My 20-something son is a child of the new media age, shirking from silence and happiest watching an action movie, listening to jazz and posting on Facebook simultaneously.
I, alas, am of an older vintage. I prefer my reading on the printed page, my television on PBS and my music filtered. So I approached the performance of "Particular," by Lostwax Multimedia Dance, the second entry in the Ringling's NowHERE contemporary stage series, with wary apprehension.
Described in the program as a "synthesis of dancers' bodies and new media technology," the work — a collaboration between choreographer Jamie Jewett and computer whiz R. Luke Dubois — intends to seamlessly meld live dance, recorded and improvised video and a Foley stage worth of unusual sounds into one big happy whole. The mere thought of it was enough to intimidate me.
So my reaction was somewhat of a surprise. Though unsustained for the full hour, I experienced multiple moments when sound, sight and movement became so integrated that my normally segregated senses became confused.
Was I watching the sound or hearing the dance? Looking at human bodies or graphic helixes? Listening to movement or seeing noise? Halfway through I figured I was either in an altered state or had been hypnotized by sensory overload.
There are five dancers, four women — Ali Kenner Brodsky, Amanda Del Prete, Kim Johnson and Betsy Miller — and one beefy guy (Alexander Drapinski) of diverse body type and height (and, from the looks of it, dance backgrounds too). They explore in movement and gesture the multiple meanings of the word "particular" — individual, odd, exceptional, separate — as well as their connection to the group. (Jewett has said the impetus for the piece was video of a "murmur" of starlings, a natural phenomenon in which thousands of birds swoop and swell across the sky.)
On a bare stage, in simple gray costumes accented with haphazard squiggles of blue thread that matched the computer graphics, they dance in front of continually changing computer images, improvisationally generated by Dubois during the show. The images both coincide with the dancers' movements and personify in size and shape the volume and nature of the accompanying sounds — running water, cascading coins, bouncing ping pong balls, screeches and bird calls, to name just a few.
Alternating solos, duets, trios and ensembles explore the traits of an individual dancer, the interaction of a couple or the dynamic of the flock. Periodically the dancers leave the stage, giving way to previously recorded video of rehearsals, shot up close and mostly from the waist down.
Infrequently, the dancers move in unison, mimicking avian behavior with quirky head cocks and picked-up knees. Eventually, the projections evolve from computer graphics into blurred and magnified body images and ultimately into to a flock of starlings, which transforms before your eyes into a school of fish.
Is this a successful synthesis? Judging from the reactions during a post-performance talk-back, that depends on the viewer. Personally, I found it difficult to consistently give equal attention to the all components at once.
On the other hand, there were those moments that transcended my own sensory limitations and biases. And even if you couldn't appreciate the amalgamation, you had to admire this polished group of dancers — Brodsky especially — who would be enjoyable to watch even without the added effects.
PARTICULAR, Lostwax Multimedia Dance, part of the NowHERE New Stages performance series at the Historic Asolo Theater, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. Reviewed Feb. 6; additional performances Feb. 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. $10-$30. 359-5700; www.ringling.org/nowhere