Movement And Manipulation
Sandbox event combines choreography, improv
By Gregory Beatty
GLOBE THEATRE SANDBOX SERIES
UNTIL MARCH 6
Unlike plays on the Globe’s main stage, tickets for this Sandbox production won’t come with a seat number. That’s because there are no seats. At least for the audience. Although when I interviewed Johanna Bundon and Lee Henderson at the theatre on Feb. 14, two semi-antique chairs and a divan from the props department were in the space.
But they’re not for the audience to sit on. They’re for Bundon, Henderson and their co-collaborator Barbara Pallamino to perform on. Mind you, in fairness, the dividing in WhyRobotsMakeBetterLovers between the audience and performers is pretty fine. It still exists. The much-vaunted “Fourth Wall” between the audience and performers on a stage won’t be totally obliterated. But it will be breached.
“We want the audience to have an impact on what goes on in the space,” says Henderson. “One thing we’re thinking about doing is when your ticket is deposited into the ticket-taking box a light will go on. There’s a perfomance going on as you enter the space, but it’s only your depositing of the ticket that makes it visible. We’re also playing around with sound and motion sensors that will [pick up] on what the audience is doing.”
Henderson, who’s primarily a visual artist, and Bundon, who’s a dancer/choreographer, first met during the cultural component of the 2005 Canada Summer Games.
“We ended up doing a mentorship through CARFAC Sask where [Lee] was my mentor for a year,” says Bundon. “I’m not a visual artist, but it ended up beng a really cool forum for discussion that brought a lot of visual stimulus into my world.”
Henderson currently teaches at the Ontario College of Art & Design. In 2005, he graduated from the University of Regina with a MFA in Intermedia.
“A lot of artists work in interdisciplinary ways,” he says. “But quite often the way we talk about [our practices] is highly specialized. So the mentorship was a nice opportunity to fuse the vocabularies of the two disciplines.”
During the mentorship, Henderson and Bundon produced a series of photographs where they used movement a vehicle for generating still images. For this production, they’ve expanded their partnership to include Pallamino. A Toronto-based dancer (who appeared in Bundon’s A Thirst Undone at the Globe last May), Pallamino has helped tilt the balance of WhyRobotsMakeBetterLovers more toward movement.
Last winter, Henderson did an interactive response to Harold Town’s 1955 painting The Tower of Babble at the MacKenzie Gallery. He also does performance art.
“The model we’re working with now is that we’re each kind of dropping in and out of the performance,” he says. “At times we’ll be clearly performing. Other times, we’ll be part of the audience. So there’ll be this constant flipping of roles.”
More structured improv than choreographed dance, says Bundon, the project is proving to be an intriguing creative challenge.
“It’s in constant flux. We’re still discovering it as we go, which is so rewarding. I’m not taking these default solutions that sometimes belong to dance. We’re really trying to discover some new terrain.”
They’ve also spent a lot of time talking about audience behaviour, says Henderson.
“It’s hard to predict what [it] will be like. There’s codes of behaviour that audiences adhere to when they go to the theatre. A training that’s involved.”
It’s the same with visual art. When you go a gallery, the number one rule is “Don’t Touch the Art”. It’s a good rule too, because dirt and skin oils from hands will, over time, damage paintings and sculptures. But occasionally art works are displayed that the artist wants you to touch. But there’s such a strong taboo against doing that that people are naturally reluctant.
Henderson, Bundon and Pallamino don’t want you to touch them.
But they do intend to be inspired creatively by your presence.
“As we’ve been laying out the space we’ve been experimenting,” says Henderson. “Our tendancy in this process is opposite to what theatre on the main stage is like.
“There, the audience sits around the performers. Here, we’ll have to fight the tendancy to put the audience in the middle and have the performance happen around them. That’s not really what we’re interested in. We want them to move and have a changing vantage point throughout the performance.”
As far as the performance’s title goes, as I noted above, WhyRobotsMakeBetterLovers does include some early 20th century furnishings as props. The only robots that existed back then were in the imagination, and most of them were laughably clunky.
Lately, though, Japanese designers have been trotting out some real hotties.
Still, by any objective standard (outside maybe that of an uber-techno-nerd), robots currently don’t make better lovers than humans. Will they in the future? I suppose it depends on how you define better. In one Star Trek: Next Generation episode, Data didn’t have any trouble satisfying Yeoman Tasha Yar (played by a semi-butch Denise Crosby) for one night. Whether Tasha would’ve grooved on a relationship with Data though is harder to say — him being a robot, and all.
“It’s a terrible example because it was a terrible movie, but in A.I. they made a claim that’s always stuck with me,” says Henderson. “‘It’s easy to make a machine fall in love with a human, but it’s almost impossible to make a human fall in love with a machine’. I totally disagree. It’s the complete opposite. We love our objects and their symbolic content.”