nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 7, 2007
I'm quite interested in the ways that new technologies can be incorporated in theatre and performance; the reason I went to see Troika Ranch's new work-in-progress Loop Diver is because the press release says:
Loop Diver employs a ground-breaking open source motion tracking software program called EyeWeb, which works in tandem with Mark Coniglio's own revolutionary program Isadora, a real-time media manipulation software. Through a single camera pointed towards the stage, EyeWeb creates a 12-point skeleton that follows the shapes of the dancers' bodies. The information is passed on to Isadora, which generates visuals and manipulates aspects of the music by interpreting the movements of the skeleton. The combination of EyeWeb and Isadora essentially puts the power of the performance back in the hands of the performers, allowing the performers themselves to manipulate the scenic and sonic elements of the piece.
Interestingly, the program provided to audience members doesn't talk about EyeWeb at all. During the show, I did see the camera and its operator, but couldn't tell what effect if any they were having on the performance. I hope Troika Ranch co-artistic directors Coniglio and Dawn Stoppiello, the creators of this piece, learned something from what was happening on stage.
Because, unfortunately, I didn't: Loop Diver was, for me, that rare work of theatre/performance that I couldn't access at all. The basic idea of the show is that six dancers are each locked in a series of recursive movements, sometimes interacting with one other and sometimes on their own; framing them is similarly repetitive music (dissonant electronic sounds composed by Coniglio) and abstract video, projected on a series of malleable sheets hanging perpendicular to the audience (we were seated on opposite sides of the stage). Once in a while, something or someone breaks the pattern, and the order of the thing mutates until it finds its way back to its original state. (Presumably this is where EyeWeb and Isadora come in, but again, no context was provided to help me understand how.)
What does all this mean? I couldn't begin to tell you. Loop Diver feels, right now, to me, to be solely about process. The program does tell us that "The performance is designed as the starting point of a two-year process to reflect the repercussions of violent interruptions of our lives ranging from the loss of loved ones in accidents, to attempts on one's life, or the denial of love." To which I can offer two responses: first, in terms of content, it feels like Troika Ranch has a long way to go to achieve this objective; and second, I'm not sure what I saw suggests that an investment of two years is necessarily a great use of resources. (I'm not being mean: as a web developer/programmer, I've started lots of promising projects and then aborted them because they just didn't seem to be achieving what I'd hoped. Experimentation is great; but knowing when to move off an experiment is great too.)
More tangibly, I can relay to Coniglio and choreographer Stoppiello that I couldn't understand practically any of the dialogue that the performers intermittently spoke into microphones around the dance floor, and that I couldn't make out most of the projected images/video. Almost nothing in Loop Diver engaged me, intellectually or viscerally, in fact: I tried to lose myself in the movement's beauty, or grace, or rhythm, or mood, but I never really did; as I said, I was aware of process, above all.
To the performers Robert Clark, Jen Kovacevich, Johanna Levy, Daniel Suominen, Lucia Tong, and Benjamin Wegman, I can add this: Wow, you guys work really hard. Your control of your bodies is extraordinary and often exciting to observe.
I welcome—encourage—comments and feedback from all.