Unfringed review: Chimaera

I saw the show, Chimaera, on October 21 as part of the Unfringed Festival.

Chimaera is “an advanced interactive dance/music performance environment” created by composer, Enda Grennan and dance artist, Angie Smalis. It incorporated dance, music and visuals in a complex combination made possible by the Microsoft Kinect sensor for game consoles.

The Kinect is a little gadget that uses a motion sensor detector to transform gamers’ movements into a visual on-screen. In Chimaera, this system was adapted so that when the dancer makes a particular movement, a particular sound came out of the speakers and a particular visual was projected onto the white cubes of the set.

The software design was very impressive; not only was it set up to make sounds when she moved a certain way but she could also control what speaker the sound came out of. The visuals by Patrick Cusack were intricate wave and web-like creations in monochrome and colour with varying speeds etc.

Angie Smalis has vast experience in dancing and choreography. Her sustained performance for roughly an hour obviously packed with skill and stamina. All in white, she moved ghost-like—using every space in the set. Grennan, similarly, is a lecturer in Electroacoustic Composition and Interactive Music Programming and his multi-channel tape works have been performed nationally and internationally. These are people at the top of their respective fields and their collaboration is a unique duet.

Now to the bad news; I didn’t like it. First of all, there was no context and it is hard to evaluate something in a vacuum. I’m not sure if the title had a meaning. A chimaera was, in Greek mythology, “a monstrous fire-breathing female creature…composed of the parts of three animals: a lion, a serpent and a goat”. I got no impression of fire, fierceness or zoomorphism so maybe there was no reason for choosing that title bar the fact that Ms Smalis is from Greece? I spoke to the dancer afterward and she said she was not trying to communicate any specific idea to the audience. She had total freedom to improvise so every show was different.

When I was watching I just saw Smalis performing contemporary dance while various electronic sounds played and visuals were projected. There was no speech. It was a multi-sensory experience and I searched for patterns etc in the work but after a few minutes, I was bored. The ‘music’ was too industrial for me; there was no rhythm or rhyme to it. And with the dancer controlling the sounds, there was none. This might have been nervewracking for the composer but it was a loss to the audience too because his power in the piece was diminished somewhat.

The show left me a little cold. I felt I was a witness to artists doing their thing but not brought in or included in the experience. Of course, if you are interested in the art of dance or electroacoustic music or computers etc, you would get more out of it.

I find pure dance works—without an element of theatre or some other dilution—very esoteric. They seem to be produced and enjoyed by a select few. Although the technology is exciting and the participants are highly skilled, I didn’t think Chimaera was accessible enough to a regular audience member.

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