August 15, 2020

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Dancer gives lonely vloggers compassionate critique

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/10/2009 (3955 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WHAT is it people are seeking when they broadcast their self-absorbed musings to the world via the Internet?

Why does it seem as if the mere act of posting a monologue is more important to video bloggers (vloggers) than having anything to say?

This is the territory of Avatar, a thought-provoking solo performance piece by dancer turned new-media artist Freya Björg Olafson that opened Thursday at the Rachel Browne Theatre.

The one-hour show is co-presented by Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers, Olafson herself and the Icelandic arts festival Nuna (now).

Olafson, 26, makes clever use of her Mac laptop to mix pre-recorded video and looped, layered sound with a live video feed. We're often watching a "real" woman in front of us while other "versions" of her move on a giant screen.

The artist manages to avoid inflicting sensory overload in her funny, compassionate critique of lonely vloggers and their pathetic YouTube postings.

Using voices lifted from actual video logs -- it seems vloggers obsess a lot about their shoes, their hair and their technical failings -- Olafson particularly looks at body-image preoccupation.

In one effective bit, we watch downloadable "desktop girls" posing pornographically on one side of the giant "desktop," while multiple moving images of Olafson, dressed in a shapeless jumpsuit, point up the contrast between fantasy and reality.

The erotic implications of vlogging are explored in a marvellous, dreamily abstract section in which the image takes the shape of two huge eyes.

In another strong section, the artist applies blue paint to a wall. Simultaneously, on the big screen by means of blue-screen technology, we see that each brushstroke magically reveals more of a private room. It's a kind of striptease, as if we're voyeuristically watching someone open up to us, but there proves to be no "there" there.

Later, the same technology is used in a stunning, eerie sequence in which Olafson's character "erases" parts of her body. It's a disturbing comment on how we despise our flesh, and on how irrelevant it is to so-called digital life.

It's a welcome novelty in a dance show to be able to see a face in intimate closeup, thanks to the camera. But dance turns out to be the show's weakest element. Most of the movement amounts to vague, free-form writhing, or riffs on mannequin or model poses that quickly make their point and grow tedious.

There's a telling quotation in Avatar from the old pop song Up on the Roof, about those times when "people are just too much for me to face."

In the final 15 minutes, Olafson shows her strength as an actor when she constructs and assumes an online identity with a grotesque, mask-like face, platinum-blond wig and androgynous voice.

Although the show is guaranteed to spark discussion, it ends with unsatisfying abruptness and comes across as a series of short pieces, rather than a fully shaped theatrical work.

Still, it makes a resonant point about all those human beings alone in their bedrooms, doing desperate dance routines in search of "subscribers" to grant them approval and acceptance.

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

Dance Review

Avatar

Rachel Browne Theatre, tonight at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.

Three stars out of five

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