Taking its origins from a failed peasant uprising back in late medieval France, the term “Jacquerie” is contemporarily used to signify any unsuccessful rebellion of the lower masses. It’s an intriguing, cleverly selected title for the newest work by former National Ballet of Canada dancer Jacob Niedzwiecki, now an independent choreographer and creative technologist. Indeed, Niedzwiecki’s Jacqueries takes for its narrative a conspiracy and a heist, staged in the alleyways of downtown Toronto and woven in and out of the Ryerson University campus buildings.
Aside from a blending of elements unique to contemporary dance, promenade-style theatre and parkour, the work is notable for a heavy reliance on technology. Upon arrival, individual audience members are required to briefly surrender their smartphones to the technical team, so that the specifically designed Jacqueries application can be installed to their devices.This app is at the core of the Jacqueries’ experience, in conjunction with a good pair of headphones. The audio and visual information communicated via the technology is essential to binding multiple elements of the work into a coherent, cohesive whole. These include composer John Gzowski’s subtly suspenseful arrangement for the work, which successfully accentuates the undertones of conspiracy present in the plot. Additionally, sporadic commentary is layered onto his score, delivered by a narrator/tour guide voiceover character who provides useful directions and insight on the unfolding action.
There are six characters to Jacqueries’ spy-like story, embodied by an ensemble of athletically skilled performers: Luke Garwood, Catherine Larocque, Anastasia Shivrina, Anisa Tejpar, Mateo Galindo Torres and Niedzwiecki himself. The operation begins when The Technician (Garwood), bearing a cryptically patterned signpost in hand, leads the crowd into an alleyway. Once arrived, and individually as prompted by the narrator, the audience members focus their phones on the signpost pattern in unrehearsed unison. Upon the devices’ code recognition (the phones are automatically set on camera mode by the governing app at this point), Garwood’s onscreen, real-time dancing image begins to emanate beams of various textures, his limbs spilling out colourful particles that reflect his energetic momentum. The effect of a three-dimensional, life-sized Garwood superimposed to a screen-sized, two-dimensional and technologically enhanced one is striking.
Unfortunately, the moment is short-lived and the video constituent is abandoned for the remainder of Jacqueries. Compositionally, the pacing of the work would have benefitted from a reintroduction of the video component, if only to justify its presence in the first place. However, this detail did not detract from the overall cleverness of the production. What follows is equally as strong and captivating, capitalizing on the audio element and on the live interaction between characters and architecture. As soon as the video comes to an end, the audience is divided in colour-coded groups, each group being instructed by the narrator to follow a different character. Only then does it become apparent that the Jacqueries app comes in multiple versions; that whoever is assigned to the green crowd receives different instructions than whoever is in the blue, red or brown one.
From this moment on, each crowd is led down a different circuit; they witness Jacqueries from different angles, in a different chronology. The groups occasionally cross paths with one another, as do the characters they follow. Along the various paths are seen, amongst other exciting elements, an especially athletic duet in which The Veteran (Tejpar) and The Radical (Torres) hide behind a short concrete wall, mixing stunt-like movement with passionate gesticulation. A parkour-inspired segment skillfully executed by The Operative (Niedzwiecki) also stands out.
Jacqueries is engaging from beginning to end; its level of complexity — technologically and otherwise — a sure reflection of the virtuosity of its creator. Here is proof that an essentially organic form, dance, can be blended with an undeniably automated one, technology, to yield harmonious results.