Added on December 24, 2013 Elysse Cheadle Body Narratives , camera , Dark Room , processing , Roundhouse
Written by Elysse Cheadle
Dark Room: The realm of symbols, science and memories
Flashes and Memories
An evening inside a Dark Room
Written by Elysse Cheadle
All photos ©RoundhouseCC / MC James & Riz Herbosa
- I am riding towards the Roundhouse Centre on my bike the night of December 5th to see Dark Room: The realm of symbols, science and memories – the newest piece created by the Vancouver-based company Body Narratives Collective. I remove my gloves as I lock up my bicycle, and look into the illuminated windows of the Centre. In one window I see duos of badminton players. In another window, a solo dancer is rehearsing in front of a mirror.
- I am in the lobby outside the doors to the theatre. Two women in white lab coats are speaking to volunteers that they have pulled from the crowd. A circle of spectators watch as the volunteers are instructed to keep their arms inside two taught horizontal ropes, framing their mid-section. Cameras are pointed at the volunteers, and a computer monitor displays the cameraʼs perspective. The couple hold poses nervously. Given the ʻgo,ʼ they happily burst into absurd wiggles and gestures. The crowd laughs with them.
- I am entering the theatre and am faced with a black curtain and two signs. The signs indicate that I am to chose left, or right. I choose right, and follow a long curtained corridor which spits me out behind what I believe to be the tech booth. A man in a white lab coat sits at the table. The stage manager? In front of him are electronics and objects that look like childrenʼs computer-game consoles.
- A black monolith centre stage. Two large cylinders on wheels pressed up against one another. I am curious about the future for this object. Is it a giant scroll? Two red lightbulbs hang from the ceiling as do two pieces of wire. A white projection screen upstage. A piano downstage right. A pattern projected on the floor that reminds me of shattered glass. It is fractal and asymmetrical.
- A woman and a man in the audience look at their watches and start to clap out a rhythm. They are excited for the show to begin.
- A spotlight and an actor. He faces us and asks: “Do you know where you are?” He hints, “once we are in the dark, we could be anywhere.” Isolated islands of laughter in the audience as photographs are projected that were taken just moments ago in the lobby. The performer continues: “How many of you are afraid of the dark? … How many of you were once afraid of the dark? … How many of you are afraid that one day, any day you could suddenly be in the dark forever?” After each question he leaves time for a few of us to nervously raise our hands. We are told that after he leaves the stage we will be left in complete darkness. He says however, “when you are ready to come out of the darkness, make a sound.” The lights fade, and after a few moments somebody starts to clap. We remain in the dark.
- A dancer moves across the stage carrying a tea light. The movement is delicate, and the waving of the light reminds me of writing. I am trying to read the articulations of the light, but am unable to. She speaks: “Look how a single light can both defy and define the darkness.”
- From the speakers I hear the pre-recorded sound of a camera shutter. I question what it means to use recorded sound instead of live sound. Is this the memory of a camera?
- There are many performers on stage holding lights now. I am surprised by their numbers. It is too dark to see their faces in the glow of the lights, but I do notice that the man who I presumed was the stage manager is now a part of the community of dancers on stage. The dancers move slowly and repetitively. Their movement is ritualistic, and the bobbing lights are mesmerizing.
- Two women sit at the piano bench holding a hugely over-sized storybook from which they read. They look small in comparison to the book, and so I think of them as children. I struggle to hear all their words, but catch that they are reading some kind of creation myth. I hear the word “creature” repeated many times.
- Performers discretely moving on stage cast almost invisible shadows on the white projector screen. I think of the creature mentioned in the story, and I think about secrets.
- A bright flash of light, a scream, and the sound of a car crash. The revealing of a photograph taken moments ago: two dancers outlined by a constellation of tiny punctured spotlights. The dots of light around the dancers are in the shape of a car. A curious surprise silently and stealthily set up in the dark right in front of us.
- Two dancers in white coveralls manipulate the body of a third on stage. The dancers in white lift the woman in black. They move her as if she is falling through the air and then as if she is learning to walk. I am surprised by the length of her legs. The gestures she is moved through are animal-like. The woman in black collapses in a heap and the two dancers in white walk their fingers across her body. She is no longer an animal, but a landscape. The woman is lifted delicately by her feet, until she is fully extended in the air with her head on the ground. She is placed lightly back on the ground. This moment is beautiful; a simple and elegant movement which carries a great deal of imagery and emotion. I think of her body as a dry leaf blowing in the wind, and as a sheet of paper being flipped in a developer bath.
- We are in the dark again. From upstage-right, moving lights of green, blue, and red appear. The deep sounds of a jungle. I know the lights are attached to bodies, but I canʼt tell how many bodies are involved, or which joints are being highlighted by the lights. I think of bioluminescence and the Northern Lights. The two dancers in white enter and repeat the choreography of the dancers in the dark. The choreography is amphibious: smooth and slippery, but weighted. They use each otherʼs bodies to roll across the space. They are in constant contact, and tumbling like a rolling weed. I think of astronauts and melting solids. Their fingers graze across their heads like the feathers of a bird of paradise.
- A photograph is projected: curling lines of green, blue, and red. The photograph, we learn, is a long-exposure photograph of the nocturnal dance we just witnessed. We are asked “Is this what you saw?” and “Is this how you remember this dance?” I want to sit in this moment, and take in the photograph, but it is quickly removed.
- The audience is asked to participate in a game of displaying and deleting layers of projected photography. Three people volunteer themselves to participate. They are each given a console covered in large buttons. One controller displays images, another deletes them, and the third generates different sounds. Behind the actions of the volunteers, the performers are in thick gloves and are setting up four large chemical troughs. I feel frustrated that I can not watch the chemistry going on behind the games. I pay no attention to the dance of layered photographs being projected on the screen.
- The theatre is lit only by the red bulbs hanging from the ceiling. It takes the agility of two performers to unravel the huge scroll of photogram paper from the monolith (which I now realize has acted as a film canister). The two performers dip the paper into the first bath. They move slowly up and down. The moment is tense as we wait for the photograph to be revealed. This is the most exciting moment of the performance. Suddenly, a grey image emerges. Another dip into the developing solution and the image snaps into clarity. Two bodies folded together. The image reminds me of a multi-limbed beast, and of a Rorschach test. I can smell the chemical solutions; wet popcorn and ammonia. I love being sensually aware of the present while watching the past re-emerge.
- A chemical dance as the two performers in lab coats continue to dip the photogram in each bath. The dancersʼ hands slither a slow hula groove, before splitting apart into a frenzy of spastic choreography. A voice-over explains the chemical process that we are witnessing, “…the fixing solution dissolves undeveloped silver crystals…” The movement of the dancers responds to the descriptions of the chemical processes explained. I want to know more. I want to zoom in further and further to understand exactly what happens in the process. The stabilized photogram is hung from the dangling wires, white lights come back on, and we zoom back out.
- We are flying backwards through the piece, rewinding motions previously displayed. I notice that the two dancers in white coveralls are now wearing all black, and the two dancers in black are wearing white. When did that change happen? The choreography continues its retrograde until the moment just after the car crash. The victim lays on the ground in a spotlight as the two dancers dressed in white slowly spiral off stage. For the second time we hear “look how a single light can both defy and define the darkness.”
- I leave the theatre the same way I came in. My own actions are reversed. I put my gloves and hat back on, do up my coat, pass the two women in lab coats who are again assisting volunteer participants in performing silly dances in front of their camera and computer monitor. I walk outside into the cold, and unlock my bike. I am thinking about the polarity and flexibility of time, and how our obsession with documenting moments through photography does defy time, but also defines our understanding of a moment by reducing it to an encapsulated frame. Sometimes when looking at a photograph after it has been taken, I find myself asking whether or not I can really remember that exact moment. I am thinking about how theatre and dance are perfect mediums to explore the idea of impermanence and repeatability. The illuminated windows of the Roundhouse Centre still reveal duos of badminton players in the multipurpose room as I hop on my bike and head home.
Dark Room: The realm of symbols, science and memories
Performed at The Roundhouse
Dec 4 & 5 2013
by Body Narratives