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Jaamil Kosoko’s ‘Virus’ at UArtsBY: Jim Rutter 06.14.2009
Jaamil Kosoko’s compelling but cluttered Virus purports to show how technology distorts identity and human interaction while leaving vestiges of our humanity intact. Call it a good idea in need of further development.
Jaamil Kosoko’s Virus. June 3-7, 2009, at the nEW Festival 2009 Performance Program, University of the Arts Dance Theater at the Drake, 1512 Spruce St.. www.newfestival.net.
Love among the robotsJIM RUTTER
For just over $20,000, the Canadian-born engineer Le Trung recently built what some people calling the first viable robotic companion: Aiko, a robot who can recognize speech, voices, face, motion and objects and solve math problems. Sensors beneath her silicone skin enable Aiko to mimic pain, while programming gives her the ability to avoid pain in the future. In the videos, Aiko looks more human than she acts (or sounds), something like a hybrid of human flesh with a machine interior.
Judging by the dystopic feel of Jaamil Kosoko’s Virus, contemporary homo sapiens have reflected such a mixture for quite some time.
Kosoko’s four dancers (Jami Marshall-Lively, Adrian Plascencia, Cassie Ekerman, and Annie Wilson) enter the stage bound in wires and duct tape, to original compositions by Mikaal Sulaiman and Mikronia. Slinking along the back of the stage with hands awkwardly held at their sides, some writhe on the floor while others crawl toward the audience.
Swinging their arms across their bodies at the fixed joint of the elbow like a pneumatic limb, they occasionally remind of the bizarre androids in Herbie Hancock’s Rockit video. But unlike Hancock’s wacky pop-synth fantasy, an ominous feeling pervades Kosoko’s piece (though the lighting’s too bright). His dancers stare blankly and move like cyborgs forced to walk the earth like Jacob Marley, wires and circuits now weighing them down like chains.
Rediscovering the human body
But while Virus shows how technology distorts identity and human interaction, it leaves vestiges of our humanity intact. In unison, the dancers gropes their hands across their bodies, re-discovering their own flesh in simple self-caresses, or reaching a hand under and through their legs to tug at crotches while another fish-hooks their mouths.
Happy Valentine’s Day
It’s eerie, yes, but also redemptive, as Kosoko intersperses moments of tenderness to show that despite the distance technology has placed between ourselves and others (not to mention our understanding of ourselves), we still long to connect, even in movements encumbered by the very technology from which we long to break free. A tin-foil Valentine’s Day balloon that reads, “I love you” floats aloft like a thought bubble tethered to each performer; later, a couple exchanges wires as means of contact— examples of technology intermediating affections the way a dozen roses used to do.
A few humorous moments alleviate the disturbing tension of watching humans reduced to the level of technology’s prisoners. To the music of Force MD’s Tender Love, a computer monitor and pile of wires move toward each other across the floor, and Kosoko’s Virus hints at a set of themes that will soon confront humanity: the possibility of trans-technological love (robots and robots, humans and robots, etc.); the notion of an uncanny valley that separates our ability to recognize genuine human emotional response from a simulation generated by a machine/robot; and the notion that technology imprisons and oppresses even as it liberates.
Leaping into swine flu
Unfortunately, Kosoko poses deep questions but barely dips his finger into topics addressed more thoroughly by sci-fi writers and filmmakers. Just when his first theme begins to take root, he switches abruptly to another: the idea that viruses once only found in animals now infect humans with alarming rapidity.
A spoken text ticks off a list of illnesses that jumped from animals to man—AIDS, Ebola, swine flu, and SARS—while asking, “Could one of these newly emerging viruses be the next HIV, and threaten us all?” Stripped of the wiring and duct tape, one dancer emerges in a biohazard suit to embrace another wearing a surgical mask. The foursome run off the stage to return wearing beachwear and carrying a circular mirror. A bizarre interruption by the stage manager (to say, “Great job, dancers”) breaks the piece into another segment, where, lying at the foot of the stage, the dancers peer into the glass searching for their identity as the “I Love You” balloons float visibly above them.
But without a Prometheus or Pandora to unify this tale, Kosoko fails to clarify the relationship between these segments, except to show that biological barriers also fail to fully diminish the human longing to connect. Compelling but cluttered, Virus plays like an abridged version of a much longer work, one that I hope Kosoko develops fully in the future.
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