Benjamin Levy and Aline Wachsmuth in Everyone Intimate Alone Visibly, photo courtesy of LEVYdance
Technology has made constant communication possible, but how has it affected genuine human connections? Have status updates and profile information strengthened relationships or weakened them? The San Francisco-based company LEVYdance addressed these questions in artistic director Benjamin Levy’s Everyone Intimate Alone Visibly, an evening-length interactive installation presented over the weekend at Joyce SoHo. Using web cameras that captured movement in real time, sound, video projections, lighting, and audience participation, the richly textured piece shifted from group effort to solo act, intimacy to loneliness, private moment to an exposed one. Gripping performances by Levy and Aline Wachsmuth were accompanied by an audience that willingly engaged with them. Together, the dancers and audience created an environment pulsing with energy and emotional depth, and the superficiality that can interfere with it.
Before the piece began, the audience wandered hesitantly around the square space. Hanging from each of the four walls were screens that showed audience members’ shadows or projections of black and white static. Levy and Wachsmuth, dressed in neutral-colored street clothes, blended in with the audience when they first emerged from behind one of the screens. Bathed in squares of light or shadow and projections of ink spots, the dancers moved in a cause-and-effect manner: the slightest coiling of his wrist caused the undulation of her torso. Just as the audience became hyper-aware of their proximity to the dancers – eye contact, the sound of breathing, and the ability to witness their every move up-close was wonderfully possible – the wide-eyed dancers seemed to size up the strangers that had flooded the intimate space, which lent itself well to the piece’s immediacy. An icebreaker came in the form of a recorded voice that monotonously narrated factual information about the dancers – “Ben was born sometime between 1975 and 1985”, and “Aline has a lover, but it’s not Ben” – but the vague statements didn’t provide the level of detail that comes with an authentic connection to someone.
Benjamin Levy and Aline Wachsmuth, courtesy of LEVYdance
Another robotic voice provided instructions for the audience to assemble rows of chairs along the space’s perimeter. Once the audience satisfactorily completed the task and was instructed to sit down, a duet for Levy and Wachsmuth conveyed longing and intimacy. In a painfully sad section that left a lasting impression, Wachsmuth exited the stage, but a projection of her lying on the floor remained. Levy continued dancing with her projection, as if she were still fully present, suggesting a relationship rooted in false connection. Later, the audience witnessed his lonely, angst-filled solo in which his vigorous, flowing movement deftly echoed the multi-layered swooshing, whirring, and grinding electronics.
The community built from cooperatively assembling the chairs and sitting in a circle was abruptly reconfigured as the dancers lifted people out of their seats and moved the chairs so they faced one another. Soon after, they hastily stacked the chairs into several messy piles, leaving the audience on its feet and once again uncertain of its surroundings. This time, there was no guiding voice to provide comfort; just the audience and dancers, face to face in an unfamiliar space. The piece was near its conclusion, but how well did we truly know one another? Within a brief span of time, the dancers invited a group of strangers into their space, allowing them to witness and experience intimate moments along with group collaboration. Yet, as the dancers exited and the screens projected black and white static, loneliness replaced the intimacy and sense of community.
Many performance installations encourage audience participation but often end up with an awkward, not-so-interactive result in which the dancers and audience intentionally avoid one another. This was not the case with Everyone Intimate Alone Visibly. There was real, honest interaction among the dancers and audience in the form of eye contact, physical contact, and emotional contact. LEVYdance proved that an installation doesn’t require a massive space, a large ensemble, myriad costume changes, and special effects to be compelling. In fact, it was the intimacy of this work – combined with Levy and Wachsmuth’s fluid, rippling movement – that made it so powerful.