Friday, September 22, 2023

Review: Aeris Korper Returns with Hybrid Model for Prospects 10

Who: Aeris Korper Dance Theatre
What: Prospects 10: An Evening of Dance and Discussion
Length: 3 Hours
Where: Burlington Student Theatre (in-person) and streamed online
When: November 4, 2021 and available via Aeris Korper’s Facebook Page

It was never explicitly said during Aeris Korper Dance Theatre’s Prospects 10, but for much of the audience and performers, the night represented the first time they’ve been able to come together in almost two years.

Since the start of the pandemic, Aeris Korper has continued their work to collaborate and incubate the talent of the contemporary dance community in Southwestern Ontario. This has frequently taken the form of the Prospects series, in which choreographers and emerging creators are invited to showcase works in progress and receive feedback.

Prospects 10 represented Aeris Korper’s first foray out of a completely digital realm and into a hybrid one, where audiences had the option of attending either in-person or watching a live stream of the event. 

While the streaming experience has evolved dramatically since March 2020, the streamed performance experience in a post-vaccination world still has rough patches. It was no different for Aeris Korper’s hybrid event, which experienced several technical challenges; from invalid access sites, to dropped videos and sound. Fortunately, most, if not all of the event was later put online for audiences to watch in its entirety.

Many of us have become accustomed to watching performances online at this point. Virtual performances will never take the place of live, in-person performances. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of watching performers live in-person with an audience seated around you. Dance, with its reliance on a collaborative vibe and unspoken connection with artist(s) and audience, must be one of the most difficult restarts for anyone in any medium. 

For this reason, as well as the technical difficulties, it was challenging to feel like a full participant in Prospects 10, where audiences are invited to interact directly with dancers and choreographers to share real-time feedback of a work-in-progress. The majority of the evening involved a dialogue to understand the context of the work and provide feedback. For those participating in the streamed experience, this meant contributing in a chat box, which removed much of the interactivity and connection that the experience is meant to develop.  

Artists presenting their work first described their motivation and inspiration before performing. At the conclusion of the work, while the artist is at their most vulnerable, the audience is asked to critique and discuss their impressions openly. Even with cued prompts, it was difficult to respond immediately to the performance that had just been completed. In many cases, I found myself still processing the work while attempting to respond. Separated by a computer screen, it was also difficult to understand and relate to the complexity of the emotional connection that those physically present underwent. In many ways, it is two distinct experiences. 

There were, however, moments that transcended the digital divide. 

Kala Collective’s Nirguna brought six dancers together in a clear collaborative effort. While the level of training varied between the dancers, the concept of transformation was a distinct and important part of the storyline that was well communicated. While this is a concept that is presenting itself over and over again in post-pandemic works, Kala Collective found a way to present the concept of physical and philosophical transformation in a way that was particularly refreshing and relatable.   

Choreographer Aisha Nicholson’s Abandonment was well-executed by dancer Michael Mortley. The work was presented with the frenetic energy that one not only expects, but is excited about seeing in dance. Somehow, this energy managed to express itself through the screen in a way that set it aside from the other works on the program. The storyline of this work also seemed well-developed. There was a narrative in Abandonment that built in a gradual and logical way with a strong climax and a satisfying conclusion.

At almost three hours in length, Prospects 10 required an emotional commitment and time investment from its audience as well as artists. For those who have been in virtual events, it’s a long time to sit at a screen- but would also have been a long time to sit in a theatre without intermission.

Prospects 10 wasn’t perfect. These days, what is? But importantly, it was a return to live performance and live dance, in all of its imperfect glory. I’ll definitely take that. Just next time, I may take a ticket for the in-person experience instead. 

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