Review: vox:lumen (Zata Omm Dance Projects)


At the Harbourfront World Stage, vox:lumen is Thoughtful but Accessible

I don’t know much about dance and rarely seek it out, but it has always intrigued me, crouching at the fringes of my theatre-going experiences. Every now and then, the concept of a particular dance piece will catch my attention. This is how I came to see vox:lumen, Zata Omm Dance Projects‘ ode to sustainable technologies currently playing at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre.

I’m always hoping that eventually my mind will be completely blown by dance. vox:lumen didn’t blow my mind exactly, but I found it dynamic and haunting.

You enter the lobby to find energy-producing devices that allow audience members to help generate power for the show itself, but also learn a little something about sustainable energy.

Clad in black tights and very comfy-looking gauzy black shirts, five dancers try to convey life in an environment where the creation and utilization of light is a necessity. As they challenge, seduce, comfort, and torment each other, they create the light necessary for their actions. The dancers movements power the lighting instruments and this allows for some very hypnotic choreography and cool-looking techno toys.

Looming across the stage is an odd contraption that resembles a tree crossed with a suspension bridge. Ian Garrett has designed an impressively futuristic structure that manages, somehow, to seem organic. The intricate, metallic look of this structure is nicely offset by some elegant white cubes—lit from within—that the dancers use as props.

Andrea Rocca’s music is chilling and evocative. It suggests a future that is considerably less comfortable than our present. It reminded me of the score for Cronenberg’s Crash; it has a similar cool and metallic edge.

Here’s one problem I sometimes have with dance: I expect every gesture to have some intellectual grounding or narrative significance. When I can’t determine one or they other, I tune out. While this is a piece that requires reflection, William Yong (choreographer) has crafted a very satisfying visceral experience full of striking imagery. I was particularly affected by a sequence that depicted a modern hunt where the predators are armed with flashbulbs and the prey is a naked and defenseless, cowering from the light and scrutiny. (Yes, there is some full nudity.)

There are times when the choreography is so fluid, I almost forgot I was watching actual people. I’ve always been fascinated by skillful movement, and there is an abundance here. There are mesmerizing moments when the performers are crawling all over each other, their limbs weaving in and out, and I thought: oh, that’s pretty. And then I remembered that these are people, not puppets, and suddenly it’s not just pretty; it’s exhilarating.

This work has been in development for several years, a creative partnership with York University and Aesthetec Studio. Much research has gone into sustainable energy and interactive technologies to make this piece truly… well, sustainable and interactive.

vox:lumen isn’t as flashy as I expected. The lighting effects—both practical sources and the design itself by Simon Rossiter—are restrained and minimalist. This gives the piece a surprisingly naturalistic quality you might not expect from such a technically and physically complex show.

If anything here intrigues you, I highly recommend catching vox:lumen while you can. It’s playing at Harbourfront Centre as part of World Stage.


Photo of William Yong by David Hou.