Tuesday, February 5, 2013

‘SIRO-A’ at the Leicester Square Theatre, 3rd February 2013


It’s half past four on a lazy, overcast Sunday afternoon.  Monday morning is just over the horizon and with it the ominous promise of work.  Last’s night’s hangover is still gently squeezing your brain and right now a nice cup of tea would be just the ticket.  The perfect time for a tripped-out electro-rave laser extravaganza!

SIRO-A are a six man performance group from Sendai, Japan who combine dance, mime, performance art and comedy with cutting edge technology, creating a series of optical illusions where the boundary between reality and video is distorted.  Everything SIRO-A do is designed to push against this barrier, making us question whether what we’re seeing is a person or a projection of a person. 

 Aesthetically, the immediate point of reference for the audience are films like ‘Tron: Legacy’ streamlined, neon-bondage cyberpunk.  More obscurely, I see straight visual and sonic quotes of the work of Tetsuya Mizuguchi, designer of the dance music/trip-out videogames ‘Rez’, ‘Lumines’ and ‘Child of Eden’.  I absolutely adore this style, but rather than futuristic it feels slightly retro, with roots in the early 90s rave scene. As far as views of the ‘future’ go, it’s been superseded by boring old reality.

The music is similarly slightly retro, banging big beat electro tunes, the kind you’d expect to hear ringing out over the beaches of Ibiza in 1999.  This atmosphere sends a little thrill of nostalgia down my spine, the kind of pleasure you get when you step into the Cyberdog shop in Camden Market, a reassurance that somewhere in the world is still plugged into the 1990s Matrixy-WilliamGibsony vision of the future.

 This is very much up my street, and as pyramid headed robots stalk across the stage firing bright green lasers from their arms to thumping techno beats I had a huge grin on my face and was bobbing my head excitedly.  Things calm down a bit after this intense introduction, switching to a more comedic tone, the performers get menaced by a plague of black dots in a sequence reminiscent of a Looney Tunes cartoon, or enter into a frankly surreal sequence about the life of one of the performers, Abe Toshinori.

This humour balances out the cooler-than-thou aesthetic, and also largely avoids the trap of laughing at Japan rather than with it.  It also means that while the performers rarely speak we identify with them through laughter.  Everyone on stage is effortlessly expressive, whether they’re playing a character or pretending to be a computer-generated robot man.  Even more impressively, they make the illusion that they’re interacting with the videos absolutely seamless.

 This interaction is something that looks perfectly natural but must be immensely difficult to get right.  To take a simple example, there is a white screen with a black dot projected in the centre of it.  One of the performers walks on stage, looks at the projection then ‘picks it up’ and throws it like a ball.  These are the basics, the rest of the pieces rely on the performer being in the exact right pose in the exact right spot at the exact right time to get something projected on them in a certain way.  They get it right over and over again.  I found myself wondering what they can even see from their perspective on stage (probably not much) and it became even more impressive.

The PR makes much of the fact that you won’t be able to tell the difference between the performers and the projected images.  This isn’t quite true, at all times its obvious which is which.  What confused me at times was whether the performers were following the projection, or the projection was following the performer.  In an outstandingly beautiful sequence someone dances across a stage as time-delayed rainbow images of himself move around him, creating a morphing kaleidoscope moving sinuously around the dancer.  At this moment it’s impossible to tell who is following who, you’d think it’d be impossible to cartwheel the exact same way at every single performance, but if anyone has the strict discipline needed to get it right, SIRO-A do.

 The only downside to all this is, unfortunately, the venue.  The Leicester Square Theatre is a small place with a low ceiling and a relatively small stage.  It’s perfect for stand-up, but a full-on audio-visual experience like this feels a little restricted.  I’d cheated before going to this, looking up a video of the band on YouTube.  They were playing with a huge projection screen, and the rainbow images above took up a huge amount of space.  Not here.  The image looks like it’s been chopped off at the top.  The smaller screen also prevents us from becoming properly immersed in the music and lights.  The music makes me want to get up and dance but I’m stapled to my seat!

Ideally I’d have liked to have seen this late on stage in the Brixton Academy, somewhere where there’s actually room to dance a bit, where the projections can really tower over you, overpowering your senses.  The show is on twice a day, at 16:30 and 19:00, both of which seem like way too early for this kind of thing.  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.

Still, I’ll take what I can get.  SIRO-A is like nothing else on in London at the moment, a perfect fusion of cybernetic fashion, laser cool and visual oveload.  I had a big silly grin on my face the whole way through and can’t think of many more enjoyable ways for a person to spend an hour of their time.

SIRO-A are performing at the Leicester Square Theatre from the 1st February – 22nd April 2013.

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