>D.A.V.E. (DIGITAL AMPLIFIED VIDEO ENGINE) by the National Arts Council

>reviewed by adele tan

>date: 16 jun 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall, raffles hotel
>rating: ****

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.

>>>>>bodily playgrounds

Humans appear to have a fixation about the body. We have a transhistorical predilection for the flesh and its plenitude of meanings. We go from biblical self-repression to present-day gratuitous physical titillation. The body is now in excess of itself, or so, it seems, would D.A.V.E have us to believe.

D.A.V.E. is a piece of dance theatre that leaps right out of the pages and cyber-theories of the likes of Arthur Kroker, Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virilio. A meditation on the morphology of the human body, D.A.V.E. is at once pregnant with hope (as symbolised by the dancer taking on an expectant female form) and at the same time also a phantasmagoric nightmare where everything is on the brink of dissolution. Taking the body as its canvas, the audience is transported through a series of corporeal transmutations generated by videographic technology, teasing out the liminal states of subjectivity and the rather amusing but tenuous divide where the real and the virtual collide. As WB Yeats says in 'The Second Coming', "Things fall apart / The centre cannot hold". In the post-industrial age, nothing is certain and it is this anxiety that cripples us and yet exhilarates our senses.

Viennese dancer Chris Haring collaborates with multi-media artist/composer Klaus Obermaier to create the sole protagonist D.A.V.E., his acronymic persona. Although personalised and energetic in a recognisably human form, D.A.V.E. is also a largely artificial composite of video-projected images (done very ingeniously with a single projector and two mirrors). The audience is probed to constantly ask which is the real and which is the constructed. Setting the body in spinning motion through superimposed images, Haring moves in and out of individual subjectivities, giving us continual shifts in perspective and multiple meanings. The post-modern body is as plastic as it is kinetic, like a calibrated site of movable parts. Facial parts can be exaggerated, contorted and repositioned on other parts of the body, almost as if we are watching a new age freak-show. Further, Haring shows us a body out of sync, driven by external mechanisms (like that of the thumping electronic beats), and by taking the "city as body", he literally has the city moving in and out of himself when these images are cast on his body. Using the video projector as a metaphor, the performance shows the potential of a body voided and vacated of an absolute self and instead replaced by a fast-changing series of projected selves. Yet, by referring to the book of Ecclesiastes, the creators are pointing to the possibility of human sentiments that are constant and perennial through all ages.

>>'The creators are pointing to the possibility of human sentiments that are constant and perennial through all ages'

Haring is a gifted dancer who succeeds in holding the audience's attention through his magnetic stage presence and his fluid yet athletic movements. He explores new ways of seeing and reading the body, for instance, when his gestures reflect a lost individual reaching underneath himself for answers instead of within himself. And although the piece is weighed down by the cold, repetitive and calculated choreography, Haring knows better than to take the body too seriously, thus injecting a sense of lightness and a playful spirit. In fact, humour and cheekiness is at the crux of this bodily playground.

For most parts, Haring takes centre stage and functions as the primary vehicle for the images. But I do believe that the real genius lies in Obermaier's video-graphic manipulations (which are effectively foregrounded by the stark empty and darkened stage) and his hypnotic compositions. Not surprisingly, the creative impulse for D.A.V.E. is that of the prolific, computer-aided visuals of MTV, other contemporary multi-media artworks and that of the electronic dance music circulating in the club circuit. Even if one does not enjoy the physical theatre and video images, Obermaier also presents an aural feast with his original soundtrack which truly brings out the mood and sets the rhythm for the dance.

Although I would hesitate in calling D.A.V.E. an ambitious, daring and breakthrough project (it can appear as if it is a potluck aggregate of cyberpunk theories and sci-fi movies like 'The Matrix'), the dance is nevertheless still entertaining, intellectually stimulating and visually stunning. D.A.V.E. scores well with the audience because it has managed to pull off the dance performance without letting erudition or cryptic impenetrability get in the way by fashioning moments in the show as if they were a blend of magic and illusion - the audience is always intrigued by video tricks. Seldom has video technique been incorporated into the performance lexicon in such a polished and stylish manner.

It is still uncertain if our bodies will make their disintegrative end soon but in the meantime, we can always have as much fun with our bodies, playing with them through space, as Haring and Obermaier have shown us.