ULTRA – a new work [2023], by Louise Coetzer, created for Darkroom Contemporary Dance Theatre

Where and when: Toyota US Woordfees 2023, at the HMS Bloemhof Hall, performances on October 7 at 20h30,  October 8 at 18h00 and October 10 at 15h00  
Tickets: R96-R160 online at Quicket at R190 at door
Booking link: https://www.quicket.co.za/events/224060-ultra/?ref=events-list#/  

NOTE: Flashing Light Warning – ULTRA uses multimedia and lighting effects that may disturb photosensitive viewers  

ULTRA – a new work [2023], by Louise Coetzer, created for Darkroom Contemporary Dance Theatre, is being presented at Woordfees in Stellenbosch- three performances only. For insights into ULTRA, read what Louise Coetzer has to say. She is the artistic director of the award winning company, which is based in Cape Town. The interdisciplinary company was established in 2010, as a dynamic platform “to reimagine dance, through innovative approach to staging and presenting contemporary works”, with the audience very much a participant. Darkroom’s work is immersive and brings together a thrilling confluence of theatre and dance – with a visceral fusion of approaches – which includes technology, sound and design. Coetzer: “ULTRA brings a concept- driven installation work into a theatre space.” Read on for more about this new work:

TCR: How many dancers are there in ULTRA, for this season at Woordfees 2023?

Louise Coetzer: For the upcoming run at the Woordfees, ULTRA is performed by Bronwyn Craddock, Nicolas Laubser and Jan Kotze

TCR: Why is the piece called ULTRA? Ultra what? Ultra – as in extreme, radical? What specifically triggered ULTRA for you? Something you saw or experienced?

LC: ULTRA exposes the physicality of extremes. The performance transcends beyond its own range of limits, seeking to balance the tension between extreme and moderate. The work echoes our current climate of extremist, reactionary colliding, and tests to what degree, the moderate and the revolutionary can co-exist.

The concept for ULTRA stems from an interest in the nuances and complexities of how societies function, both on the real and virtual planes. This seems to be a moment of extremes, in many forms and guises, and this work seeks to understand our physicality within that. The work offers a social commentary on our current collective state, where our humanness is continuously disrupted by the digitalisation of everyday life.

TCR: Original music has been composed by Brydon for ULTRA. Insights into the music and how it is used in ULTRA?

LC: The original score was created by Brydon Bolton, through a process of discussion around the theme and its portrayal in the work. The electronic score consists of five cycles, each progressively pushing the tension of the work further.

TCR: Can you talk about how the audience becomes immersed involved in ULTRA? Deus::ex::machina, people put on headsets and were given prompts and the dancers performed according to the instructions. What about in ULTRA?

LC: ULTRA  is immersive through its powerful combination of sound and visual, and the hypnotic repetitiveness of these elements becomes an engulfing experience. There is an intensity in the music, the visuals and the movement – everything is on the edge. This feeling of tension, anxiety and off balance draws the viewer in through layered multi-media effects.

TCR: Deus::ex::machina was conceived in the pandemic. ULTRA is a post pandemic work.  So we are back to connecting physically with each other but people are glued to their devices, their screens and many are having difficulties, watching live performance, so wondering how the audience feeds into your conceptualizing ULTRA in terms of how we are functioning as a society?

LC: My work tends to stem from a reflection on the current, collective psyche, and the tensions that exist between the physical and psychological.  ULTRA conjures a virtual reality where the performers’ humanness is continuously interrupted by an omnipresent machine. At times, the performers ‘disappear’ completely into this machine, or virtual space. The movement language references this constant navigating of obstacles, but also reflects human connection in a digital age – there is a leaning into connection but also a strong pulling away. There is aggression, the ‘reactionary colliding’ we see so often on social media platforms, ultimately very little compassion, and if so its fleeting. These observations all feed into the work and its portrayal of the theme.

TCR: Insights into the design and staging of ULTRA?  In Darkroom’s  Blame it on the Algorithm, the fact that people were on Zoom and were dressing for communication via the screen, that was used in the costumes – “a work shirt and tie on top- with only underwear- no bottoms”.  What about the costume design in ULTRA?

LC:  For ULTRA, the costume design is less about sketching a certain character, and more about a sense of minimalism that could be interpreted in many ways. I don’t like to prescribe too closely how the viewer should view the performers, they could be human, mechanical, everyday people or specific characters throughout the development of the performance. But in keeping the costume clear of literal meaning, the viewer has some freedom about those choices.

TCR: Insights into the conceptual arc of ULTRA- you say that it “stems from an interest in the nuances and complexities of how societies function, both on the real and virtual planes. This seems to be a moment of extremes, in many forms and guises, and this work seeks to understand our physicality within that.” Can you expand on that?

LC: There is a strong progression of polarities -away and towards, slow and fast, hard and soft, alone and together. In this way it becomes a physical expression of our current collective state of being.

TCR: Can you talk about how ULTRA harnesses altering realities and uses theatre, dance, performance, sound design?

LC: Each of the five scenes touch on different interpretations of the theme – balanced and off balance, tension and release, against and towards. This offers a multi layered experience in the sense that the music is driving towards a certain state of being; the visual is disruptive in its harshness and repetition; and the movement is offering a journey through the concept. So at any time, there is varying layers of information to interpret, and I think the interpretation is left fairly open, so that viewers could take different things away from the work, depending on what they were focused on. ULTRA brings a concept- driven installation work into a theatre space.

Alone and together: Darkroom Contemporary Dance Theatre’s ULTRA- which is on at 2023 Woordfees in Stellenbosch. Pic: Oscar O’Ryan. Bookings: https://www.quicket.co.za/events/224060-ultra/?ref=events-list#/  

✳ Images of ULTRA – by Oscar O’Ryan. Supplied.