‘Voyage’ appealing; but EMPAC is the attraction

The troupe of dancers, musicians, visual artists and computer techies, Dumb Type, met EMPAC’s call f

Electronic Media and Performing Arts Center, better known as EMPAC, opened its doors for the first time this weekend. And the $200 million facility on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is doing exactly what it promised — challenge the human senses by extending the reach of our artistic endeavors. That’s achieved through collaboration with the equally creative pursuits of science and technology.

Many events marked the inaugural weekend, including the showing of Kyoto, Japan, based ensemble Dumb Type. The troupe of dancers, musicians, visual artists and computer techies met EMPAC’s call for artistic courage with “Voyage,” the dance/theater/video event that was equal parts soothing and jarring.

The program explains that “Voyage” was an attempt to explore humankind’s dislocation. Yet it presents itself more as a travelogue — a trip into the unknown that was either dull, frightening or exhilarating. Those in the seats felt it all.

The piece started out with a butoh tone. A dancer, twisting and bending from her waist and waving her reedy arms, moved in slow motion. She was cast as a mystery, in the shadows with three large orbs, while an electronic score hummed.

The theater goes black and we were jolted from our calm by the rattling and crunching of stones, as if they are under foot. Two wearing headlamps circled the stage. They stumbled and tumbled, as if lost in a cave, and then they yelled to each other in hopes of finding their way. Their desperate calls were disconcerting and the drama of their plight ended with one seemingly toppling over a ledge. Here, Dumb Type strongly conveyed the perils of travel.

They also nailed loneliness with a passage across the ocean. With a video of a heaving sea against a back wall and a light bulb swinging upstage, they imparted the rhythmic sway of a ship. The great divide between humans was clearly personified by the lone woman, lounged on a table, typing in arrival and departure times.

Dumb Type also took its audience to the Arctic, on a zany plane ride with a crew of spirited flight attendants and into space. The walk on the moon sequence was mesmerizing until the lights came up. It then sank into parody with the female astronaut lip synching “Over the Rainbow” to a deep gravelly voice. And aside from the lighting, designed to look like aurora borealis, the Arctic trip for two felt contrived.

The piece ended as it began, with the languid dancer spinning as a compass against the map of the world. We were at peace once again.

One final note on “Voyage:” it was tough on the ears. Unwelcomed screeches and bellows were sudden, loud and discomforting. So in the end, “Voyage” was a tasty feast for the eye, but not ears nor the heart.

But one should not dwell on Dumb Type or “Voyage“ as the real star was the exceptional EMPAC itself. The building, massive plexiglass exterior enclosing the smooth wood concert hall, theater and studios, was bustling with patrons, as it should be.

RPI deserves a standing ovation for its efforts. Bravo.

Categories: Life and Arts

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