For its first Nanaimo production in 10 years, Vancouver’s Plastic Orchid Factory performance company is turning virtual music and dance into reality.
Five years ago, POF artistic director and choreographer James Gnam was watching his younger relatives play video games when he was inspired to explore the games’ deeper implications.
His brother and his friends were playing Rock Band, in which players use toy instruments to press buttons to a beat, and his niece and her friends were playing Just Dance, in which players keep up with an on-screen dancer using motion capture.
“It kind of got me thinking, ‘OK, every generation has a folk practice,’ and I started wondering whether or not these video games, singing and dancing video games, were, in fact, this generation’s folk practice,” said Gnam, who spent part of his childhood in Nanaimo and graduated from John Barsby Secondary School.
As a dance artist, Gnam’s instinct was to take these ideas into a studio. He gathered 10 dancers to conduct research, meaning they spent time learning and playing music and dance simulators.
“What was interesting for us was that our ability to remember or to embody or to participate in these dances was totally kiboshed by the games themselves because with theses games you’re in a reactive state,” Gnam explained. “You’re mimicking and you’re reacting constantly so you don’t have time or you’re not given time to cognitively process or embody those experiences. So while you’re dancing, it’s essentially an empty and dislocated experience.”
He said they had similar findings with the music games.
“All of these games are designed to sort of bring people together … but ultimately what these experiences do is isolate you,” Gnam said.
From these experiments, POF developed Digital Folk, which comes to Malaspina Theatre on June 7. Gnam describes Digital Folk as a kind of installation performance experience that incorporates those video games, “but creates a sense of community despite the disconnect and the dislocation.”
“Essentially, all of the dances that are performed in the space come though the XBox and through Just Dance and out into the room, and then all of the music that’s performed in the show comes through Rock Band,” Gnam said.
He added that Digital Folk aims to blur the line between performer and observer. This is done by encouraging audience members to dig into the show’s video game-inspired wardrobe and watch from anywhere on the stage.
Gnam said Digital Folk has attracted a lot of interest and POF will most likely be bringing it to Hong Kong and Berlin. He said people relate the theme of craving human connection in a digital world.
“We’re all tying to figure out how we’re negotiating with technology. Not just with our work, but with entertainment and how it is shaping how we’re interacting with one another on a daily basis,” Gnam said.
WHAT’S ON … Crimson Coast Dance Society presents Digital Folk at Malaspina Theatre, VIU Bldg. 310, on June 7 at 7, 8 and 9 p.m. Tickets $18 for adults, $15 for youth and CCDS members and $10 for youth under 18.