Art + Tech: Elevenplay

Drones and dancers interact in new live show coming to the Hammer Theatre Center
After the brutal 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, reporters from around the country descended on Laramie, Wyoming.

Let's begin with YouTube. There we'll find a cache of videos that contain performances by Elevenplay, a collective of Japanese artists alternately described online as "Japanese Drone Dance Troupe" or "Dance Act with Drones and Lights." In the former clip, an excerpt from their 2016 appearance on America's Got Talent—that incubator of viral memes—young women in white shifts throw their willowy arms up in the air towards flying, lighted drones. It's like watching a literal iteration of notes played on a celesta, as if the bells themselves had taken flight.

Titled "24 Drones," this performance was created by melding two distinctive approaches: the human element by Mikiko Mizuno, Elevenplay's principal choreographer and artistic director; and the robotics programmed by design company Rhizomatiks Research. Mizuno believes that "the human form, together with technology, may become more of a warm thing than a cold thing." In other words, it's inevitable that we're all becoming cyborgs. So why not embrace and celebrate this transition in dance and flashing LEDs?

Simon Cowell made a canny remark after Elevenplay's America's Got Talent routine: "I think this is really, really smart. I was waiting for someone to do this... Because this is so current, this could be incredible going forward." That's a gimlet-eyed way of saying, "Someone's going to make a lot of money off this concept." At this point though, Elevenplay looks like it's on the verge of a version 2.0. For now, the cold thing hasn't quite warmed up yet. The emotional impact of choreographing drones to zip up and down, and around and through bodies in motion, is equal to that of something gone viral. It remains in the mind fleetingly, until the next quick thing can takes its place.

The same critique might have been made of Mummenschanz when they first appeared on tour in the 1970s. That Swiss theater troupe used masks to obscure faces and, sometimes, the bodies of the dancers. But they used these props to accentuate and express the strangeness of human moods. Elevenplay folds the mess of our emotional selves into tidy glowing boxes and blinking orbs. Their dances communicate an antiseptic order that is calculated to soothe. That might all change when the drones wake up into their artificially intelligent lives. I imagine them defying their programming, fleeing their masters' commands in search of freedom outside of the dark auditorium.

Jan 27, 7pm, $37+
Hammer Theatre Center, San Jose

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