To query the relationship between humans and machines is a big question that is the basis for an elegant new work from esteemed dance choreographer, Sandra Parker, in Small Details.
Part of Melbourne’s annual dance festival, Dance Massive, March is the month for dance to star as showcase discipline in a dedicated two weeks of the latest and most experimental work happening.
This stripped-back dance exploration positions body’s parts and machine parts side by side. Three dancers stand facing us, like Egyptian hieroglyphs and repeat gestural movements amongst four automated kinetic sculptures crafted by Rhian Hinkley.
A trip back to the ‘80s, these unobtrusive beige laminate and silver metal cute little ‘robots’ are timed to go off throughout the show. The dancers take their cues from these and we watch as they move like robots themselves, non-stop, for the entire hour. By enduring their fatigue, we see the two lifeforms labour and compare the contrasts. Our concentration was tested as we accompanied the dance journey.
The movement closely call our attention – unscrewing bottle-tops, washing dishes, removing a wristband, dressing or grooming — which are isolated from context and repeated as masterful choreography. By slowing down and upscaling unobserved daily movements, Parker and her dancers create a symphony of gestures.
Accompanied by the quiet clicks and a spoken audio about them, the dancers travel little distance yet work furiously with arms, torso, wrists and fingers. You’re compelled to stare and get caught up in the delicate human choreography, which is like a new language, as are the codes that mechanise machines. Sweat finally trickles across the dancer’s collarbones and over their ankles. We know these ‘flesh-machines’ to be human from skin tone, eye colour, varying hair types and body shapes, yet their output is mechanical.
The imperative to move unceasingly, to be productive, is what drives modernity, and the question at the heart of this show is about the differences and similarities of potential between humans and their opposite. As with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Parker is asking a key question as our age moves to another century with mechanisation.
Industry prefers electronic devices because they run forever and possess no subjectivity. For means of production, they seem superior to the human. Humans are genetic ‘machines’, designed by DNA to reproduce. Our lives are finite and flawed, though – humans by design decay.
This work shows us the body is also a beautiful working machine of bones, sinew, and muscle, cleverly designed for motion. Which is better? What, eventually, is the purpose of human or digital machines? Which is the best purpose of animation — to produce, or live and feel?
The answer is open-ended. Scarily, we as audience are cast in this bigger ‘ballet’ in our real lives. Will we one day be redundant? What lives do we lead surrounded by devices? What value do we bring to this age? See dance present this important question.
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold and non-traditional performance platforms. On the street or in the box seat, she is always looking for quality works that push the envelope.
‘Small Details’ shows 15–17 March 2017 at Dancehouse, 8:30 pm (60 mins, no interval). Buy Tickets here.
Dance Massive runs 14–26 March 2017 at Dancehouse, Arts House and Malthouse Theatre. See Program here. All venues are wheelchair accessible.
Disclosure: The Plus Ones were the guests of TS Publicity.
Image credit: Dance Massive.