Janine Harrington’s it’ll-blow-your-mind Screensaver Series – review

Words by Adam Moore.

Shoryuuuuu-ken!!! Screensaver Series is a beast of a performance. I feel like it’s 1996 and Dark Ryu is gearing up to obliterate me in an unstoppable, mathematical equation that only the PlayStation really understands. All I can do is watch the mesmerising combo take hold and await my fate. Five (?) performers (sometimes I can’t tell if it’s six) creep, crawl, push, signal, yield, flex, hold, stroke, reappear and reabsorb one another, overall pretty effortlessly, with a rhythm, scale and pace that traverses the granular to the grandiose. Visually startling, this organic, curious phenomenon is the result of the performers’ sustained symmetry throughout. Beyond the hypnotic state the choreography evokes, placing myself front and centre of the work, I can imagine a queer and beautiful gravity that balances the dancers’ bodies and movements around it, emphasising my anxiety that if I move I might also be raptured into this vortex.

The faces of the performers are expressionless amidst the accumulation of the warping symmetry created by their interlocking bodies. As Screensaver Series ploughs through space, my perception of depth is distorted. Their faces become abstractions, stacking up, hovering over, seemingly bursting through bodies, then vanishing, and receding into the back of beyond, kaleidoscopic configurations reminiscent of Damien Hirst’s butterflies.

The sound has notes of Ryoji Ikeda’s Data Matrix but then also kind of not. The improvised score is doing similar things to what my eyes are seeing, so what I’m hearing compounds the experience [= mind blown]. Waves, or perhaps wind, rush in and fill the space as the dancers take off. Arms, legs, backs, hands, feet, fingers, torsos, heads. All behave in a strange geometry.

Ian McEwan’s short story Solid Geometry comes to mind (spoiler): a man finds a method of folding a piece of paper along specific planes and vectors in such a way that it disappears. He uses this same technique when making love to his wife, who subsequently vanishes (no short story will satisfy morbid fascination quite like this). Harrington’s Screensaver feels like the opposite, like something hidden is manifesting, unfolding and unfolding. Something is building, something is changing.

The flower-power, brightly patterned geometric prints, the diversity of the cast, the potentially limitless possibilities of movement, the energy, the flourishes of physical gestures resonating in the sound, the attack and release punctuated by the dancers individual cadence of movement – particularly the rapid and well timed gesticulations Rosalie Pearce Bell occasionally rattles off in quick successive flurries – is a powerful infinite mix of accumulation after accumulation. The way the ensemble whirs simultaneously into tentacular pulsing totems before you can blink is astonishing. The dance folds back in on itself, hovering just above the ground as performers pass through one another with surprising efficiency.

The costumes’ pretty patterns are somehow utilitarian, adding a playfulness and complexity to the already disarming visual identity of Screensaver Series. Yinka Shonibare’s ‘Refugee Astronaut’ in stasis on the other side of the wall in the Wellcome Collection gallery is not too dissimilar from the skin of the Screensaver. There are some precarious moments in the dance. Weight bearing, strength and tension have their place as features of the choreography. You might sense or see slight glimpses of struggle, but negotiation and intuitive collaboration are foregrounded.

I wonder about the coming elections. Politics is a machine, always moving, never stopping, with cold logic that never quite makes sense to me. At points of instability and tension, perhaps a series of inexplicable, granular motions could land us somewhere very different, better, more connected, more dexterous. Time will tell. 

For the briefest of moments, I wonder what the work is like when seen from different perspectives. The audience was encouraged to move around. Exchanging the central line of symmetry for any other angle doesn’t appeal to me here and now. Negotiating my way around the performance might have tipped me over the edge. My distinct lack of desire to change my perspective was likely the result of my lack of sleep before hand. This might have also played a part in how susceptible I become to the trance I sink into.

Screensaver Series is brilliant in its execution of the age old conceit of symmetry. The strength of the work lies in the level of invention accrued by the ensemble and their ability to focus their attention on their individual and collective symmetries, expressing this through sustained, skilled embodiment for the duration of the performance. This is refracted through sound and amplified through costume design and the decision to locate the work centrally in the space. 

If the general idea appears too simple or dated at first glance as the title might suggest, Screensaver Series delivers a lot. Watching the all female ensemble perform, including the choreographer, Janine Harrington, is like watching an intelligent, interplanetary, serpentine lifeform mechanically glide through outer space to land blow after blow on the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of my brain. K.O.!!!

Images: Roswitha Chesher.

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