Online, April 9-10
“So wild watching bodies touching so closely in these times,” wrote one audience member in the Zoom chat of Orange, an experimental duet that explores the fundamentals of human touch. Created and performed by experimental artist Deanna Peters/Mutable Subject and street dancer Less San Miguel/LessIZM, Plastic Orchid Factory’s production of Orange is an aching but welcome antidote in this era of physical distancing.
When the audience enters the Zoom room, the pair are already dancing in the Left of Main studio space, a creative hub in downtown Vancouver. San Miguel, cloaked in a black hoodie appended with several scraps of mangled fabric (designed by David B. Smith), slides across the bare floor with his shoulders tucked tightly to his chest. Peters, on the other side of the room, basks in James Proudfoot’s sterile white lighting design before traversing the studio like a marionette being pulled by strings — arms swaying wildly.
On separate sides of the room, the duo is strikingly asynchronous at the beginning of the performance. Peters, with arms convulsively twitching in front of the camera, clashes with San Miguel who gently glides his legs across the floor in the background.
But over the course of 55 minutes, as Peters and San Miguel gradually converge to form one organic unit, this discordance melds into mesmerizing harmony. By the end, their bodies move as one. In the penultimate section, they lace their limbs together to create an interlocked web that is constantly moving like a cascading wave. With elbows wrapped around ankles, and foreheads touching knees, their bodies unite to become indistinguishable.
Watching this profoundly intimate metamorphosis unfold is hypnotic, beguiling and deeply moving. Peters and San Miguel have dissected and stripped-down human connection to its most raw state through the use of contact improvisation.
That this production is streamed live on Zoom — a platform that, though indispensable, is no replacement for in-person contact — is somewhat ironic. How I yearned to be in the same room as the performers instead of watching them through a Zoom camera that occasionally lost its connection. But still, Peters and Miguel have leveraged the virtual format to great effect.
Two laptop cameras are used throughout the piece — first placed side by side but then shifted around the room by Peters and San Miguel to capture different parts of the space. In one ingenious sequence, the cameras are facing opposing corners of the room while Peters and San Miguel stand in between the computers, out of view from the audience. Proudfoot’s stunning lighting design — a distinct character in itself — projects their masquerading shadows upon the rear wall as the pair generate extended shapes with their arms.
With outstretched hands, the two dancers pass a clementine back and forth as they slowly migrate from the back of the room towards the camera — the fruit gradually increasing in size until it fills the screen. It’s a cheeky bit of humour that elicited some tongue-in-cheek responses in the chat, and perhaps the sequence that gives the work its name.
The entire work is paired with live music by DJ Adam 2. Standing in a corner of the room, Adam 2 generates improvised compositions that complement each of Orange’s 10 sections, along with Proudfoot’s multi-coloured designs. Starting with cubic electronic beats, the layered sounds morph into Latin American music, filled with drums and the steady rhythm of the claves, before transforming once again into a variety of different genres.
Much like Adam 2’s creations, Peters and San Miguel’s work never feels contrived. There is an air of creativity and spontaneity threaded throughout the piece, despite it being the culmination of two years of collaborative work between the pair.
When they began the project, Peters and San Miguel likely had no idea that they would ultimately be presenting it in a time when most of our lives are deprived of personal, human contact. As we are isolated in our homes, watching the performance through our screens, the piece takes on a more potent and symbolic meaning than ever intended. So wild, indeed.