It takes a while to list the different kinds of work Darren Johnston has put into his Silicon Sensorium. Besides dance, he uses film and animation, different kinds of projection, complex lighting and set design. The score was commissioned from the electronica artist Squarepusher. You can't miss Johnston's multimedia ambition, and his collaborations are innovative. His picture of artificial life still needs more depth.
Silicon Sensorium is a trilogy, with the new third phase receiving its premiere in Laban's handsome new theatre. "Phase 1" is entirely on film. The camera rushes down dark paths, and through some terrific industrial architecture, into a science laboratory. Squarepusher's music is industrial, too - sparse beats, with wrenching mechanical noise phased in and out of the soundtrack.
Mick McNicholas's animations are superimposed over the screen. Grids and 3D maps outline the position of the scientists, blur and vanish. Equations and mission statements come and go. The scientists are creepy, with heads bandaged and faces hidden behind moulded masks. As the film is edited, speeded and slowed, their movements become jerkily robotic.
In "Phase 2", we see the dancer Tim Morris as one of the new android clones. Kasumi Morimura's costume gives him another moulded mask, plus armoured white panels on a black bodysuit. He stands in a pod, a gleaming Perspex cylinder, with circuitry glowing on the floor around him.
Morris is the best dancer, moving with android regularity. He stands, bends, falls over and goes on walking. Designs aside, this solo has a lot in common with those robotic street performers. It's cleverly done, but it's kind of familiar.
Silicon Sensorium is full of sci-fi echoes. The clones suggest the robot from Fritz Lang's Metropolis, C-3PO and the stormtroopers from Star Wars. The filmed "Phase 1" has its Frankenstein moments, mad scientists at work on their creation. Johnston avoids B-movie extravagance, but he's working on a much-used subject.
Much-used in dance, too. There are plenty of doll ballets, and Johnston's new "Phase 3" has its share of Coppelia moments. Two female clones wait in their pods, standing half-folded for storage. The scientists lift them out, carry them into place, bend them into poses, like Dr Coppelius with his mechanical doll. There's a change of mood when the scientists leave the stage. Squarepusher introduces conventional instruments, a chuntering bassline, as the androids dance together.
Johnston's clones struggle for independent life. Phase 2's perspex box is a kind of prison, and there are hints at the trapped clone's loneliness. The robots of Phase 3's duet are moving into unprogrammed feeling. But it's hard to project emotion through so many layers of mask and armour, and Johnston's choreography doesn't have the expressive force to make up for it.Reuse content