The Experience of “INTERFACE: Alternate Reality”

The Contemporary Arts Center of UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts was transformed into the site of an adventure-filled, interactive dance experience as the fourth part of a developing installment known as INTERFACE on the nights of February 12 and 13.

UCI’s Associate Professor of Dance, Chad Michael Hall co-created this performance series which combines modern dance, audience interactivity and social media together to create the multifaceted genre of “Cyber Theater.” Collaborating with University of Illinois professor and app developer John Toenjes and programming genius and sound designer Tony Reimer, choreographer Hall presents INTERFACE: Alternate Reality, an interactive production which allows the audience to join the narrative journey through the auditorium building to help unfold the mystery set before them.  

This theatrical experience began outside of the main performing space, where Hall introduced the first performer, Captain Morgen, who has lost her crew across time and space, pleading for help to find the clues to bring the scattered members of her ship back to this reality. Hall acts as her first mate, who teaches the audience members on how to retrieve the crew by exploring the space around them; aka, the theater structure itself. After hearing the captain’s plea, the audience was led into the main auditorium space, where there was no seating area for visitors, with only a square wooden dance floor placed in the center of the darkened room. The floor is used like a screen, with a large, parchment paper projection shining down and displaying different messages from the captain’s log. First mate Hall recognizes the space as the Gathering Space for those of us who have shown up for the journey. Another large screen was placed on the wall at the front of the room, projecting a giant red clock, with whimsical designs and intricate green hands pointing to the numbers, foreshadowing the 45 minutes you have to save the crew.

On the same big screen, there are quotes with only a few words but mostly blank spaces to be filled out, three sentences meant to unlock the key to unite Captain Morgen’s crew. To help organize and gather all the clues the audience would eventually find, there was an app designed with certain tools meant to connect the audience with the performance and its dancers. Designed with the aesthetic of an old treasure map with faded ticking clocks in the background, the app presented the participants with a map, a camera, a text tool, and an image scanner to use throughout the scavenger hunt to find the necessary clues to send to the rest of the Gatherers (audience members) so that at the end, when returning to the main room, together everyone can put together the puzzle to bring the lost sailors home.

The audience was finally sent out on the mission, to look for technological portals that looked very similar to iPads they joked, or to encounter the dancers in steampunk, pirate outfits all around the building, wandering around in circles, appearing to be lost and confused, one constantly asking “Real?” or “Fake?” while swirling around those passing by. Pictures of runes and riddles were posted on the walls and staircases of the Arts Center. Participants even have to learn a dance to solve a puzzle on the app to find the word they need to send to the others. Finally, after the hour of finding clues, scanning pictures, and sending messages, everyone met up again in the main space.

The projection on the floor now shows the messages and pictures the audience had been sending in, phrases and single words they needed to piece together the unfinished quotes on the main screen, and to lastly figure out who said each one. The featured imagineers were Albert Einstein, Tim Burton, and John Lennon, each addressing the relationship between reality, illusion and imagination. Once the puzzles had been solved, the entire cast of dancers walked into the room holding cubes to sit on and surround the dance floor, leaving an empty space for the long awaited performance the audience had come to see.

The final dance portrayed the captain finding each member of her crew and bringing them together, with groups of two to three dancers rising and performing a special number to show the happy reunion of the crew. The performance featured leaps and flips across the floor, pairs lifting each other off the ground, linking arms and pirouetting around the room until finally, everyone rose up and finished the show by pulling multiple audience members into the dancing space and performing the dance they had learned earlier, resembling a celebration of friends and crew.

The entire presentation shone with creativity and innovation, from each click on the app and the movement of each dancer pointing the audience to the next step. The trio of INTERFACE creators have developed the beginning and hopeful steps into a more interactive experience within the theater, taking their experiments with media and dance further with each performance exploring the future of “Cyber Theater.”