Photo Courtesy: Agathe Poupeney
The NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Center kicked off its third season on Sept. 7 in the Red Theater with PIXEL, a dance performance that merges the virtual and the real. Elaborate screen technology on a 3-D set developed by the Adrien M & Claire B company coupled with dancers simultaneously interacting with the digital creations, sold out three shows.
It was almost ironic when Bill Bragin, the Executive Artistic Director of The NYUAD Arts Center, asked the audience to turn off the phones for the show in order to avoid the distractions of glowing screens; a bigger screen awaited to pull the audience in with dancing pixels and streaks of light alluding to the tech dependence of our daily lives.
Mourad Merzouki, the Artistic Director and Chief Choreographer of the piece explained his reasoning behind this: “We are constantly exposed to images, videos and digital media. Screens are everywhere.” In PIXEL, performers both danced and interacted with the screen, pushing, pulling and forming pixels with their movements.
Compagnie Käfig stages the performance several times a year. This year, the Arts Center added several offstage events, including two masterclasses and a pre-show talk to introduce the PIXEL team to the NYUAD community. A hip hop masterclass was conducted by several of the show’s dancers on Sept. 6 before its opening, and an invite-only media masterclass allowed attendees to interact with the graphics and technology used on stage.
PIXEL’s creative team explained how the show used a mixture of pre-recorded and real-time graphics. While dancers were required to match their movements to pre-recorded projections, an offstage technician used a digital pen to synchronise the pixelated projections to the dancers live for most solo sections.
“The dancers interact with the projections onstage almost as if they were another dancer,” said Kevin Ke, class of 2020. “The dancers need to communicate with the person managing the technology offstage to perfectly synchronize the movements and real-time projections,” he added.
Expanding on dancing with the interactive media elements, Ke said, “the graphics are mapped out carefully to the music, so the dancer needs to count the beats in [their] head and trust that the technology will work the way it should.”
The dancers’ modest, earth-colored clothing contrasted with the hyper-modern, exuberant technology behind them, representing how we are torn between being grounded in nature and attracted to glowing, new inventions. The audience gasped in awe as the complexity of our interactions and dilemma was displayed on stage, though each piece was laid out open to interpretation.
The almost two-hour long interaction between candlelight glow and restless neon flare-ups, slow creeping and fast twitches and turns of the body yielded two standing ovations on the closing night.
The Arts Center’s season will continue with stand-up performances by Maysoon Zayid on Sept. 13 and 14.
Natalie Kopczewski is a Contributing Writer. Priyanka Lakhiani is Features Editor. Melinda Szekeres is Senior Multimedia Editor.