• Catherine Flutsch

Anti-Body: Alexander Whitley Dance Company

★★★

Review:Anti-Body, Alexander Whitley Dance Company. Live performance until 26 October. Book here.

[Disclosure: The Oxford Playhouse provided me with a free ticket to this show for the purposes of this review.]

Anti-Body is Alexander Whitley’s new contemporary dance production exploring the idea that human consciousness can be subsumed by, and exist in, the digital world. Whitley’s inspiration comes from intellectual, Yuval Noah Harari’s exposition of dataism, set out in his book Homo Deus.

Whitley has partnered with coders, Unchartered Limbo Collective, and digital interactive environment specialists, Fenyce, to create a digital environment in which three dancers, wearing basic motion capture sensors, can express Whitley’s choreography.

Video still taken from Anti-Body trailer.

This is a strong premise for a contemporary dance show, especially now, when almost everybody’s digital lives have taken accelerated prominence. The staging of the show looks exciting; six large rectangular scrims are set up on stage – three behind the dancers and three directly in front of the dancers. Scrims are screens made from woven fabric – they can be opaque when lit from the front and translucent when lit from behind.

Video still taken from Anti-Body trailer.

When all three dancers were on the stage, they stood in line, legs apart, each behind their own scrim and used upper body choreography, captured by the sensors. A stylised version of each dancer was projected onto each scrim, echoing the movements of the dancer in real time.

Video still taken from Anti-Body trailer.

This all sounds fantastically exciting. However, I think there were some overarching issues with this show, as a dance production, which were quite problematic. When artists start exploring what’s possible with technology, there is a danger that their creativity becomes limited by the limits of the technology that they’ve chosen to use. And I think that this is what's happened in Anti-Body – the technology has come first; the dancers and the choreography have slotted in around it – to the show's detriment.


One fundamental thing that really surprised me in this show was how difficult it was to actually see the dancers. The scrims in front of the dancers are lit up almost the whole time, rendering them largely opaque and the dancers are only visible through portions of the scrim depending on the designs projected onto it.

Video still taken from Anti-Body trailer.

From where I was sitting, at the end of the 7th row, I had trouble seeing the dancers through the scrim, made more difficult because the theatre was filled with a light haze. This haze, or theatrical fog, is used to show beams of light being projected onto the scrims; it looks cool but added to the difficulty of seeing the dancers.

Video still taken from Anti-Body trailer.

The publicity photos and videos show the dancers very clearly – they are easily seen; sans haze and clearly through the scims. But in real life – at least from where I was sitting – seeing the dancers was a constant challenge.

Video still taken from Anti-Body trailer.

I felt that another problem with this show is how constrained the choreography was by the technology. For much of the 50-minute show, the dancers were lined up in a straight line, legs planted firmly apart, their feet barely moving, and only moving their upper bodies – a lot of swirling arms and a bit of leaning.

Video still taken from Anti-Body trailer.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it did start to get very repetitive. The only explanation for this static choreography I can think of was that any more dynamic choreography would not have worked well with the motion capture of the dancers projected onto the scrims.


For me, the best contemporary dance shows today are those that have a strong idea and then explore that idea by telling a story with the choreography. In Anti-Body, similar choreography was presented to us over and over again, throughout the 50-minute show. I couldn’t see a narrative or dramatic arc – or if there was one – it was too subtle to see through the haze and the scrims.

Video still taken from Anti-Body trailer.

I know that without those technological constrains, a choreographer of Whitley’s standing is capable of creating something incredible – so it is a pity that the technology has clipped his wings so dramatically.

Video still taken from Anti-Body trailer.

When artists use technology, in whatever discipline, they need to stand up to the IT people and ensure that their creative vision comes first and foremost and the technology, whatever the IT people say, must serve the creativity of the artist not the other way around.

Video still taken from Anti-Body trailer.

This was an interesting show – as a technology installation, it was great; as a contemporary dance show, it was less successful.


House Keeping

Where to Sit: From what I can gather of the press photos, videos and my own experience of the show, where you sit in the theatre will determine your experience and enjoyment of the show. I think the very best place to view this show would be in the centre seats of the balcony. If you are slap bang in the middle and raised a bit – you should be able to see everything. Failing that, I would go for any centre seats for the best view – the stylised dancers projected onto the scrim should line up well with the real-life dancers – and you should get the full experience.


COVID: Now that all restrictions have been lifted, there is no social distancing in the theatre (at least at the Oxford Playhouse) or the reception area and, in the show I attended, the vast majority of the audience members were not wearing masks.

If you enjoyed reading about the technology used in this show, you may enjoy reading about the Royal Shakespeare Company's live streamed, motion capture show here.


You may also enjoy reading about some recent contemporary dance shows including by Rambert Eye Candy and Rouge and Rooms, Rambert2 show Note to Self, or Aakash Odedra's show Rising.


You might even enjoy reading my interview with a pro-wrestling MC called Pro-Wrestling as Contemporary Dance.

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