The Dripped-on Factor
The first thing you need to know about the Barbican’s Rain Room installation is that the queues are long. Very, very long. If you’re planning to come along to the Curve at any point this autumn, you should bring a good book and quite possibly a pillow; the gallery is currently advertising waiting times of up to two hours, with audience members reporting even longer waits at peak times.
The idea of the Rain Room, a creation of the rAndom International art collective, is that viewer-participants can control the rain; clever technology allows you to walk through a pouring rainstorm without getting wet. rANdom International has previously collaborated with Random Dance on Future Self and FAR; dancers from the company will be performing in the rain on selected Sundays between now and February, responding to the Rain Room’s motion-tracking sensors and shaping the tumbling rain around the bodies of passing observers.
Once viewers have navigated the initial queue there’s a shorter wait inside the gallery itself, as only a few people are permitted into the installation at any one time. There’s a pretty good view of the backlit dance performance from this secondary queue; dancers enter in ones and twos, poking a well-toned leg into the rain shower or sliding elegantly to the floor. The material itself is fairly standard Random: shooting limbs, snaking torsos, full-body undulations that swim to the floor and back. The difference here is the stately speed at which the combinations are performed, allowing the rain to fall around the bodies in space.
Watching the audience is as fascinating as watching the dancers; each and every person who enters the space (a few at a time, to preserve the rain-stopping illusion of the artwork) does the same thing, which is to walk into the rain with an expression of wide-eyed wonder and start stretching their hands out into the downpur to see what happens. Almost everyone then starts looking above themselves to see where the rain has gone. Seeing this happen time and again with an ever-changing cast of characters is actually rather enchanting; it has the looping minimalist characteristics of a Pina Bausch work, but all the more captivating for its authenticity.
Once we actually enter the space, the rain distracts quite a lot of attention from the dancers. It’s always a bit of a thrill to be up-close and personal with such fine movers, and it’s interesting to watch their rain-responsive improvisations unfold in front of your eyes. In the rain, however, I felt myself doing all the same things that I had seen so many do before me – reach out, look up, try to catch a falling raindrop. I must apologise to the Random dancer I almost stepped on while doing all of the above, and hope it didn’t mess up his floorwork too much.
One issue that arose is the fact that too many people in the Rain Room – whether dancers or audience – really starts to destroy the illusion of controlling the rainfall or being enclosed in the rain. The dance material is designed to inhabit the space and Random dancers really like to get stretchy; this has the unfortunate side-effect of turning off large swathes of rain. At the same time, the small-scale solos and duets sometimes become hidden by audience members in the rain – fascinating as the public is to watch, they do obscure or inhibit quite a lot of the dance work. One solution could be to have more dancers in the rain, with the audience watching from the sides, although this would necessarily become a very different experience.
Rain Room is an enjoyable idea, and it’s undoubtedly fun to walk in the rain without getting wet. The dance content is pleasant enough to watch from the queue, but my feeling is that once people are in the rain themselves, they didn’t really notice it was there.