Search Engine

Footnote Dance Company
23 May 2018, Hastings Community Arts Centre
By Ester du Fresne

It is dark. A large space looms beneath me. I hear the whisper of the dancers’ feet as they enter the performance space, but see only shadows. Slowly, softly, there is light and sound. Two dancers are revealed, male and female. With a series of choppy and precise movements paralleled between them, they begin.

I am watching the luminous performance of dance, light, sound and imagery that is Search Engine, the largest ever tour conducted by Wellington-based dance company Footnote. I’m on the mezzanine level of the Hastings Community Arts Centre, with a bird’s eye view of the portable performance space below. A large canvas rises perpendicular to the stage; the two surfaces combining to be one projector screen.

On stage, the dancers’ synchronous movements are accompanied by their shadows reflected harshly onscreen. The complicated puzzle of movements evolves into an interaction of conflict and togetherness, movements soft and hard, as the tempo quickens and projected imagery appears. The combined effect of the surreal tech graphics and the dancers’ contrasting, almost panicked, moves evokes a contemplation of human relationships and our obsession for technology’s effect on them.

And so we receive the first hint at the theme that Search Engine explores: our absorption in the instant, addictive range of vapid stimulation our technological devices offer. Paradoxically, the layout of this mobile performance space forces a physical closeness with both performers and audience: floor cushions have been arranged in neat rows directly around the stage, mostly occupied by families with admirably quiet children, while others spill onto the stairwell or join me standing on the mezzanine. The stage and screen nearly fill the space, drawing you into the performance until it feels almost intimate.

This first dance is Night Swim, one of three short works that make up an hour-long performance. Our dancers reach a peak of whirling, writhing, franticness, alternately repelling and drawing to each other as the screen and stage becomes a sea of morphing, melting blue lava. The dance ends with a slap and a cuddle, and I feel a strange affection for the journey I’ve just witnessed.

Home Sweet Home is split into three acts. Three dancers take the stage one at a time as words are read from letters about being away and missing home, words spoken over soft music, words projected onto the screen and stage, words contorting into silhouettes of faces. The second act sees the dancers slow dancing to Elvis’ ‘Take your troubles to the Chapel’, before breaking out in a joyful drunken romp (complete with whoops and hollers from the dancers themselves) for the third act, ‘The Search for Ecstasy’. The final chapter, ‘Search for Acceptance’, has the dancers singing along to ‘Edelweiss’ as flowers bloom beneath and behind them. Deeply tender, the performance feels like a peek into the choreographer’s diary.

Final dance: Dys-Connect. Five dancers, dressed in shades of greys and blues, move like a cluster of seaweed in a current to a soundtrack reminiscent of pebbles chattering in the surf. As a series of techy beeps begin and hasten, the dancers variously twirl away from the group, vibrating and shaking and jerking like glitching GIFs. The sound of the pebbles on the beach intensifies, images like bacteria under a microscope float across the screen and stage.

The movements become more desperate and violent, and an ominous, mechanical baseline kicks in. The dance has subconsciously transported me from calm currents to a violent dystopia.

From start to finish, Search Engine’s union between movement, sound and imagery has been immersive, engrossing and excitingly experimental. The dancers fall to the stage in a heap, and it is dark again.

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