Klaus Obermaier, Rob Tannion & Desiree Kongerod
Measuring the Emperor's New Clothes
September 24 , 2004 -- Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Two figures: one male and one female are silhouetted on the stage. Their smooth, geometrically patterned gestures and pathways are echoed by a line of light projected onto a plain backscreen. This living line is closely linked to the two figures: it shrinks as they move towards each other, and, as their movements become faster and more complex, it begins its own dance, splitting into a splay of separate lines, or joining to form a looping helix, and pulsating merrily throughout. This is the opening scene of Klaus Obermaier, Desiree Kongerod and Rob Tannion’s collaborative project "Apparition". It is only after about 15 minutes that the faces of latter two, the silhouetted performers, can be seen, although they have been vibrantly visible from the start.
Soon, they return to synthesised anonymity. Parallel lines of light sprout upwards from the floor of the stage like strange blades of cyber grass, gradually filling the back wall. Accompanying electronically produced sounds are metallic. The dancers have become encaged by strips of light. Then they too are lit in stripes, which rotate through 360 degrees as they start to walk around the stage, rendering them as simply human figures again, this time contoured. Sustained sequences of lingering inverted yoga postures demonstrate the performers' powerful strength and concentrated stamina (later, they further prove their mettle through a risky contact sequence). The contouring lights develop into elaborate patterns, distorting the dimensionality of their bodies, giving the impression of movement where there is stillness and iridescently enhancing their already luminous presence.
How is all this technology manipulated, I cannot help wonder. Which comes first -- the movement or the light? Or are both exquisitely timed and rehearsed to produce these breathtaking effects? How much is rehearsed? And how much is produced on the night via the vast Starship Enterprise switchboard set up in the centre of the Queen Elizabeth Hall auditorium? As the work evolves and generates more and more configurations of the use of this technology, I forget these questions, and succumb to a different kind of wonder: I almost have to stop myself from ‘ooohing’ and ‘aahing’ as if at a firework display. If only Loie Fuller were alive to see all this.
Kongerod and Tannion’s movement vocabulary seem to emphasise the surfaces of the body and its musculature, lines, curves and symmetries (both are blessed with biology textbook physiques), rather than its thoughts and emotions. Yet, there are allusions to a deeper conceptualisation of the body and a questioning of its place and its significance amongst all this scientific wizardry. Text is projected onto Rob Tannion’s stationary crucifix-posed body, progressing from left to right as though being read. Or, perhaps these words are writing themselves onto him whilst he remains passive. Now he moves also and the letters become a jumble of code. Hypertext to hyper-active-text.
"Apparition" is clearly all about perceptions. In the past, fusions of dance with techno-effects have been associated with ideas of illusions of the body as infinite and to the space age ("Ghosts & Astronauts", for example). I think "Apparition" pushes a step beyond consciously produced mystique: it is very much about showcasing how things can be made to appear, rather than fabricating how the choreographer hopes the audience will see things.
In the past, too, there has been a general feeling amongst dance criticism that the increasing collaboration between dance/choreography and digital/screen technology is a positive and exciting development for the field. It is highly theorised, but in practise is often a little "Emperor’s New Clothes"–esque. A few commented that Klaus Obermaier’s last project "Vivisector" was intriguing and conceptually exciting, but did not contain enough substance to be sustainable as an hour-long piece of entertainment. That was two years ago, and things move fast through wires. "Apparition's" premiere was received enthusiastically, inciting prolonged rapturous applause. As the house lights came up a little boy who had been sitting behind me announced rather mournfully, eyes still transfixed on the stage, “All finished now”. I think he spoke for everyone.
Photos: Gabi Hauser
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