We were greeted by the warm buzz of a live audience and performers that filled the auditorium. Coming back to it, to watch Alexander Whitley’s new multi-media masterpiece ‘Overflow’ at Sadler’s Wells on 22 May, was nothing short of a kick , a proper night out feel-after a long time.
Overflow is a myriad of reflections of digital bodies in big data. It offers a lens to look within and around, into the reality of our gradual drift to a digital space, heavily accelerated through the lockdown and in the post-pandemic era. It raises awareness of our existential shift caused by the all-engulfing big data. The work is sensitive, presented in accordance with light, sound, and movements.
The minimalist light installation reminds of contemporary artist Dan Flavin’s The Diagonal Of May 25, 1963. The stage is designed to explore the boundaries of the digital screen. Play of light accentuates the metaphoric travel of human bodies back and forth between the digital and physical space exploring the central theme of Overflow. It is achieved with precision by Whitley and his fascinating team of light technicians. The show starts with a line of bright light pressing close to the dancers. It almost functions as an abstracted browser toolbar. Whenever the light turns off and on again, the stage is refreshed and the dancers reset. Towards the middle of the performance, lights from the side of the stage, together with the mist, create layers of thin films that the dancers could temporarily poke through with their flow of movements. The thin films of lights close up as soon as the dancers withdraw for the next move in the choreography. Boundaries are constantly re-drawn breaking into the digital realm from the physical world.
The dancers in ‘Overflow’ mastered the joining, elongating, dispersing, and entangling of bodies, which create a strikingly intimate stage. Dark costumes revealing only the arms, necks, and head, create the impression of disjointed bodies. The emphasis on arms, hands, and above-necks is not unfamiliar if we consider which parts of our bodies are prioritised in front of the camera. Be it a snapshot for an Instagram story or a recording for a TikTok video, and in re-posting, re-blogging, or direct messaging, those segments of self-expression are distinctly relatable . The scenes with one flow of many bodies in unanimous rhythm sparkle with discords. At times, the dancers freeze in their postures, awaiting to be activated, just like holding a pose for a click, sometimes accommodating the need to slightly move and re-adjust for a promising capture. These moments flashed across like a striking magazine cover, close to a Vogue.
Overflow inspires us to contemplate how we are overwhelmed and transformed mentally and physically by the digital world-be it the agitation of not being able to connect to wifi or suffering from chronic back pain stuck in front of a screen. Our physical well being is threatened by our digital clones. This dichotomy at the heart of modern human existence is skilfully mirrored by Alexander Whitley and his dancers in Overflow.
Review by Yifan He
Yifan He is an artist based in London, volunteering for Abundant Art as their arts reviewer. Yifan is doing a MA at The Slade School of Fine Art UCL and is a Shades of Noir Phase six content developer graduate