Guillaume Côté X Lighthouse Immersive
TORONTO | WORDS BY MADELEINE KANE & MICHAEL ZARATHUS-COOK | DANCE - Issue 7
Over the past year and a half, and amidst the waves of ongoing uncertainty, our collective relationship to physical touch has been complicated and, perhaps, forever changed. With his new dance experience, Touch, choreographer Guillaume Côté explores the delicate intimacy of human interaction in an environment that has developed hesitancy toward closeness. Embodied within two dancers, Côté’s choreography delves into the evolution of nature through the ebbs and flows of human influence. The narrative itself inspires inward reflection—especially in a period wherein we fear the mere thought of touch—how have we embraced technology in lieu of physical contact?
Guillaume Côté by Ella Mazur
Influenced by the legendary stage director, Robert Lepage, Côté teamed up with Thomas Payette for the fusion of dance and technology. In the final stages of development, Côté reveals how directing Touch has changed his artistic relationship to open space, as well as finding harmony between the art of the dance and innovative spectacle.
sM | How did you approach customizing the performance to the Lighthouse Immersive space, balancing the expansive choreography with the logistics of fitting a large audience into the venue?
GC — We’re still fine-tuning. How do we make sure that this very subtle, very delicate interaction they have with each other comes across in this massive warehouse—filled with state-of-the-art projections—and not get drowned out by all of that? We figured out a few of those challenges, but we’re still working. Things like the pillars—we’re considering mirrors on the pillars. Our ideal scenario would have the audience be free to walk around. Now we’re still in the realm of social distancing, so people can’t walk around, so we thought it was safer to have rotating chairs. Ultimately, when the mirrors are put in, the experience gets more fine-tuned.
Dance is this really beautiful thing that when it’s really well-directed, it’s very impactful. It can also fall really flat when it’s not directed well. Even where we are now, we feel we could do better. We’ve successfully incorporated the element of the three-dimensional choreography, which is something that very few people try to do. Choreography very often becomes something that you watch from the front. It becomes this two-dimensional experience, as opposed to being a three-dimensional thing where you watch dancers live. So the adventure of the 45 minutes of Touch, with those two dancers, is just so intense.
People will have to get used to this way of seeing dance and also being in this environment that in itself is the performance, and that is a beautiful thing. You’re coming to live in this space where these two people are having a very intimate experience within this massive world of multimedia. Some of the feedback was “I can’t see the action”, but I say “there’s so much going on around you!” If you just turn your chair, you’ll see a million little details in the projections behind you. You may not see the performers for four seconds, but you are seeing a lot of other things.
It’s like virtual reality, where you have to change your mindset so you’re in charge. You as the viewer are in charge of what you’re looking at and you have to make your own experience meaningful. It’s one thing to say this show is immersive, but it’s another thing to be an audience member at an immersive show. You have to take responsibility to be the one who is curious—what else do they want me to see? That’s part of the learning curve. I’m learning how to craft a show that is not spoon-feeding my audience with “at this moment you look here,” and “at this moment you look over there,” but giving a space an animation that’s always stimulating, with enough that the audience can always have something to look at.
Touch: Guillaume Côté x Lighthouse Immersive
sM | What was the co-evolution of your choreography and the visual track of the performance?
GC — Choreography came first. The people came first: the two performers and their relationship. That’s what is special about this show. Some expectations were that the show was going to rotate around a spectacle of multimedia, but it’s really not about that. It’s about the connection between two people and giving the environment around them a feeling of what they’re going through—amplifying their emotional and intellectual state.
Then we looked into the dynamic of it. How does the blocking of the work go? What are we trying to say here? The Touch conversation started with two stars colliding, and how the universe was created. That’s how iron was made, and essentially that’s how life was created. In so many ways, it’s the coming-together and the falling-apart that give our lives meaning. Everything from cells splitting, to atoms splitting and coming together— it’s all about push and pull. A lot of the visuals, especially in the first half of the show, started to come into this idea of nature, sand, trees, water, and elements informing that. Then we go into this place, this digital world. Sand turns into pixels. It turns into the ones and zeroes that we base our lives on. This is the tricky moment in the show, when the digital element enters and you can feel them growing apart. You feel them split up, until the end when they find each other again through this peace, this cleansing. I don’t want to say that big, bad technology is tearing us apart—that’s not what the show is about. The visuals came from the experience and what we were doing with the dancers.
Thomas [Payette] is very much the one who created the visuals. He’s to be applauded because he has this beautiful restraint on how he uses technology. It’s very sophisticated, and he’s not trying to make a spectacle with gimmicks, he’s made something that has great integrity. The transitions are key. This comes from us working with Robert Lepage. He is, of course, a genius, and we’re not pretending to be at his level, but we are people who have admired him through working with him. We use his approach in order to craft the visuals around the performance, so they are not casting this tidal wave upon the performers and what is truly important.
sM | It’s been a long process of devising this piece from scratch, what has changed the most, and what have you insisted on maintaining over the last year?
GC — Our proposition needs to be dance. It needs to be movement. All of the projections, everything that rotates, everything that happens, needs to revolve around the idea of movement, dance, push, pull, and negative space—the idea of constant movement because that’s what life is. That’s what I liked with the first idea of Touch. The idea of touching can be very positive; it can be very negative as well. It can have contagion attached to it, depending on who’s touching and how. Touching has become more and more precious, too. We’re still in this situation where “touch” is sort of tricky. I wanted to keep it very much about dance. It’s not always easy to make sure that dance triumphs because it is the most fragile of the art forms. Opera and singing is really in your face and in your ears. Music can get very loud, but dance is very fragile. It’s ephemeral. It’s a play on geometry, space, and emotion. Many people are quick to dismiss anything that has multimedia and dance together. They want to dismiss it as “not a dance show,” and I push back on that. When they came out with drum machines and electronic music, I’m sure people said that wasn’t real music, but now there’s nothing else. From Kanye West to Drake, it’s considered amazing. I feel the same way about finding the balance of fragility and spectacle. I’m not willing to sacrifice the dance by any means, and I think we’re getting closer to something that will please dance lovers and those not usually into dance.
sM | What are some of the trajectories that you’d like to see unfold in this unique experimental presentation of dance in Toronto and beyond?
GC — This is just the beginning of a beautiful way of using this kind of technology and multimedia. It’s about trying to find the right seed of an idea. The space in itself that Lighthouse Immersive allows has opened my eyes to how much there is to do when you animate a three-dimensional space in its entirety. Even in previews, it was clear to me that this became an experience that we all shared. It wasn’t a show—it’s a creation where everyone is living within it. I’d really like to explore that further. So many amazing things are happening in dance, from Yoann Bourgeois in Europe, to working with architects, to working with different types of artists and collaborators. What the space is showing me is that there’s so much potential in opening up our minds to dance and movement that can be developed beyond a formulaic proscenium stage.
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