One could argue that the internet’s social capacity is detached from the user’s physical form. While this characteristic allows participants to explore the myriad of information channels free from their own corporeal limitations or the boundaries of geography, this disembodiment is only in the literal sense. As anyone who has spent an hour schizophrenically clicking knows, the depth and width of the internet can be a deeply cerebral experience that is sometimes best described as a journey. This virtual contemporary phenomenon becomes the basis for Ryan McNamara’s hour long Performa commissioned piece “MEEM 4 Miami: A Story Ballet About the Internet”, that was presented in spectacular fashion for two nights only in collaboration with Art Basel Miami Beach.
“MEEM” is a revolutionary work that fuses novel stylistic approaches and innovative stage direction into a fully immersive piece. Performed for a small audience at the Miami Grand Theater, a once classic supper club famous amongst South Beach celebrities throughout the 1970’s, “MEEM” begins in the most traditional of ways. The audience is seated facing the stage where three principle male dancers, dressed in matching blue leggings and loosely fitted black tank tops, move their lean bodies to a remixed soundtrack. Once underway, a fleet of stage hands equipped with metal trolleys enters the audience from the wings, each using their own device to leverage a seated guest and move them to a different vantage point.
The entirety of the space, both in and outside of the main hall, has been filled will small micro-performances that are taking place simultaneously. Audience members are carted around at random and parked in small grouping in order to view various vignettes: a solo performer in a Hokusai printed skin jumpsuit moves elastically across a brightly lit and mirrored back wall, a man and woman in tights and kitsch holiday crop-tops competitively vogue and flail in a basked red glow, two men mimic each other’s awkward movements in a long dark corridor. All the while, the stage continues to showcase the three men, sometimes visited by other dancers, as their black tank tops are now drenched with sweat from their durational performance. The sheer abundance of stimulation means that the audience is easily distracted. Twisting in their chairs in order to take it all in, the glow of iPhone cameras create small rectangular jewels of light as many viewers ironically watch the performance filtered through their own screens.
Audience and performer are situated, for the most part, in close proximity to each other. This adjacent distance allows for the dancers to gaze deeply into the eyes of the audience while they complete phrases of movement. However, the androgynous physical beauty coupled with their uncanny and frozen eye contact becomes more avatar like than endearing. The dancers are present but detached, human and robotic.
Further to the metaphoric click-hole of moving in and around the space, McNamara draws on the internet’s interrelated platforms that generate, circulate and recycle content outside of a linear narrative. The movement, costuming and audience participation is both complex and simultaneously arbitrary. Layered moments in musical, dance, theatre and cultural history are severed from their original sources, creating an artistic moment that neither looks back or looks forward, but solely created a vacuum of the present.
Even within the title of the work, “MEEM 4 Miami: A Story Ballet About the Internet”, McNamara nuanced choice to modify the spelling with an inverted E (sadly impossible to type on the Sleek website) becomes a linguistic play on the physical nature of memetic transmission. The replication and perverted symmetry that happens in the digital sprawl crosses all disciplines and affects even the most basic of human structures.
With a final overlapping hurrah, the dancers disappear and the lights abruptly turn on as if the audience was collectively unplugged. Shifting awkwardly back into real life, the group of Basel attendees wildly blink, smile and clap, with only each other to look at and lean on to readjust to the IRL world in which they all began.
Text by Devon Caranicas
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