Dance performances

News desk | ILLINOIS

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Audience members will use their cellphones to interact with the dancers and set as ‘Critical Mass’ premieres at performances this week in Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

The University of Illinois dance department present February Dance: Crafted Environments at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

“Critical Mass” examines the nature of social media and the power of a critical mass to influence the outcome of a situation – for example, through a video that goes viral. The dance incorporates technology, including a mobile phone app through which audience members can interact with what’s happening on stage, and motion sensors that trigger a response from the set and the dancers.

John Toenjescomposer and musical director of the dance department and founder and director of The Public Interactive Technologies Laboratory, created Critical Mass during a workshop last spring with guest choreographer Chad Michael Hall. An early version of it was performed at the Krannert Center in April 2016. Audiences were able to walk on stage during this performance and interact with the set and augmented reality pieces through the mobile phone app. Toenjes modified the piece for its February Dance premiere, as the audience will be seated.

“I had to broaden the way to include the audience in the environment,” Toenjes said.

Selected audience members will be invited on stage during the February dance, and others will be able to use a phone app to hear part of the musical score played over the phone; see lighting effects; choose which of the four duos they prefer; and listen to the dancers talk about their choreography.

“A lot of people go to a modern dance concert and they’re mystified. It gives you a chance to find out how the choreographers found what they want to do,” Toenjes said of the dancer chats available through the app.

“We are really experimenting with how cell phones can be used in a theatrical setting. It’s a delicate balance, because we don’t want people always looking at their phones,” he said.

The set will feature a large cube with tablet computers on the sides, providing a view of the dancers inside through the computers’ cameras. A big screen television will complete the view, until the dancers burst from the cube.

February Dance will celebrate the career of Renee Wadleigh, dancer, choreographer and dance teacher who recently retired from the dance department after 25 years of teaching. Wadleigh taught dance technique, choreography and contemporary directions.

February Dance will feature one of Wadleigh’s works, “The Quench”. It explores memory and how past events affect the future.

Performances will also include dance teacher’s “In the String Room” Rebecca Nettl-Fiol. Dancers move in and out of ropes falling from the ceiling. The dance examines shifting spaces and ambiguous boundaries, and how they affect the way we perceive movement.

“Therapoda”, by a graduate student Charli Brisseyconsiders the intersections of nature and culture, with landscapes that shift from Jurassic forests to surreal deserts to queer nightclubs.

February Dance: Designed Environments is the launch event for sonic illinois, a month-long concert series to celebrate the diversity of contemporary music in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the U. of I. Dance performances by Toenjes, Wadleigh and Nettl-Fiol feature original music.