Darren Johnston – Zero Point – London

Darren Johnston's <I>Zero Point</I>.<br />© Foteini Christofilopoulou. (Click image for larger version)
Darren Johnston’s Zero Point.
© Foteini Christofilopoulou. (Click image for larger version)

Darren Johnston
Zero Point

London, Barbican Theatre
25 May 2017

Zero Point is a new work from British choreographer and visual artist Darren Johnston, conceived during a residency at The Museum of Art in Kochi, Japan, and billed as a “performance project” that explores parallels between science and spirituality. The show – an art installation and dance performance at once – makes heavy use of digital technology, with a range of lighting and visual illusions designed by Johnston, plus a thudding soundtrack from Canadian composer Tim Hecker. The cast is composed of nine Japanese dancers, including Hana Sakai of Tokyo’s New National Theatre Ballet.

Johnston’s fascination with multi-disciplinary art is visible from the first scene, in which three dancers emerge from a glowing orb as lights strobe, smoke pours and thunderous electronica strums. What follows isn’t as dramatic or immersive as this opening would suggest: a sluggish 75 minutes of minimalist dance punctuated by a disjointed, if vivid, series of visual displays. The choreography is slow and frustratingly passive – trance-like but rarely entrancing, with little interaction between the dancers and virtually no suspense. The real tension lies in bracing yourself against the steady stream of blinding flashes, teeth-chattering vibrations and other abrasive sensory assaults lobbed throughout the production.

Darren Johnston's <I>Zero Point</I>.<br />© Taisuke Tsurui. (Click image for larger version)
Darren Johnston’s Zero Point.
© Taisuke Tsurui. (Click image for larger version)

Sakai’s fluent pointework and graceful, fluttering deportment are a welcome contrast to this harsh backdrop. She’s presented as an empress of sorts, the other dancers flocking around her like deferential attendants, and deftly conveys the ritualistic imagery dotting the choreography – the Butoh-inspired poses and measured breathing of the Qigong tradition (in which meditation is used to achieve balance). Her attendants, all in soft shoe, deliver some refined displays of articulation too, including a trio of women weaving a tangle of contractions, lunges and releases, each bathed in a ray of golden light. Their talent feels underused, though, suppressed amid drawn-out, monotonous compositions.

The visual displays have their moments, with several canny designs on show: blades of light slicing through the audience, geometric beams resembling steel frames, glinting patterns that transform the wings into skyscrapers and the dancers into flickering avatars. Unfortunately, there’s little coherence to these spectacles, and they tend to overpower the dance rather than bring it to life.

Running alongside the production is a free virtual reality installation that guides viewers through a series of settings, from a winking cityscape to a glossy black room reminiscent of the ‘seduction space’ in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. The concept – the reinterpretation of transient locations through digital technology – is interesting, though much like the performance it aims for meditative but instead comes off as lifeless.

About the author

Sara Veale

Sara Veale is a London-based writer and editor who has studied both dance and literature. She is chief dance critic for Auditorium Magazine, an editor for Review 31 and her work also appears in Fjord Review, Exeunt and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter @SaraEVeale

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