Accompanying the Light in Darkness group show currently up at Western Bridge is Crispin Spaeth's Dark Room Trio, a piece of choreography performed by three dancers in complete darkness. Lasting for twenty minutes at a go, audience members sit on a collection of beanbags on a black carpet in a dark, dark room. With the aid of either night-vision binoculars or monoculars, they are presented and once employed aid in the crossing of several sensory thresholds. The dancers have no ability to see each other or the audience, and the risk of miscues, stumbles, and potential collisions is a part of the energy that the piece conjures. They communicate through listening to the breath and movements of each other, and sticking to their pre-defined routine in order to avoid mishaps—but these are inevitable. Dark Room Trio contains a few strong guiding symbols: the physicality of the dancers, the attempt to be faithful to a pre-existing plan, the military connotations of the darkness and night-vision (the fog of war beautifully portrayed), the mingling of violence, sexuality, and perception. But none of these is necessarily overpowering or mishandled. In fact, the special qualities concern depictions of power and the odd, painterly feel of the movements.
The piece is influenced by visual art and seems to employ several techniques drawn from painting in its use of sound, distorted perception, and total sensory overload. This makes sense, after all Spaeth started as a visual artist, and is particularly skilled in manipulating auditory, visual, and physical sensory information to convey meaning. The room becomes an absolute enclosure; the fellow viewers become either unseeable or wholly bizarre voyeurs, alienated from each other and from the performers. The shock of realizing that you're not necessarily the only ones undergoing sensory-deprivation – you feel the darkness at two levels – in your own psyche, and in your perception (or non-perception) of the dancers' movements. The esoteric sonic landscape provided by composer Yann Novak only reinforces a complete lack of concrete information. The darkness, the music, the separation from your fellow audience members and the dancers is all strongly reminiscent of the fog of war, the experience of total impenetrable obscurity.
While I initially viewed it through the provided night-vision monocular, I soon removed it and experienced the rest of the piece without visual aid. This made the whole experience far more immediate—I took on the perspective of the blind dancers, and listened for their movements and breath. The darkness became womb-like and enveloping, but tip-toeing the line between positive and negative space.
For Rothko a black field stood for emptiness, Reinhardt, perhaps, the end, but for Rauschenberg and Stella black was about disappearing into a new visual language. Rauschenberg used overpainting in black to erase past techniques and bring a new opening for thought into his work. Dark Room Trio is a dance piece deconstructed—placed in direct opposition and implication with the audience, but also an attempt to open up new ways of being in its blackness. Spaeth has made different dimensions of the performance—the auditory, the tactile, the visual (or lack thereof)—blend to explain the gaps in communication and connection, guiding us even in the dark towards new couplings between performer and audience. In the darkness there is fear, a lack of knowledge, a void. But over time, as individual and seemingly unconnected forces merge—the larger plan emerges. Choreography gives us in this instance instruction and a goal, but also a frame of reference for the breakdown of these principles as well as the principles of audience and performer. There may be sputtering connections and ruptures from which emerge new languages or at the very least come crashing into you as they weave and turn, bounce and pirouette in the dark.