Mastering technology

Choir/dance fusion explores humanity’s relationship to technology

Put your phone down and think for a moment: are you the master of this technology or has it mastered you?

Without specifically referencing smartphones an upcoming choral and dance production called Paradox explores just that question. Jean-Louis Bleau artistic director of Artio (the new incarnation of the Mount Royal Youth Choir) says that the show is roughly imagined at the time of industrial revolution right when large-scale technology started to take over human endeavours: “This is the point where things started to change and technology started to drive our ambition and then enslave our ambition.”

Paradox unfolds with the help of five quotations from the 16th to 20th centuries that track humanity’s changing attitudes toward technology — from seeing it as ugly and ill-formed to being a liberator of human energy to questioning whether we are now imprisoned by our own creations. Bleau selected songs based on this theme which means that the music similarly roves through the centuries from the Renaissance to a chain gang song to Sentimental Journey.

The music isn’t the whole story here: Paradox is just as much a dance show with Gessuri Gaitan choreographing movements for the singers as well as dancing himself. Bleau has previously paired dance with choral music but this is the first time the singers are fully part of the kinesthetic show. “I wanted them to be involved in the movement” he says. “I wanted it to be fairly simple and pedestrian movement that the singers could handle and I definitely didn’t want it to be show choir.” (No glee-club jazz hands here.)

Gaitan who’s collaborated with Bleau before works well in the realm of pedestrian movement. “I’m not entirely drawn to dance choreography so much even for myself” he says. “I’m more interested in movement and the different ways of expressing things through a more natural approach.” The singers therefore have straightforward roles like swaying back and forth or checking the time while Gaitan uses more complex movement to evoke ideas of technology humanity and imprisonment.

Besides an artistic relationship to the work Gaitan feel a strong resonance with the theme of technology’s encroaching power. Commenting on the fact that he doesn’t own a cellphone he says “I have a different perspective of how technology has affected the way we live and the way we interact with each other and the trends and patterns that are being created through this technology.” He adds “Through this I also want to represent that struggle of being stuck within our habits and patterns that we’ve created or unconsciously have been created for us.”

With the rather ancient technologies of human voice and movement Bleau hopes to create a performance that is greater than the sum of its parts. “Music and dance can have a symbiotic relationship that’s beyond show choir that can be artistic that can be creative that can communicate a larger idea” he says. “I’m intrigued and engaged by that idea of trying to ignite people’s senses more than just their ears more than just their eyes.”