Review: Connecting within the chaos of the abrupt reboot to ‘normal’ at NAF2002- Darkroom Contemporary Dance Theatre’s deus::ex::machina – human geography in a virtual world

What: deus::ex::machina – human geography in a virtual world

Where: 2022 National Arts Festival in Makhanda

There was a show today, June 24. Tomorrow: ~Saturday June 25, 2022 at 11am on the Village Green and at 3pm on the Drostdy Lawns  

Cost: Free
Direct booking link: and may be accessed online National Arts Festival, Makhanda #NAF2022
 June 23 to July 3, 2022
Where: Live in MakhandaVisit for the full programme and bookings  
#NAF2022 #ItWillChangeYou      

How do we find connection in chaos? It is a good question and this evening, 5pm on Friday June 24, 2022, there was a lot of noise in the venue – The Sundowners Stage at the Monument, as I watched deus::ex::machina – human geography in a virtual world. This is Darkroom Contemporary Dance Theatre’s acclaimed production, which is part of the curated programme at the 2022 National Arts Festival in Makhanda. #NAF2022 is taking place from June 23 to July 3, 2022. There are three performances: The one today – Friday June 24 (one slot) and Saturday June 25 (two slots).

Yesterday, June 23, 2022, it was announced that Covid restrictions have been lifted – no masking required and no restriction on seating capacity, indoor. Today, June 24, the venue was packed, with people huddled close together (some with masks). It was a bit chaotic at deus::ex::machina – the excitement of being in a crowd indoors venue, the no mask requirement and how do we process this all and watch a dance theatre piece, which requires us to be on our mobile devices. It is an immersive piece, because, the audience, interact, via our mobiles: deus::ex::machina draws on Telematics – gaming technology. The audience votes, when prompted by Darkroom marshals. There is also a soundscape, being boomed from wooden sound box backpacks, by Darkroom marshals. Music is by Lungiswa Plaatjies, Cara Stacey, Object Agency, Franco Prinsloo, NASA Sounds of Mars and other spaceflight missions, edited by Brydon Bolton.

Previously, I watched this piece outside, October 2020, Cape Town. The piece was conceived for public spaces. Tonight, the indoor setting and the fact that everything seems heightened as we had the reset button rebooted to ‘normal’, there was a lot of noise – chaos – but in a good way. The sound was loud. The crowd was chattering. They were on their phones, voting.

By the way, there is an audience, tuning in virtually. The virtual audience can also vote and the live stream is streamed online. It was very busy in the room. In an outdoors public space, there is the opportunity to spread out and move around.

Finding connection in a chaotic world is at the heart of piece and it was conceived in hard lockdown, when live performance was not possible. Then it was presented as a hybrid – with site responsive and online and here at NAF2022- also a hybrid – in person and simultaneous live stream. Every performance is different as it is shapes by how the audience votes; the site, the interaction between audience and space.

It is great that deus::ex::machina is on at no charge, free, at NAF 2022- providing access for all. It was fascinating for me to observe how the piece was tempered by the excitement of the audience – back to ‘normal’ – but that brings tensions because many people have lost the thread of connecting. Suddenly, its mask off and you can sit there, theatre style, indoors, within the chaos of the rebirth of normal and watch the couplings of the dancers as they dance through anxiety, panic, fear – taking their cues from how the audience votes- as to proceed.  

Darkroom’s artistic director, Louise Coetzer spoke to me briefly about how indeed everything was amplified in an indoor venue and how interesting it was to see the reactions to the piece. It was conceived as “human geography in a virtual world” and now? Now- now we have human geography in a physical world – but we are anchored in the virtual world and I think that for most people, the virtual world will continue to be a significant space for connecting – communicating. Think how emoji’s have proliferated in the Covid years and the memes and stickers. All these totems and icons, supposedly help us to connect and express ourselves. Or perhaps, they enable us to put minimal energy onto communicating and connecting? Human geography has shifted a great deal. We move forward in the chaos, seeking connections and meaning.

Sundowner Stage. The sound and fury at deus::ex::machina – human geography in a virtual worldat 2022 National Arts Festival in Makhanda – Sundowners Stage, June 24, 2022.
❇ Image © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.

❇ Image © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen: deus::ex::machina – human geography in a virtual world at 2022 National Arts Festival in Makhanda – Sundowners Stage, June 24, 2022. Related coverage on TheCapeRobyn: