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, in seemingly perfect symmetry, with a rhythm, scale and pace that traverses the granular to the grandiose.

If the general idea appears too simple or dated at first glance as the title might suggest, Screensaver Series by Choreographer Janine Harrington, delivers a lot. Watching the all female ensemble perform, including 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.!!!

The performers’ faces amidst the accumulation of warping symmetry created by their interlocking bodies are calm, stoic, assured.  As Screensaver Series ploughs through space, my perception of depth is distorted. 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 performers’ costumes retain a utilitarian quality within a composition of clashing, pretty patterns, adding a playfulness and complexity to the dizzying aesthetic of Screensaver. 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.

The sound running parallel to the choreography is reminiscent of Ryoji Ikeda’s Data Matrix, rhythmically seductive, but warmer, more soothing. Translating ideas present in the choreography into the aural field, Jamie Forth composes a neatly structured, improvised score, blanketing the space in cohesive, modulating textures conflating with the dance, compounding the overall experience [= mind blown]. Waves, or perhaps wind, rushing in fills 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 (morbid but fascinating). 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 generated by flourishes of physical gestures resonating in the sound, the attack and release punctuated by each dancers’ individual cadence – particularly the rapid and well timed gesticulations Rosalie Pearce Bell occasionally rattles off in quick successive flurries – amalgamates in a powerful, cyclical accumulations. The ensemble whirs simultaneously into tentacular pulsing totems before I can blink. The dance folds back in on itself, hovering just above the ground. The dancers pass through one another with surprising efficiency.

Prior to seeing the work for the first time, images and video clips emerged on social media. I’d developed a conscious bias for where I wanted to position myself for the performance. Before the performance began, the audience was invited to move around. Encouraging the audiences’ agency in a democratic negotiation of space around the centred Screensaver was a simple but welcome gesture. Rarely declining an invitation to play with my orientation to live performance, in this instance, I was happy to be beguiled by the Sreensaver’s trance: watching face-on from the midline, where the symmetry was strongest, the magnetism was palpable.

Janine Harrington’s Screensaver Series is brilliant in its execution of the age old conceit of symmetry. Harrington brings together an exceptional team of performers and a sensitive composer, joining them in various configurations, each lending their own subtle body to the work. 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, presenting audiences with a 360 degree quasi-immersive experience. Within the hypnotic state the dance evokes is the illusion of a queer and beautiful gravity, harmoniously balancing sound, choreography, and the spatial relationships of a softly shifting sattelite audience.

The link between screensavers and idle time quickly becomes obsolete: the Screensaver Series explodes all the neuroaesthetic boxes, with cushions scattered around to soften the blows.

Images: Roswitha Chesher.

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