Review  /  Arts & culture

Out of sight, out of mind

A performance of From The Light of The Fire, Our Dancing Shadows in Exeter for Kaleider Mikrofest appears to favour illusion over truth in a confused rendering of Plato's cave allegory that leaves both performers and audience in the dark.

Kaleider  

On a chilly March evening, a small audience assembles in Princesshay. All eyes are on a large, open-sided, circular set. Lengths of electrical cable run between tall shards of lighting truss which support spotlights aimed at the circle’s centre.

The set resembles a sort of pop-concert panopticon. Red velvet rope loops laid out on the ground inscribe seven smaller circles in a flowing, flower shape. At the centre sit several more spotlights, shining outwards. Ushers encourage passersby and stragglers to come closer: the show is about to begin.

Seven performers enter, dressed in identical metallic jackets with bulky VR visors covering their eyes. They take their places, each standing in a red velvet loop. A plaintive piano, string and squeezebox recording starts to play and artificial smoke drifts across the set.

Responding to the private world in their headsets, unseen to us, the players begin to move, sometimes in sync with each other, sometimes not. They turn uncertainly on their axes as if dangled by invisible puppeteers, reaching toward objects we cannot see, apparently entranced. They do not roam beyond their rope loop enclosures.

As the piece plays on, I become increasingly baffled by the decision to conceal what captivates the dancers. I wonder if they are able to see us, or one another? Part of the pleasure of watching dance can come from seeing expressive and skilful physical movement: no such pleasure is to be found here in the repetitive, disjointed gestures of these performers.

This might seem an unfair complaint as the participants in this production are not professional dancers (they are later revealed to be volunteers). However, none of the joy that can arise from simply witnessing spontaneous physical self-expression is available here either.

Kaleider Mikrofest Our Dancing Shadows in Exeter Princesshay Our Dancing Shadows in Exeter Princesshay during Kaleider Mikrofest

Described as a “social VR experience”, From The Light of The Fire, Our Dancing Shadows was first commissioned by Bristol Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio for last year’s Layered Realities Weekend, an exploration of the impact of 5G “next generation wireless connectivity” on culture, society and economy.

Kaleider claims this production explores “two sides of the same experience, one in VR and the other watching on”, but is communion actually achieved here, or even possible? Kaleider says use of VR technology “enables people to collaborate in the same virtual world at once, untethered”, but there’s little affinity on offer here. Who is collaborating with whom? The sentimental soundtrack suggests a desire to elicit feeling. Yet, essentially isolated from the dancers, we watch people watching VR. What, exactly, is poignant about that?

This production alludes to Plato’s cave allegory, apparently seeking to evoke shadows, cast from a fire, flickering on a cave wall: the silhouetted approximation of reality perceived by Plato’s prisoners. Here the world the dancers see is determined by another, in common with Plato’s inmates. They are also confined, in circular prisons (not untethered, as claimed).

Writer and director Seth Honnor has said “manipulating audiences to some degree is what all shows and art do”. Plato’s prisoners were trapped in illusion, deprived of access to reality, but the showy theatrical effects employed here seem to celebrate the performers’ captivity and obscure the absence of any insight, potential or realised. Similarly, while Plato’s prisoners escape, discovering their mistaken prior belief in the evidence of their senses, no such release is to be found here.

The performance I saw ran without a hitch, for which the technical team (Andy Wood and All Seeing Eye) deserve due props. But their production skill did not compensate for a failure to engender empathy between performers and audience. Watching people watching VR might seem on trend to technology promoters with a DCMS budget to spend, but it needs to be accompanied by more than mawkish music and school disco smoke machines to convey much meaning.

I was left wondering whether the source of its funding had compelled the production’s focus on technology regardless of artistic merit. Perhaps my memory of Plato is just a personal projection and these dancing shadows were no more than an element of the performance, dim outlines formed by bodies moving between light and smoke.

Either way this production does not reveal whether the 5G future should be revered or reviled.


From The Light Of The Fire, Our Dancing Shadows was performed in Exeter’s Princesshay shopping centre on 15 March 2019 as part of Kaleider’s Mikrofest.


 is arts & culture editor of Exeter Observer and a director of its publisher Greater Exeter CIC.

 

 subedited this article.

More Arts & Culture
Preston Street Union present SERGE/SURGE at Cricklepit Mill

Review  /  Arts & culture

Preston Street Union rolls out the red carpet

The Exeter-based artists explore migration driven by the city's historic wool trade in new work commissioned by RAMM.

Read more ...

Photo of The Jambassadors by Gabe Riedlinger

Preview  /  Arts & culture

Jambassadors feature in pop-up Jazz Toast at Barnfield Theatre

Musical director Roz Harding invites us to join an Exeter College Music Academy student collective in a one-night-only experimental exploration of in-the-moment improvisation.

Read more ...

Extreme Imagination - inside the mind's eye exhibition at Exeter RAMM

Review  /  Arts & culture

Extreme Imagination - Inside the Mind's Eye

University of Exeter research fellow Dr Matthew MacKisack guides us through a RAMM exhibition that explores works by artists, writers and makers with widely varying visual imaginations.

Read more ...

Exeter College students in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Barnfield Theatre

Review  /  Arts & culture

Playing with gender expectations at Barnfield Theatre

An Exeter College interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream transforms it into an enchanting contemporary gender-adapted tale.

Read more ...

Rainbow Trail LGBTQIA+ exhibition queers RAMM for Exeter Pride 2019

Preview  /  Arts & culture

Rainbow Trail LGBTQIA+ exhibition queers RAMM for Exeter Pride 2019

A new collaboration between X-Plore Youth Devon, Exeter College LGBTQ+ society, Natalie McGrath of Dreadnought SW and Dr Jana Funke of the University of Exeter explores gender and sexual diversity across time, place and culture by reimagining objects from the RAMM collections.

Read more ...

Climate & Environment
Exeter Global Climate Strike demonstrator holding placard

Analysis  /  Climate & environment

Exeter youth climate strikers launch Green New Deal for Devon

Fridays For Future Exeter have published a detailed vision of a more equitable future that calls on elected representatives across the county to recognise the climate crisis as a symptom of a dysfunctional political economy.

Read more ...

Exeter Global Climate Strike Bedford Street crowd

News  /  Climate & environment

Thousands march in Exeter for global climate strike as millions mobilise worldwide

Fridays for Future Exeter led 3500 people on a climate crisis demonstration through the city backed by dozens of organisations on the eve of the UN Climate Action Summit in New York.

Read more ...

Exeter Extinction Rebellion funeral march climate crisis High Street

News  /  Climate & environment

Mock funeral march brings Exeter city centre to a sombre standstill

Extinction Rebellion campaigners brought the gravity of the ecological emergency home to Exeter on Saturday in a funereal procession commemorating wildlife loss caused by climate change.

Read more ...

Exeter Youth Strike 4 Climate protestors with banner

Opinion  /  Climate & environment

Exeter Youth Strike 4 Climate - the floodgates are open

Exeter is one of the smallest cities in Britain, yet it has produced some of the country's biggest youth strikes. Climate activist Sophie Sleeman recounts the story so far and explains what it means to the young people who are creating a global wave of change.

Read more ...

Extinction Rebellion climate emergency protesters in Exeter Guildhall shopping centre

News  /  Climate & environment

Exeter Extinction Rebellion stages climate emergency protest

Today around 70 people joined the Exeter branch of Extinction Rebellion on the city's streets to demand urgent action to minimise the risk of catastrophic impacts from climate change.

Read more ...

Planning & Place
Front elevations of proposed development at Mount Radford Lawn

Feature  /  Planning & place

Mount Radford Lawn development proposals conflict with St Leonards community vision

Exeter Deaf Academy hopes to sell a school playing field to developers who plan to build luxury homes. Local residents have other ideas about how best to use the land. A dispute is looming over an historic green space driven by prospective profit from planning gain.

Read more ...

Exeter Clifton Hill sports centre

Briefing  /  Planning & place

Clifton Hill sports centre – the background

Storm Emma met the Beast from the East and dumped a huge amount of snow on the roof of Exeter's Clifton Hill sports centre, setting off a chain reaction which has ignited two campaigns and put Exeter City Council's approaches to competence and openness into sharp focus.

Read more ...

Greater Exeter Strategic Plan banner

Briefing  /  Planning & place

Is the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan GESPing for air?

The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan has been a long time in gestation. When it finally arrives, will it deliver?

Read more ...

Exeter St James period housing stock

Opinion  /  Planning & place

Exeter St James regeneration

How can the supply of low-cost, incrementally investable city centre accommodation be stimulated to attract and retain creative, technically-skilled young entrepreneurial talent?

Read more ...

Strategy & Governance
East Devon Independent Claire Wright 2019 general election candidate

Feature  /  Strategy & governance

East Devon Independent Claire Wright set to unite Remain voters in close historic two-way contest

Claire Wright is poised to make history by beating the Tories in East Devon next week. If she does it will be without thanks to the LibDems and Greens, who insisted on standing candidates against her despite the preferences of local party members and the Unite to Remain campaign.

Read more ...

2019 Devon County Council Heavitree & Whipton Barton by-election Exeter vote share swing bar chart

News  /  Strategy & governance

Exeter Labour support collapses in Heavitree & Whipton Barton county by-election

Greg Sheldon wins Devon County Council division by just 40 votes after Labour loses nearly a fifth of its previous vote share.

Read more ...

Exeter City Council cuts executive decision-making scrutiny

News  /  Strategy & governance

Exeter City Council cuts scrutiny of executive decision-making

Constitutional changes proposed by Exeter City Council will make it more difficult to hold the ruling political group to account.

Read more ...

Exeter anti-government protest Devon for Europe speaker

Comment  /  Strategy & governance

Exeter protest misses its mark by mixing its messages

One of Exeter's biggest ever street demonstrations combined anti-Brexit and pro-democracy concerns to produce a confused protest against government policy.

Read more ...

Exeter City Council public toilet closures Exeter Live Better hoarding

Briefing  /  Strategy & governance

Exeter could do better - was there no alternative to closing so many public toilets?

Exeter City Council did not need to close thirteen public toilets to balance the books. The money to keep them open was available in reserves, but no mention of this option was made during public decision-making by councillors or officers.

Read more ...

Exeter City Council public toilet closure notice

Briefing  /  Strategy & governance

Caught short - balancing the books in a hurry

Exeter City Council has unapologetically confirmed its decision to close 13 public toilets as a money-saving measure with full knowledge of its expected effect on residents and visitors. Can we expect other spending cuts to be handled the same way?

Read more ...

Molly Scott Cato at the European Parliament

Interview  /  Strategy & governance

Is EU membership essential to our ability to deal with the climate emergency?

Molly Scott Cato, Green Party MEP for the South West, visited Exeter during her re-election campaign to explain why the EU and its Green Group is leading the way on a wide range of progressive policies.

Read more ...

Exeter City Council city centre wards map

News  /  Strategy & governance

Exeter Labour loses local elections in all three city centre wards

Voters in Exeter yesterday elected three new councillors to represent them in the key wards that cover the city centre, with all the city's ruling Exeter Labour group candidates missing out despite the party's confident campaign.

Read more ...

Jemima Moore campaigning in Exeter local elections

Profile  /  Strategy & governance

Local resident stands as independent candidate in Exeter elections

Jemima Moore is a 36 year-old part-time primary school teacher and mother of two young children with little political experience. So why has she decided to stand for election to Exeter City Council on 2 May?

Read more ...

Exeter City Council press and public exclusion notice

Analysis  /  Strategy & governance

What does your council know that you don't know you don't know?

Extracting information from councils is hard work but increasingly necessary for local democracy.

Read more ...

Transport & Mobility
Country Bus G service to Exeter Quay

Feature  /  Transport & mobility

An integrated public transport service for Devon remains a distant aspiration

A change to Exeter's G bus service operator has revealed the limits of Devon County Council's approach to transport system integration.

Read more ...

Dutch living streets woonerf sign

Longread  /  Transport & mobility

We already know what to do about the climate crisis. We must get on with doing it as fast as we can.

Exeter and Devon council leaders must begin rapid regional decarbonisation now. The quickest, cheapest way to cut emissions in Exeter is to deter combustion engines from entering the city. Clean air legislation offers a basis for action.

Read more ...

Historic Exe Bridge traffic

Opinion  /  Transport & mobility

Streets are for people, not cars

Cars adversely affect economic output, air quality and wellbeing, take up valuable space when parked and discourage people from walking and cycling when driven. Reducing their use would enhance Exeter's retail and leisure offer, improve public health and attract needed workers to the city.

Read more ...

More stories
Photo of The Jambassadors by Gabe Riedlinger

Preview  /  Arts & culture

Jambassadors feature in pop-up Jazz Toast at Barnfield Theatre

Musical director Roz Harding invites us to join an Exeter College Music Academy student collective in a one-night-only experimental exploration of in-the-moment improvisation.

Read more ...

Exeter College students in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Barnfield Theatre

Review  /  Arts & culture

Playing with gender expectations at Barnfield Theatre

An Exeter College interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream transforms it into an enchanting contemporary gender-adapted tale.

Read more ...

Exeter City Council city centre wards map

News  /  Strategy & governance

Exeter Labour loses local elections in all three city centre wards

Voters in Exeter yesterday elected three new councillors to represent them in the key wards that cover the city centre, with all the city's ruling Exeter Labour group candidates missing out despite the party's confident campaign.

Read more ...

Jemima Moore campaigning in Exeter local elections

Profile  /  Strategy & governance

Local resident stands as independent candidate in Exeter elections

Jemima Moore is a 36 year-old part-time primary school teacher and mother of two young children with little political experience. So why has she decided to stand for election to Exeter City Council on 2 May?

Read more ...

Exeter Clifton Hill sports centre

Briefing  /  Planning & place

Clifton Hill sports centre – the background

Storm Emma met the Beast from the East and dumped a huge amount of snow on the roof of Exeter's Clifton Hill sports centre, setting off a chain reaction which has ignited two campaigns and put Exeter City Council's approaches to competence and openness into sharp focus.

Read more ...

Exeter City Council press and public exclusion notice

Analysis  /  Strategy & governance

What does your council know that you don't know you don't know?

Extracting information from councils is hard work but increasingly necessary for local democracy.

Read more ...

Greater Exeter Strategic Plan banner

Briefing  /  Planning & place

Is the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan GESPing for air?

The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan has been a long time in gestation. When it finally arrives, will it deliver?

Read more ...

Extinction Rebellion climate emergency protesters in Exeter Guildhall shopping centre

News  /  Climate & environment

Exeter Extinction Rebellion stages climate emergency protest

Today around 70 people joined the Exeter branch of Extinction Rebellion on the city's streets to demand urgent action to minimise the risk of catastrophic impacts from climate change.

Read more ...

Exeter St James period housing stock

Opinion  /  Planning & place

Exeter St James regeneration

How can the supply of low-cost, incrementally investable city centre accommodation be stimulated to attract and retain creative, technically-skilled young entrepreneurial talent?

Read more ...

Historic Exe Bridge traffic

Opinion  /  Transport & mobility

Streets are for people, not cars

Cars adversely affect economic output, air quality and wellbeing, take up valuable space when parked and discourage people from walking and cycling when driven. Reducing their use would enhance Exeter's retail and leisure offer, improve public health and attract needed workers to the city.

Read more ...

More galleries