Written By: David Clennin
Editted By: Lauren Lavery
Dance is a difficult art form to keep an audience sustained and engaged. I find myself often leaving performances underwhelmed or just simply whelmed. Works usually suffer from having too many ideas, not cohesively linking them, or never finding a resolution to a thought before moving on. On the other hand, some pieces lack ideas and material, becoming predictable, extended, and mundane. It is extremely refreshing to walk out of a dance performance inspired and excited to get back into the studio the next day. Shay Kuebler and Radical System Art’s Glory is one of the best shows I have ever seen, dance or otherwise, and is an excellent example of using multiple art forms together to enrich and enliven dance. A strong sense of clarity of space and time is also apparent in the piece, with the various disciplines (dance, theatre, film) working together with clarity and cohesion through the work’s themes. All of these strengths work together to create a piece that is accessible to a wider audience, not just for viewers who have trained and studied in dance.
Kuebler was a founding member of the Vancouver based 605 collective, and is also the founder of this relatively new company Shay Kuebler and Radical System Art. In talking about the work he states, “Glory looks at the glorification, sensationalism, and acceptance of violence in society, and the depths to which society increases the appeal and demand of the voyeuristic experience” (Kuebler).
Four men and two women, including Kuebler himself, perform the piece. It moves along at a fast pace, with each section dealing with themes of violence in their own unique way. Certain transitions are drastic and abrupt, while others are subtle shifts. The movement language is a mixture of contemporary, hip-hop, and martial arts, with dance sections that involve the performers battling one another as individuals and collectives. It is an extremely physical piece. Those familiar with Kuebler’s movement style will recognize it instantly. There are many physical theatre aspects as well, with everything being accompanied by “live-video capture and interactive lighting and sound, to create a rich and sincere experience” (Kuebler).
The stage uses a simple black backdrop, with large white back drops used for short films and projections which span across the stage at different heights and depths. The lighting is very minimal and dark, while the score is a contrast of driven bassy soundscapes and epic classical music that, when combined draw a similarity to movie soundtracks. The use of props is limited in Glory, but when used they are effective and relevant to the theme, enhancing the other material on stage which includes a television, a scantily clad female action figure doll complete with handguns, live video capture equipment, and a microphone.
Glory’s attempts to satirize the sensationalism of violence in our society are quite effective. The piece resonated for me from interpretations I made of references to popular entertainment mediums such as video games and film. As the music continually shifts to epic scores, the movement of the dancers battling with each other make a clear critique of the violence that exists in modern day films. Certain sections also reference video games, like the performers re-enacting and abstracting a gory sword fight akin to the fighting video game SoulCalibur through their movements. The excessive use of sound effects and bloody visuals projected through art and movement further reflects what these games potentially depict. This allusion to video games was extremely effective for myself to help relate to themes in contemporary society. A nod to two dimensional 8-bit character movements from one performer was particularly enjoyable. In a different section, the women play with the female action figure doll as it is superimposed onto a projection where the dancers have been filmed getting shot repeatedly. Sound and digital visual effects from video games are added to the screen as the performers are shot, causing the audience to roar in laughter, despite the thematic undertone being quite horrendous. This usage of multiple disciplines enhances these types of moments, as well as Glory’s thematic concepts to a level that dance alone could not obtain. The projected films and light projections refresh the stage from the possible monotony and limitation that solely movement and dance can become for an audience.
Another strength of Glory is its playful use of both literal and abstract images. With contemporary dance being such an abstract art form, the ability to mix in literal or narrative elements gives the audience an escape from interpreting the abstraction of contemporary movement. Other renowned and popular choreographers have been known for their use of narrative in contemporary dance, which is not that common (Jennings). In this piece, short films portray horror chase scenes, bringing a welcome change to the onslaught of abstraction. This helps to make the work accessible to a wider audience, which is a struggle most contemporary dance works face. Glory also achieves this end through its humour and more physical, theatrical moments. The audience adored a section where gunshot effects were made by a woman on the microphone, as a male struggled to stay up after each blow. With each shot he would exuberantly be hit as if in a Power Rangers action scene, and lighting effects on the screen upstage of him would quickly slash in his direction from the women’s location on stage. The use of these props along with all the multiple disciplines create a cohesive piece that is truly mesmerizing to watch.
Glory is a monumental performance piece. Shay Kuebler and Radical System Art have created an incredible language and medium for their art by combining characteristics of film, physical theatre, and dance. It is highly accessible to both artists and the general public. Sufficed to say, it would be a missed opportunity to let their next show slip by.
Kuebler, Shay. “Glory.” Shay Kuebler. N.p, N.d. Web. 25 February 2015.
Jennings, Luke. “Crystal Pite: ‘I’m trying to excavate the truth.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media Limited. 22 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 Feb. 2015