Inspired by the scientific and spiritual concepts of Zero Point energy, Zero Point is the most recent work by Array, the company of multi-award winning choreographer Darren Johnston. The group explore multiple forms of art work within the projects that they create, combining Johnston’s interests in choreography, visual art, music and video. Influenced by Johnston’s experiences during his residency at the Museum of Art in Kochi, Japan, Zero Point examines sacred and ceremonial spaces, ancient rituals, and eastern ideas of rebirth through state-of-the-art digital technology. Following its premiere at The Museum of Art in Kochi in 2016, Zero Point returns to the Barbican, London, where the project was first developed in 2014.
Fog cascades from the mouth of the stage and the air becomes thick with ghosts. Bright lights stare at the audience, and colourful spots swim across one’s vision, over-exciting the cells of the retina. Composed by Canadian musician and sound artist, Tim Hecker, the theatre is infiltrated by a soundscape that gasps and rushes to the bloodstream. Static and white noise act as metaphor for consciousness, and its vibrations echo the transient locations that are created by Johnston’s light and projection design. Inspired by scenography and architecture, lights scorch the floor of the stage, tracing rectangles that act as a base for illusory three-dimensional pyramids. Its surfaces appear opaque, and rise, ablaze in a transformation of physical space. As the performers arrive and depart from their radiant shrines, their bodies are explored by projection. Light travels, negotiating with the air, and alters the perception of the audience.
An ensemble of nine Japanese dancers perform with warrior-like strength and elegance. Inspired by Japanese Butoh and eastern ritualistic dance, the choreography consists of small movements, contained, and perfectly isolated. Their bodies contort against the glare of an incandescent vacuum, growing and melting simultaneously. The dancers are mute as they travel through empty space, ethereal, with feet pressed at odd angles. Their movements are unnatural, and are executed with terrifying flexibility. Necks bend the wrong way and they nails are dragged across their faces, drowning in shadows.
There are often long moments without performers onstage. During these points, the soundscape continues, symbolic of the transcendental nature of passing time. The group are majestic. Creeping out of the darkness, the audience see double as they move in and out of sequences of mirroring one another. Dressed in white, Hana Sakai radiates the purity and grace of a white swan. Frequently slung over the shoulder of a fellow male dancer, she engages in a possessive display of rebirth, and her body is commanded like a puppet.
The spectacle is haunting. Johnston creates a universe completely unlike our own, immersing the spectator in Zero Point through photo-bleached hypnosis. It is hard to distinguish a particular narrative within the work itself, and instead the work appears to physicalise the aftermath of a stone thrown in water. Movements ripple, disturbing the stillness with action and reaction, action and consequence.
The piece is advertised by the company as ‘meditative’, a word which doesn’t seem fitting. There is a safety in meditation, and Zero Point feels most unsafe. It feels charged with terror, and glazed by a beautiful sense of unease. Johnston has created an awesome, yet frightening event; and it is no doubt a demonstration of the future of theatre.
Zero Point played at the Barbican until May 27.
Photo: Foteini Christofilopoulou