EIGHT WAYS FROM MARA choreographed by William Yong. Presented by Zata Omm at the Enwave (231 Queens Quay West). Opens tonight (Thursday, October 20) and runs to Sunday (October 23), Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $28-$33. 416-973-4000. See listing.
What can buddhism and modern dance tell us about our new digital lives? Choreographer William Yong's new hour-long show, which pairs five dancers with innovative technologies, attempts to answer that question.
Building on the success of his 2009 multimedia-infused show Frames, Yong uses Mara - a mischievous trickster from Eastern philosophy whose goal is to distract humans - to explore how digital technologies are affecting our lives.
"I want audiences to find resonance between Eastern philosophy and modern life," he says over the phone. "Is modern technology helping or distracting and confusing us?"
Yong admits that his reservations about new technologies must also apply to his own heavy use of devices in the show, which include two projectors, live cameras, wall-sized lighting rigs and an "interactive garment" equipped with motion and tilt sensors that translate a dancer's movements into data.
"Through choreography I try to develop a profound relationship between dance and technology," says Yong, recently seen onstage in Theatre Rusticle's Peter And The Wolf. "But I'm careful when incorporating other media. It has to be thoughtful and harmonized - not distracting. All aspects need to form a coherent whole."
Also informing Yong's creative choices are concepts from Zen.
"For me, Zen is a quality and philosophy. In my style, every movement is initiated from the centre of gravity. When I think about an idea, I always try to find what is at the centre of it."
Despite these spiritual underpinnings, Yong says the show doesn't espouse any single religious point of view.
"I grew up in Hong Kong with a mix of Catholics, Protestants and Buddhists in my family, which was a little confusing at first but gave me a tolerance of diverse traditions. The show includes references to gods and religion, but the focus is on understanding modern society."
To this end, in one section of the show Yong playfully fuses spiritual and digital guidance.
"I created a sequence where I [help] my dancers toward Nirvana using GPS-style instructions. I wrote a series of directional commands that were mixed into the sound design. So there's this voice directing the dancers to ‘avoid temptation' and ‘surpass self-love.'"
Together with the four other performers, Yong will take to the stage, hoping this fresh rendering of Eastern philosophy helps people think about our current situation in new ways.
"I want to create a journey that will broaden and alter people's perspectives. Most of all, I want to provoke thoughtfulness and reflection on modernity."