Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Feature - Ted Strauss on Iredea (Fringe / Dance)

Dance, Sci-Fi and the Search For Humanity in The Wasteland
by Ted Strauss

Ted Strauss is the artistic director of IREDEA. He is one half of Woo me myth, a Montreal company that creates Dance Rock Operas. Ted Strauss has been a musician his whole life, and often collaborates with theatre, dance, and visual artists. In 2010 he stepped into a directorial role to create the Duck Wife with choreographer Jenn Doan and a big team of collaborators. Ted Strauss draws from his experience as a social science researcher and a technologist to conceive of and create performances. 

It is the not too distant future. We meet a man who works for the superstructure, a bureaucracy that wields absolute power over the decaying planet. The superstructure controls all resources and surveils the population's every move as they scramble to survive the planet's climatic  and economic disasters unfolding in slow motion around them. The man works within the system to try to help people. But when he learns that he is being manipulated and controlled for awful ends, his mind unravels. He goes mad. Using his privileged access to the computer networks that control the planet, he devises a plan to start a chain reaction of events that causes nuclear detonations on every corner of the globe. Boom. Most people are killed. The dust settles. Silence. Time passes. A twisted figure crawls out from a deep hole. It begins to orient itself to the new smouldering reality.

This is the beginning of IREDEA. 

IREDEA has been my baby for the last year, or maybe my whole life. The show itself fluidly shifts between narration, contemporary dance, live music, a photo essay projected onto a screen, and an amazing set of costumes, props, and visual effects. Including a robot. Yes, a robot. The story is loosely inspired by a Philip K. Dick story. You’ll have to guess which one.

One of my goals as artistic director was to fully realize the wondrous experience of a science fiction film in a live performance. I grew up on sci-fi movies, and discovered Philip K. Dick's mind-bending - yet easily digestible - books in my 20s. Myself and my main collaborator, dancer-choreographer Jenn Doan, have experimented with science fiction in performance since 2011, after we finished our last project The Duck Wife. Adapting cinematic concepts to live performance is a very challenging but rewarding process. Because we had little money, we used gadgets and simple visual tricks to achieve our sci-fi effects. The irony is that we now live in a world that was the science fiction of an earlier generation, and we use the cheap gadgets from our own time to imagine the future. This spirit of playful experimentation is something I love about sci-fi films. 

Another important goal was to make a show about the apocalypse and its aftermath that is both serious and entertaining. There are some subjects that are difficult for people to understand or approach directly. Science fiction takes such an idea and presents it as completely real, even banal. The viewer can choose either to accept it at face value or dismiss it completely. There’s no middle way. When enough people accept the illusion at face value, then they start to take crazy ideas very seriously. If you were to say to a sci-fi fan that “Google is Skynet” they’ll know exactly what you mean: that the technology created by Google has the potential to one day become self aware and defend itself from human intervention. That’s a very complex and frightening concept, but one that can now be easily understood by many people because of James Cameron’s Terminator movies. By accepting the illusion, the viewer integrates a lot of information quickly, and this can be a riveting and entertaining experience. 

In IREDEA, as with any show on a stage, the audience experiences everything through the performer: their body, their breath, their clothes, gesture, and voice. So the illusions that we chose to use in IREDEA have to do with the bodies of the dancers. At one point early in the show, a kinetic light source is used for a complex surgical procedure. Afterwards, the body of the patient is embedded with mechanical stimulation.

It’s hard to summarize the storyline without spoilers, so I’ll just say this. IREDEA is about the search for humanity in the wasteland of a post-apocalyptic world. When absolutely everything is lost, what could possibly motivate the survivors to do anything, much less treat each other decently? The codes and myths that remind us to be good can originate from the most unexpected places.

June 13-20 Montreal Fringe Festival
June 22-29 Ottawa Fringe Festival

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