A View From Afar: Experiencing Contemporary Performance Online
In Chicago’s dance community, we’ve just begun to dabble with livestreaming performances, which has naturally lead to a lot of questions about the risks and rewards of engaging audiences from their sofas. With an online option at no or low-cost, are artists engaging new audience members who for financial, geographic, or other reasons might not otherwise attend your dance performance? Or, are we instead creating complacency in patrons who might have come, but now feel tempted to participate in dance in a more passive way?
While these questions remain up for debate, reviewing dances from video is not. To assert a critical opinion based on digital footage is more than taboo among Chicago’s dance writers; those who have dabbled on the edges of it have been publicly reprimanded. So when I learned of Aerowaves’ desire to solicit reviews from across the world I was surprised, but intrigued. Is it possible to form a legitimate critical analysis of a work by watching it from my 13” MacBook?
Live performance provides a clear separation from life, giving patrons permission to turn off the daily grind and immerse themselves in an experience. While a live stream of the Spring Forward festival afforded many, myself included, the opportunity to see dance they wouldn’t otherwise see, the viewer’s experience is diluted. Within a 40-minute piece, FedEx arrived at my door, my cat cried for her lunch, my computer dinged periodically alerting me to incoming e-mails… life continued to happen, distracting me from the task at hand.
But while my experience with Spring Forward was different than that of patrons attending the festival live, I wouldn’t necessarily discount it as invalid. Critics’ interactions with dance from their living rooms creates an opportunity to unpack an alternative experience from what might have been intended by the artist, which I find interesting to compare with those who were in the room and seeing or hearing the work in distinctly different ways. By expanding our idea of criticism to include an online viewing experience, it becomes possible to have a more global conversation about
dance and seek a variety of perspectives. That seems like a good idea, provided we acknowledge the obvious limitations to viewing work in this area.