On/Off

dates: 2011
commissioned by: NKLAAP – Encounter
design: what if: projects
choreography: H2DANCE
music: Sylvia Hallett
H2DANCE and what if: projects produced On/Off at Turners of Medway, a defunct auto showroom in an industrial strip facing the Thames. The company harnessed the physical power of the audience to produce the electrical power for the show, a pop-infused collage of break dance, tap and modern dance with a group of small children somewhere in the mix. The concept – the ‘On/Off’ of the title – was that audience members were in control of the piece. There was a set of bicycles affixed to the ground on either side of the space. Riding these bikes generated electricity which powered the lights and the sound. If the riding stopped, the lights went out and the music disappeared. There was a master of ceremonies who instructed the audience, and also provided some bicycle power of his own. If the biking stopped and the music and lights went down, the dancers were instructed to stop moving.

H2DANCE and What if: projects produced On/Off at Turners of Medway, a defunct auto showroom in an industrial strip facing the Thames. The company harnessed the physical power of the audience to produce the electrical power for the show, a pop-infused collage of break dance, tap and modern dance with a group of small children somewhere in the mix. The concept – the ‘On/Off’ of the title – was that audience members were in control of the piece. There was a set of bicycles affixed to the ground on either side of the space. Riding these bikes generated electricity which powered the lights and the sound. If the riding stopped, the lights went out and the music disappeared. There was a master of ceremonies who instructed us, and also provided some bicycle power of his own (I came to a later afternoon show, the fourth of the day, and he was drenched in sweat from the effort). If the biking stopped and the music and lights went down, the dancers were instructed to stop moving.

This conceit of audience power (while useful to explore) was not, for me, the central factor of the piece. Neither was the politics of alternative energy sources (though again, a significant and urgent topic). Participation is a complex and contested field, and inversion of power within existing models of participation is tricky to achieve. It is rather the time spent with a group of people moving their bodies at their own pace and rhythm that felt special about this event. After the performance proper, the organizers held an ‘Open Platform’ for local participants. The group of teenagers who performed were great, but what I really liked was the restraint from stage management on the part of the producers. One kid could stop mid-way through and several others pick it back up. This lack of intervention felt simultaneously considered and supportive. This I love.”
(an account byJohanna Linsley)


photo: what if: projects