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It’s intriguing to contemplate whether Claude Gauvreau—Quebecois poet, author of the original text Faisceau d’épingles de verre and inventor of the automatist language, Exploréen, in which it is written—had ever envisioned this work being performed at all. And if so, whether it might have taken the form of a multidisciplinary performance work encompassing live audio and video, dance, and text-to-speech technologies.
Ray of Glass Needles Ray of Glass Needles
photo Amanda De Simone
The challenge of performing this never before attempted text has been taken up by P: Media Arts, a young Canadian organisation founded by Martin Renaud and Philippe Pasquier. They have transformed a text from non-sensical surrealist experimentation into a powerful and evocative piece of media art performance. Despite the extremely alienating script, the work is so well composed and well integrated that it’s hard to not find meaning, even if it is the sense of alienation itself. The seamless blend of sound, video and dance creates an atmosphere of extreme estrangement with which we can’t help feel some unsettling affinity.

Visually, the work contrasts Orientalism with Occidentalism, offsetting the dancers’ ceremonial theatre masks with the laboratory-like sterility of the set. All stark black and white, the splashes of red in the projected images add a very visceral element, like dispersing blood inside a viscous atmosphere. A wall of lifeless arms with rubber glove hands hangs limply behind the dancers through the first half of the performance, creating a haunting presence, then tilts backwards causing the arms to reach out like a mass of lost souls, disturbingly evocative of so many human genocidal tragedies.

Within this environment the dancers, covered in shapeless white, barely move. Their painfully slow and awkward jerks are the movements of a different species with a different experience of lived time. The impressive performances by Mike Hornblow, Dani-ela Kayler, Soo-Yeun You and Tomoko Yamasaki require an intensity of focus and concentration. They are like biological test subjects at some point in a post-apocalyptic future, with human form yet not human—the abandoned failures of human experimentation. It’s difficult not to feel some sense of culpability for the existence of these beings, so like the products of any one of our possible biogenetic engineering futures.

Philippe Pasquier’s semi-industrial, electronic sound fills the space in a way that is often as physical as it is aural. Like a constant filtering, at times screeching, of noise and psychobabble inside a high-powered air-conditioning system, the harsh scratching of the audio intensifies the confusion and pain of the dancers’ movements. The script penetrates through this in digitised voices of text-to-speech software as a kind of synthetic communication between creatures we have no way of understanding. This use of technology further abstracts the unintelligible language and re-emphasises our complete alienation from these creatures, casting us in the position of observers as they move despairingly inside their dehumanising cell.

The video imagery created by Lionel Arnould and Matthew Gingold is projected on and through multiple screens both in front of and behind the dancers, creating a submersive environment from which it’s hard to escape. Pools of floating liquid and explosions create dramatic landscapes that envelope the dancers within an environment that shifts from extreme violence to sudden calm, sometimes almost womb-like in effect.

It’s inspiring to see such a powerful work in which the synchronising of audio, video, dance and digital technology produces a strong performance that leaves a lasting, if somewhat unsettling, even threatening, impression.

P: Media Arts, Ray of Glass Needles (Faisceau d’épingles de verre), writer Claude Gauvreau (1925-1971), creators Martin Renaud and Philippe Pasquier, director: Christian Lapointe, performers Mike Hornblow, Dani-ela Kayler, Soo-Yeun You, Tomoko Yamasaki, designer: Jean-François Labbé, video Lionel Arnould, costumes and masks Danielle Boutin, technical director Bernard Hellier, live video manager/designer Matthew Gingold, live, audio manager/designer Philippe Pasquier, lighting Christian Lapointe; Dancehouse, Melbourne, March 22-26

RealTime issue #73 June-July 2006 pg. 32

© Emma McRae; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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