Vivisector, Purcell Room, London <br></br>CandoCo, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Disembodied - in more ways than one

Jenny Gilbert
Sunday 09 March 2003 01:00

Digital technology is no stranger to dance these days. Countless choreographers are finding uses for the computer as a compositional tool. Still more are playing with computer graphics in stage design. Yet until now, the moving, living bodies of dancers have remained the main event. Austrian digital junkies Klaus Obermaier and Chris Haring have been pushing to change that, first with last year's solo show DAVE (Digital Amplified Video Engine), a cult hit on Europe's new-dance circuit, and now with a four-man show called Vivisector.

But can you really call it dance when no one moves for the best part of 60 minutes? The bodies, you see, are screens for projecting on. They mustn't move, at least, not quickly, for fear of ruining the effect. And these effects are, for the most part, spectacular. Ranged stiffly in a line like chaps waiting to be beamed-up from the Starship Enterprise, the four identical flesh-and-blood presences appear to dematerialise and mutate in a number of eye-popping ways.

A body fizzles into life from black nothingness, then decomposes into thin air. Another's surface goes all wiggly as if we're seeing its atoms at work, then hosts a lively light show of stripes and snowstorms. Whole bodies go missing and isolated limbs (shades of Schwarzenegger's Terminator) drop out of the frame. Spookier still, heads appear to turn through 360 degrees (shades of The Exorcist), while the attached torsos remain still. All of which is very clever in terms of the precision technology it requires, but doesn't bear too much analysis. Sure, over the course of the evening it might set you thinking about what we're made of, that we're all the same under the skin. But that's hardly a new observation. Magritte was playing more interesting games with the surface of things 80 years ago, just as German Expressionist cinema was experimenting with the same slow, watching-paint-dry theatricals. Obermaier and Haring's work is entertaining, at best. But as far as dance and technology goes, it's more a dead end than a beginning.

There were a few limbs and body parts missing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall when CandoCo, the "can-do" dance company of able-bodied and disabled performers, showed its latest mixed bill. And yes, that was a crass and insensitive link I just made, and I made it quite deliberately. The whole point of CandoCo, I think, is to stop people being polite about disability, stamp out the "does he take sugar?" mindset once and for good.

One of its dancers – a pretty girl, and a lovely mover – has a stump of thigh where her right leg should be. Fin Walker's piece, Shadow, has her wield it like a prize possession, sometimes landing it thump on a colleague's lap like a lump of baker's dough, other times hooking it over a partner's leg to send her soaring in airy wheels of flight. The message is: here I am, this is me, please don't look away. And the triumph of this company is that you don't want to.

Javier de Frutos, in his second commission for CandoCo, comes up with even more dramatic fare. Sour Milk features three women in dazzling 19th-century ballgowns, plonked legless on the floor with their skirts spread out like meringue. To an arresting recording of Chinese drumming – insistent, mesmeric, and faintly sinister – the three rock and lean from their rooted positions in a kind of rhythmic obeisance, torsos sweeping the floor. There is something faintly sexual in this ritual – an effect exacerbated by the elegant presence of a male dancer who flits among the spread-out skirts like an animated Hindu statue.

This may sound mad in its muddle of exotic references, but it makes very engaging theatre. I especially loved the final image of one apparently limbless woman happily being dragged away on her bottom by the hem of her skirt.

I felt less enthusiasm for Jamie Watton's light-hearted trio Phasing, which employs some pretty run-of-the-mill moves for its two able-bodied performers while interlocking ever so briefly with a man in a wheelchair. Yet the extreme limitations of this man's movement is key to CandoCo's work with its core audience, themselves wheelchair users. Too bad that the QEH's restrictions and stairs kept them away.

CandoCo: Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset (01202 685222), Fri & Sat; Wyvern Theatre, Swindon (01793 524481), 2 & 3 April; Jersey Arts Centre (01534 700444), 9 May

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments