They Came, They Surveilled, They Conquered: ZviDance at New York Live Arts
ZviDance premiered Surveillance, choreographed by Zvi Gotheiner in collaboration with the company’s dancers, at New York Live Arts on Wednesday, June 11th. I left Saturday evening’s performance with a positive, though slightly perplexed, impression.
I was very impressed with the unending stamina of the strong ensemble. Their full-bodied dancing was nearly non-stop for the sixty-minutes of the performance, though dance numbers for the entire group were separated by duets, solos and a few less dance-y interludes.
Surveillance opened with the performers gradually lining up downstage wearing just undergarments and behaving as though trying to seduce the audience. One by one they backed away from the audience, sometimes falling to the ground, before standing and returning to the front of the stage. A few held their own throats, and the sounds each made while backing up ranged from laughing, to gasping for air/choking, to something along the lines of having an orgasm. Something about watching and being watched was at work here, but the reason for gasping and backing away was unclear.
A lovely and brief solo for Ying Ying Shiau followed this opening; then the dancers – now fully clothed – all joined for a group number. Nothing outlandishly original happened in the choreography throughout Surveillance, but the blending of multiple styles of dance to original music with strong beats from composer Scott Killian kept me engaged.
Text reading “SEARCH ONE,” “SEARCH TWO,” and “SEARCH THREE” was projected on the back wall during sections in which the dancers enacted set movements (a series of manipulations of the arms, head, and torso) on each other. In “Search One,” one man was the sole manipulator, and I was reminded of airport security searches. In “Search Two,” dancer Todd Allen “searched” Chelsea Ainsworth quite lecherously, while nude and blindfolded. In “Search Three,” Samantha Harvey performed the movements on herself. There was something poignant about this, a feeling that she had been brainwashed into thinking such searching was necessary, perhaps not believing in her own right to privacy.
During a few sections, the dancers filmed each other, themselves, or the audience; the shot from the camera was projected onto the back wall. When most of the ensemble joined hands and stamped a rhythmic foot pattern, another traveled along the line, filming up close with a night-vision camera. One of the last appearances of the camera was when Tyner Dumortier danced a slow solo with four cameras strapped to his torso, thus filming all four sides of his upper body. The apparatus looked inconvenient, but its restrictions on his movement made the solo interesting. A division of the projection into four camera shots was also utilized when the cameras were first employed, as the dancer paired off into couples of performer and camera-person, moving in columns across the stage.
The piece was weakest in its commentary on the use of surveillance technology. From the ZviDance website: “SURVEILLANCE is an immersive-intrusive-inescapable-environmental dance piece that will leave you wondering how and why as a society we consent to this invasion into our private lives?” The cameras were actually not used in an invasive way; the performers seemed aware of their presence and seemed to consent to their use.
There was no real exploration of the harms or drawbacks of surveillance; the filmed parts were actually quite pleasant. The cameras functioned here more as a means to alternate or expanded perspective, rather than as a way to record behavior. Regardless, the use of projections was more integrated in Surveillance than in many other dance pieces, and was no detriment to the energetic and engaging dancing. The choreography and excellent dancers stood on their own without the conceptual element, and that was why I left feeling satisfied.