 60 minutes. Large ensemble work, so exciting in its flow and use of space, was interspersed by solos and duets, giving the piece a roller-coaster like effect with its slow climbs and breakneck plummets. I was also extremely pleased by the eclectic style of dance vocabulary. ZviDance melds movement genres into a distinct dance style that seems to depend symbiotically on the dancers in the company bringing their own kinesthetic stamp. One can see the influence of ballet, contemporary, modern, and freestyle, seamlessly blended so as to at once be all of those things yet none of them. The powerful original score by Scott Killlian, reminiscent of what you’d hear in a dance club, complemented the perfect blending of pedestrian and highly technical movement vocabulary.
During a few sections, the dancers film each other, themselves, or the audience and the shot from the camera is projected onto the back wall. When most of the ensemble join hands and stamp a rhythmic foot pattern, another travels along the line, filming up close with a night-vision camera. Tyner Dumortier dances a slow solo with four cameras strapped to his torso, filming all four sides of his upper body. The restrictions the construction impose on his movement made the solo very interesting and insect like.
A visual stunner, “Surveillance” is weaker in its commentary on the use of surveillance technology. From the ZviDance website: “SURVEILLANCE is an immersive-intrusive-inescapable-environmental dance piece that will leave you wondering how and why as a society we consent to this invasion into our private lives?” The cameras were not used in a highly invasive way and the performers seemed aware of their presence and consenting to their use.
Perhaps Gotheiner wants us to reflect on this consent for ourselves rather than spell out for us how we got to this collective place. There was no real exploration of the harms or consequences of surveillance; the filmed parts were actually quite pleasant. The cameras functioned more as a means to alternate or expanded perspective, which added a fascinating dimension to the work, rather than as a way to record behavior. Regardless, the use of projections was integrated and in no way a detriment to the beautiful, vibrant dancing, giving audiences another perspective and opportunity to reflect on the technological age we live in.