Tuesday, November 11, 2014

'SIRO-A' at the Leicester Square Theatre, 9th November 2014

It's been two years since I last saw SIRO-A.  So finding myself in the Leicester Square Theatre on a snoozy Sunday afternoon watching them feels like a major shot of deja vu.  Back then I said it was "a perfect fusion of cybernetic fashion and laser cool visual overload". Futuristic dance music theatre is still very much up my street (if I ever get tired of laser beams just shoot me in the head), but does early 2013 style still cut it as 2015 hoves inexorably into view?

SIRO-A are six Japanese guys who straddle the line between dance, mime, performance art, comedy and glowsticks-in-the-air-mad-mental-crazy-raving.  Dressed all in white with white painted faces, they look as if they've just hopped off a flying saucer ready to deliver shiny spaceage philosophy to our boring old world.  This is achieved by a series of projections of prerecorded animations and visual effects that they move in perfect synchronicity with.  For example, a member will be chased around the stage and beaten up by a projected 'ball', which moves in weird, physics defying ways.

The evening is divided into a series into a series of sketches which vary from the artistic to the comedic.  Most of these I instantly remembered from the last time I saw them.  These are their 'greatest hits', it's easy to see why they're maintaining them.  At first my heart sank a little bit, thinking that I'd come to the exact same show two years on.  I mean, they're good and all, but most of them rely on surprises and punchlines that lose their impact when you know what's coming.

But soon the new 'rebooted' stuff began with a bevvy of cool new sketches.  Most obviously pleasing is a minimalist miming of hit films.  Cutting up everything from Skyfall to Mamma Mia to The Full Monty, the piece intelligently pares down films to their basic elements, sending audiences into fits of laughter as they realise what's to happen next.  Elements within are represented by words, so Rocky beats up a gigantic 'MEAT', or strippers hurl off 'TROUSERS'.

The highpoint of the new stuff was a voyage through a sinister haunted castle.  The intrepid explorer had to content with a gigantic sorcerer composed of disembodied hands and feet and a Mr Noseybonk style mask.  Here the projection effects appear almost three-dimensional, the creatures hands and feet thrusting outwards as our hero dodges and fights them off.  This analog film is a slight departure from their usual minimalist style, but it pays off gangbusters, making for a series of highly memorable images and a remarkable shock ending.

Aesthetically, the points of reference are films like Tron: Legacy with its streamlined, neon-bondage cyberpunk.  More obscurely, I see visual and sonic quotes of the work of Tetsuya Mizuguchi, designer of the dance music/trip-out videogames Rez, Lumines and Child of Eden.  In a bit of a paradox SIRO-A manages to be both retro and futuristic all at once, a vision of a world to come as imagined by a blissed out early 90s raver.

The music is similarly slightly retro dance, banging big beat electro tunes, the kind you’d expect to hear ringing out over the beaches of Ibiza in 1999.  This atmosphere gives me a little thrill of nostalgia, the kind of pleasure you get when you step into Cyberdog in Camden Market and realise that that somewhere in the world is still plugged into the 1990s Matrixy-William Gibsony vision of trenchcoats, neon and rubber.

Last time I saw SIRO-A this stuff set my soul on fire, but unfortunately this time they only managed a faint smoulder.  The main reason for this is familiarity, but also that this time I was sat near the back of the theatre with a view that underlines the limitations of the space. The Leicester Square Theatre is perfect for stand-up, but a full-on audio-visual experience really pushes the limits of what can be done here.

I've seen YouTube videos of SIRO-A interacting with gargantuan projection screens, to intense effect.  Here though, the image looks like chopped off at the top, as if the group are straining to cram every effect into the space.  The smaller screen also prevents us from becoming properly immersed in the music and lights, especially from way back in the audience.

Ideally I’d have liked to have seen this late at night in a place like the Brixton Academy, somewhere where there’s room to dance a bit, where the projections can really tower over you and where your senses can be overpowered.   It’d be fantastic to see this in the ‘right’ state of mind to fully appreciate a room full of laser beams, dry ice, flashing colours and pounding pounding techno music.

I still had a good time, but the shine has worn off a little.  There's still a basic thrill in watching these cool as hell cybernauts go at it, but the unpredictability that buoyed them up in 2013 has been replaced with familiarity.  After all it's difficult to be dazzled by the new when you can easily remember what's going to happen next.  That said, if you are new to SIRO-A you'll be downright dazzled their often beautiful performances.

SIRO-A's reboot doesn't exactly invent the wheel.  But so what?  It was a pretty damn good wheel to begin with.

SIRO-A are at the Leicester Square Theatre until the 11th of January 2015.  Tickets here.

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