York Theatre, Seymour Centre
After a six-month drought of live dance performances in Sydney due to the shutdowns and restrictions associated with COVID-19, Shaun Parker & Company performed In the Zone at the Seymour Centre to both a live and livestreamed audience. This was the Seymour Centre’s first performance back – and there are changes. From temperature checks at the foyer to signing in by scanning QR codes and/or entering your contact details, to the presence of masks and the way the limited audience was scattered throughout the auditorium. But despite these changes there was a convivial atmosphere and a real sense of excitement in the air.
The show was preceded by a number of welcome speeches including a welcome to country given by Yvonne Weldon. Recently reinstated NSW Minister for the Arts, Don Harwin, director/choreographer Shaun Parker and Lily Lee (chair of Shaun Parker & Company) also spoke; while sound designer, composer, and inventor of the Airsticks technology, Alon Ilsar, was livestreamed from Melbourne. Despite being a short run of only three live performances over two days, it was incredible to hear that less than 12 hours prior a performance of In the Zone had been livestreamed to over 7000 students from 110 schools.
The Airsticks technology is a central component of the work. Essentially, Airsticks are repurposed hand-held gaming controllers with the capacity for an extraordinary range of electronic musical sounds, which are determined both by a wide range of settings or worlds, and the way in which the user moves and articulates these controllers in relation to a central movement reading hub. While certain forms of dance, for example, flamenco or tap dance have always enabled their practitioners to make their own accompanying music/rhythm, the Airsticks technology gives the dancer using them a much wider range of sounds to play with and it is exciting to think how they might be further integrated into dance performance and practice in coming years.
Solo performer, Libby Montilla, impressed his audience with the highly detailed precision of his hip-hop and street dance skills. Make no mistake, this dancer’s virtuosity within his own style of dance is as impressive, as graceful and fluid as any of this country’s top ballet or contemporary dancers. Over almost an hour (without intermission), Montilla used his movement and mimetic skills, musicality, dynamic range, comedic timing and the Airsticks themselves to carry the audience into the depths of a shared immersive and imaginative experience.
A crucial contributing factor here too was Ben Brockman’s vivid lighting design which was cleverly projected exactly onto the York Theatre’s unique building structure and facade. The effect at times suggested that we were all inside a giant arcade game - portraying the vast theatrical space as a modern, technological hub.
From the opening scenes in which Libby Montilla seemingly came across the Airsticks by accident, to his obvious enjoyment exploring and demonstrating what he could do with them, a range of electronic musical themes from vintage computer games gave many in the audience a trip down memory lane. The sounds of sport (a bouncing basketball) and music (violin, flute) were also touched on. And as the work eventually diverged into a loose narrative, he was seemingly immersed in water, then outdoors on a beach piled up with rubbish that he attempted to clear. The squawking of seagulls and the sounds of the surrounding natural environment were particularly convincing in this scene.
As a dance critic with little to no previous interest or experience in gaming, I am far from the target audience for In the Zone and did not expect to find this performance as engaging as I did. Highly recommended. And likely of particular interest to the young and anyone with an interest in gaming and/or new technologies.
- GERALDINE HIGGINSON