Performance review: Body Crysis

A performance work incorporating dance, motion capture and CG animation.

The physical structure of the Newport Substation is a great metaphor for the media dance performance Body Crysis, presently being staged in its large upstairs gallery space. Established over a century ago to provide energy for the suburban rail system, this landmark of neoclassical architecture in Melbourne’s inner industrial west has metamorphosed over the last 15 years, into a contemporary and experimental arts centre.

This latest production by long-time collaborators Sam Mcgilp and Harrison Hall explores the body in states of change or becoming. Teaming up with NAXS Future, a Taipei-based media art collective, Body Crysis is a hybrid live and digital dance music piece – a culmination of two years of experimentation with digital choreography and motion capture. The work is performed simultaneously online and in the flesh. 

‘Three elements happen all at the same time,’ Mcgilp says. ‘There’s a live show at the Substation, with dancers wearing motion-capture suits, another at Ambi Space in Taipei [where a post-rock band is playing] and then there’s an online game in a digital environment, uniting the two, that can be accessed anywhere in the world.’ (The Age, Cameron Woodhead, 8 November 2022)

Presented as part of Neighbourhood, a contemporary arts festival devised during lockdown with the aim of reactivating Melbourne’s western suburbs, Body Crysis is co-hosted by the Substation and Footscray Community Arts Centre. 

The Substation gallery spaces can be accessed via stairs or a wheelchair accessible ramp. Its ground floor has an intimate, contemporary feel with a small bar and a labyrinth of varying sized gallery spaces presently exploring digital media pieces. Upstairs is the main space, which can be accessed by lift or staircase.

Upon entering the main space, the viewer is drawn into an immersive environment of sound, colour and movement both in the space and on large screens at either end of the room. Images are also projected onto surrounding walls. At the far end of the space, the Taipei group, on screen, produces a soundscape using both instrumental and digitally altered sounds along with voice; the effect is mesmerising, as are the digitally morphed images responding to the movement of the dancers in the room.  

Initially both viewers and participants, those in the crowd mill around the dancers as they appear to emerge, chrysalis-like from enfolded states, shedding their ‘skins’ and fantastical headdresses or body extensions, to move about the populated space.

Read: Book review: Murder in Williamstown, Kerry Greenwood

Eventually the viewer is gently ushered to one end of the room and the performers merge to become one in a cleverly choreographed set of synchronised dance moves. Like a strange insect they regroup and divide and the screen behind them morphs into dystopian worlds and alien forms. By the end of the show the room is pulsing while the viewer sits silently, caught momentarily in a state of suspended animation. A powerful and engrossing performance.

Body Crysis
The Substation, Melbourne

Lead Artists: Harrison Hall, Sam Mcgilp and NAXS FUTURE
Creative and Art Director: Han Yu-Feng
Project Manager: Chun-Ting Chen
Scene Design, Player Character Design and Web UI Design: Eg.lio
System and Interactive Development: KP Wong and YJ Huang
Technical Art: Wei Huang

Sound Design and Live Performance: Prairie WWWW
Performer and Collaborator: Cody Lavery, Imanuel Dado, Samuel Harnett-Welk
Lead Avatar Design: Luca Dante
Lighting Design: Jenny Hector
Set Design: Lotus Hall
Costume: Sez Brez
Producers: Erin Milne and Xavier O’Shannessy

Tickets: $20-$35

Body Crysis will be performed until 19 November 2022.

Mem Capp is a Melbourne artist and writer.