Pic: Pier Carthew

Festivals, Reviews, Stage

Diaspora review (Melbourne International Arts Festival)

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Billing itself as a “science fiction revelation”, Diaspora is a mind-bending exploration of post-humanism that alternately dazzles and confounds.

A collaboration between performance, sound and music group Chamber Made and the audio-visual artist Robin Fox, it takes its name and inspiration from Australian sci-fi writer Greg Egan’s 1997 novel.

The hour-long work strikingly deploys a combination of elements, from projection to lasers and several instruments.

At times, it subtly incorporates the audience into its vision, from projecting lights into the rows of seats to using deep sonic pulsations that thunder through our bodies.

Diaspora starts with laser lights sifting through on-stage fog, creating nebulous waves as white noise hums in the background. The performers are well to the back of the stage, dressed in dark tones and nearly invisible.

In the centre of the stage, appearing as if it were a hologram, an orb starts to rotate. Is it an asteroid? A planet? As it grows larger it imperceptibly transforms, until suddenly it’s a human brain.

This central location on the stage becomes home to all manner of projections, from separated body parts to a giant eyeball manically looking from one side of the stage to the other.

Eventually, the brain transforms into something altogether less organic. Or is it? To what extent is the world of Artificial Intelligence, the 1s and 0s of computing, unnatural?

Diaspora plays with this question, reminding us of its performers’ bodies (and ours) in all sorts of interesting ways, from making the performers visible at certain points, to augmenting their appearances with flashy digital projections. Just as quickly the otherworldly music and trippy projections obliterate these bodies.

One highlight sees the musicians take on Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The expected sounds from the instruments, including Erkii Veltheim’s violin and Georgina Darvidis’ vocals, are surreally intercepted, garbled and then outputted in various off-putting ways. The humour in these moments add an unexpected texture to the experience of the work.

By the end the whole space is flooded in lights, projections and a cacophony of sound. Diaspora is a striking spectacle, an unpredictable riot of sound and light that starts at a heightened wavelength and only gets more intense. If nothing else, I will say this for our bodiless future: it won’t be boring.

Diaspora played as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival October 3 – 6.

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