Presented by Harbourfront Centre as part of their Torque series, Kaeja d’Dance’s 31 (TouchX + I am the Child of…) offers conceptually innovative contemporary dance that feels acutely humanistic. Of the two pieces in this double bill, only the first truly held my attention.
Choreographed by Karen Kaeja, TouchX utilizes eight core dancers, though, at key moments, the space will be filled with about twenty more bodies. We open on a vast field of transparent plastic sheeting; it extends forward and up the back. The surface is misshapen, the protrusions eventually revealed to be human figures nestled underneath.
Throughout, plastic figures prominently; the dancers wrap it around themselves, writhe underneath, and drag it about in expressive flourishes. The sound of the rustled material adds an eerie resonance. This is dynamic spectacle that feels both expansive and intimate. As bodies interact with each other and the invasive plastic, it feels like a series of evolving negotiations.
In the finale, a crowd of bodies flood the stage. They move ever-forward in a looping progression and we glimpse brief moments of touch—some tenuous, some firm. As their relentless march begins to suggest the work-a-day rhythm of life, there is a deeply moving cumulative effect of minute physical connections.
Allen Kaeja’s I am the Child of… opens with a game of Red Light/Green Light and seeks to incorporate augmented reality into this exploration of childhood memory. Blending structured interactions with improvisational, reactionary elements, this experimental work doesn’t really achieve the intended emotional or sensual impact.
The technological component wasn’t properly organized. The QR codes that audience members must scan to access the software wasn’t made easily available to all; patrons in the upper seating levels were left mostly unattended to. The site itself—an issue with the wifi-connection, I believe—tended to glitch out.
The soundscape—performed live from pre-recorded vocalizations from the performers—is a patchwork of fragmented, cacophonous text. I found the audio element rather frustrating, giving the impression of meaning, but never quite evoking much intrigue or insight.
At key moments, performers use smart phones to record their on-stage interactions to be live-streamed to audience members through the AR set-up. If the tech was functioning well, this could be an immersive, dynamic experience. The tech at opening was cumbersome though, and the staged interactions themselves weren’t particularly compelling.