Shrouded in darkness and wrapped in a tangle of white fabrics, a mysterious four-legged, dragon-like creature haltingly weaves between the audience's folding chairs. An increasingly loud bass drone and the unsettling tick-tock of an unseen grandfather clock accompany the creature's progress. Sloshing and banging sounds are supplanted by squeaks, deep breathing, windy wails and a haunting dark melody line, reminiscent of Twin Peaks. Sounds emanate from various sources, including the costume's wig, as the tethered performers advance toward the bare dance floor.
This is the beginning of Touch Me Hear, a multi-media work that premiered at Wynwood's Inkub8 performance space and plays in another Miami venue mid-June, before continuing to New York City at the end of the month.
Juraj Kojs, a Slovakian experimenter with touch and movement-actuated electronics, conceived the piece, which was commissioned by the Harvest Digital Arts Media Center in New York. He won a Knight Foundation residency at Inkub8 performance space, securing time with collaborators, dancer-choreographer Carlota Pradera, dancer JoAnna Ursal and costumer Kim Yantis.
The program's structural elements of ice, fire, water and wind have associated sounds -- some with the naturalistic character of field recordings; others synthetically generated. The "score" is activated in part by the performers, whose wrist-mounted, motion-sensitive devices wirelessly communicate with Kojs's laptop and sound system.
Says Kojs, "I created a bunch of sound files that have those qualities we're looking for and coded them, so that a portion of the file is played when [the dancer] is in this position or this position."
Kojs' attention to sound is both sensual and scientific. He zooms in to explore the ways in which subtle textural distinctions among silk, organza, and cellophane can generate sound through touch -- especially when greatly amplified. "It's like a little microscope, except it's not a visual microscope, but an aural microscope... What I'm interested in is bringing to life sounds that we hear, but they are on the threshold of hearing."
While obeying no obvious choreography, the program actually follows a repeatable sequence of set pieces that the dancers navigate -- individually and in tandem. Ursal joined the ensemble later, so her character was developed during rehearsals -- even in performance.
"Juraj pointed out," says Pradera, "'You're making this visible, because the sound becomes visible through the hearing, through the connection with movement." By limiting the sensor/transmitters to two per dancer, that relationship between sound and physical gesture remains transparent.
Sound is also generated through the costumes, which were created by Yantis, with considerable input from Kojs and the dancers.
"The blue costume that Carlota wears was meant to really reflect wind and water. It's a one-shouldered silk costume construction that wrapped around the body very sensuously," Yantis explains. Worn over a unitard, "it's a splash of color on a white palette." Ursal's costume is more angular. It evokes fire, with red, orange and black. "The characters start out together but concealed," Yantis says. "They then separate entirely, and there's some kind of a merging and personal connection, and the orange silk and the blue silk really meshed together through the final movements of the show." Those final movements of embrace and caressing are also the most intimate, sensuous and spiritually satisfying of the performance.
For Kojs, it's not primarily about gadgetry. Rather, it's about "creating a performance that has a drama, a tension that guides you, that captures and holds you throughout... Then you figure out what technologies to use; what sounds to use; what materials to use."
He's intrigued by mankind's evolving relationship to technology and how it affects our psyches, our senses, our natural and man-made ecology.
"One man confessed that even though the performance was very abstract, it was so emotionally engaging it made him cry," Kojs said. "There was a space for him to interpret it for himself. What he did was succumb to his own emotional state. And that's beautiful when we can do that with art."
Nothing gimmicky about that.
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"Touch Me Hear" Friday and Saturday at The Bridge, 4220 N.W. 7th Ave., Miami; at 8:00 p.m.; cost is $10; 305-632-5776; www.thebridgecatalyst.com.
--George Fishman, artburstmiami.com