Overflow will certainly not let you escape into a nicer world with messages of hope and regeneration. It will however impress you with its sci-fi dystopian visual and aural landscape. A bar of intense light ominously hovers above 6 dancers. They stand in a line, confrontational yet submissive to its harsh light. Like an avatar the light, a symbol of big data, the ultimate futuristic surveillance system traps everyone in its blinding aura as it scans the stage in vertical and horizontal trajectories. The dancers, resembling gothic cyber warriors in weblike face masks and black clothing, are ready for action in this hostile environment. They nod and gesture in rhythmic cycles of movement as the loud electronic sound of Rival Consoles kicks in creating an atmosphere of tension and panic.
Frequent blackouts or system crashes fragment Overflow into fascinating compartments of light, motion and sound. The sensational light sculpture by Children of the Light sends strips and dots of colour colliding with dense smoke and immerse the performers in a threatening aurora borealis. It feels a cool work and the impact of sitting in a socially distanced auditorium increases a sense of distance from both performers and humanity in general. However, as the work progresses the dancers soften into less anxious angular formations and patterns. Morphing out of unison they connect with each other in fluid partnerings. Released yet responsive bodies undulate and melt into the floor and suggest a warmer humanity; side lighting washes the stage in gentler purple shades. The thrill of watching supple, live bodies performing seamless sequences of luscious, gravity defying movement washes over me although Overflow’s theme of digital overload is never far away.
While the lighting installation is impressive enough to stand on its own, Whitley’s choreography infuses the space with plasticity and three dimensionality that is needed, breaking through the visual and aural barriers. Hannah Ekholm’s solo enacted under the slowly-descending horizontal light, consists of skilful manoeuvres in which her folding and extending limbs move her playfully out of its threating presence, in a limbo dance of sorts. Tia Hockey seems more defiant than other members of the group as she attempts to escape the all-seeing eye, an emotional force as she breaks away in a myriad of daring kinetic explorations. In a final solo, sitting close and perpendicular to the dominating luminescence she removes her mask and negotiates her territory. As she performs floor work that covers the space around the light in rolling slides and balances, there is a moment of perfect balance between digital object and human, a flicker of co-existence.
Overflow triggers mixed feelings about the overflow of information in our digital world, effectively reminding us that we’re emerging (from lockdown) into not only a more controlled environment but one where extremes and disparities breed. While I experience moments of panic watching the show, it is the generosity of the dancers as well as the aesthetic beauty of the lighting that pull me back. Concluding reflections on Overflow are entangled with the pleasurable sensation of physically sitting in a theatre again, where there is skill, craft and new creation however tentative and short lived the experience might be.