From Pong to politics — 8 Bit: The Video Game Dance Show explores social issues with movement and humour

When given the combination of video games and dance, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Dance Dance Revolution? The newer, Just Dance? Or perhaps you are one of the select few who can actually do the “Orange Justice” in Fortnite properly (according to my 10-year-old dance students, I never get it right …). In 8 Bit: The Video Game Dance Show, performers Mark Kunji Ikeda and Richard Lee Hsi reach beyond the basics of dance video games and bring us a story about “two brothers (who) get trapped in a killer video game and need to DANCE FOR THEIR LIVES.”

The idea for this show, produced by Ikeda’s company Cloudsway Dance Theatre, initiated when he was invited to participate in a dance cabaret – “a fun, light-hearted gathering of dancers and physical performers.”

Ikeda says of his inspiration, “This idea of getting sucked into a video game was the best example of a comedic/fun dance that Richard Lee and I could think of to suit the event. The amount of feedback we received proved that there was an appetite for comedic dance theatre.”

Cloudsway Dance Theatre aims to be a gateway between dance and theatre audiences. Their mission is to display how movement can communicate a story as clearly as text does, while producing work that is artistically and politically relevant in today’s society. With 8 Bit, that’s exactly what they have done.

Venturing all the way back to the first popular gaming system, Atari, who produced Pong, this piece showcases all the classics – including Mario Bros, Skyrim, and Fortnite. Ikeda explains, “As the video game systems grow in complexity, we use more complex movement.” Starting with slow, simple movement done at the same time, the evolution of movement progresses into challenging lifts and tricks that are sure to make you wonder if they really do have power-up abilities.

But as we all know, there can be a dark side to video games, and Ikeda and Hsi are not afraid to go there in 8 Bit. They cleverly incorporate conversations about teamwork, anger management, and gender politics in the gaming community – asking questions such as: Can you be friends with people you’ve never met; and are there certain expectations of other online gamers?

When asked about the ways video games are affecting society, Ikeda explains that, “Gamergate is an obvious example that more conversation is necessary around gender politics in gaming. The malicious movement is a glaring black-eye for the community, that has a lot of inspiring stories of how life-long friendships have been based around games. There are a lot of beautiful stories of community, compassion, and friendship that have been overshadowed by some vicious personal attacks based on how a ‘real game’ or a ‘real gamer’ should be defined.”

Despite the sometimes-melancholic reality of gaming, this piece is described as “high-paced hilarity” and a “laugh-out-loud production.” So, pull out the old Nintendo 64, and brush up on your gaming knowledge … because with this show, the Skyrim’s the limit.

(Photo courtesy Cloudsway Dance Theatre.)

8 Bit: The Video Game Dance Show will be performed at the West Village Theatre April 18-20, and 23-27 at 7:30 p.m., as well as April 20, 27-28 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at

Taylor Ritchie is professional dancer, shaker and mover in Calgary. When she’s not performing or teaching dance, you can find her at many of the local performing arts shows in town.