Commissioned by Sadlers Wells and created pre-pandemic, Alexander Whitley’s Overflow is only now touring the UK. Inspired by humankind’s relationship with digital technology and its impact on our lives, this charged and highly contemporary work has an unmistakably eerie quality.
It opens with the cast of dancers, barely lit and surrounded by thick haze, in a line facing the audience. Clad in black unitards and facemasks designed to imitate biometric face scans, they nod their heads robotically to a pulsating beat.
This beginning sets the tone for Overflow – its pace is relentless, its choreography sharp and mechanical, propelled forward by Rival Consoles’ soundtrack. There are some reprieves – contemplative solos, slower and more free-flowing movement – but for the cast of five dancers it is a 75 minute marathon. They are spectacular in their power and physicality, moving in conjunction but as separate individuals – the limited amount of partner work in the piece illustrating the modern-day problem of isolation in a hyper-connected world.
Guy Hoare’s lighting design is full of contrasts, transforming the stage with each change: from vivid colours flooding the space, to strong sidelights creating light and shade across the dancers’ bodies. But the role of light in Overflow manifests itself most dramatically in the kinetic light installation by Amsterdam-based artists Children of the Light.
This long, narrow bar suspended above the stage begins as a stark white single source of light, keeping most of the space in shadow (in an effect similar to a bright screen in a darkened room). Sometimes it emits an orange glow that bathes the dancers in warmth; at others it flickers with strobe-like light, emphasizing the rapid choreography. What makes it distinctive, however, is the graceful way in which it tilts and revolves over the stage – movement that imitates the dancers themselves. Its hypnotic quality mirrors the mesmerising grip that the internet, social media and endless news reels hold over us, while its symbolic role as the eye of big data is represented in its ability to lower down almost to stage level, sweeping over the dancers like a body scanner.
This sculpture is in essence a sixth performer. Its impact and importance are akin to the spectacular video footage of the sun that provided a backdrop to Alexander Whitley’s 8 Minutes, and the combination of this up -to-date technology with five living, breathing, talented artists is what makes Overflow a truly unique work that is well worth watching.