Review: Zata Omm’s “Vox:Lumen”

by Liliana Guevara Opinska

A week ago, on Saturday March 7th, I went to see Zata Omm’s newest production: Vox:Lumen and I am still under the effect of what I saw. There are a few shows that have left a permanent stamp in my memory and which have influenced my personal view on art and dance, this was one of them.

Vox:Lumen is a daring production in all aspects; technologically it is pioneering and ground breaking, artistically and emotionally, it is bold and uncompromising.

Much attention has been focused on the technological aspect of Vox:Lumen and understandably so. The show is entirely powered by sustainable energy. Solar power together with kinetic energy produced before and during the show by dancers and audience are the main sources of energy utilized for the needs of the show. Researchers at York University and Aesthetec Studio developed the technology necessary to produce the show.

The realization of Vox:Lumen, is no small task, it required extraordinary effort, work, dedication and perseverance over a number of years by Zata Omm’s artistic director and visionary choreographer William Yong. Vox:Lumen has already made history as the first Canadian artistic production powered entirely by sustainable energy.

This ambitious project speaks to the ethical and moral considerations related to the future of our society, the pressing need to promote the use of sustainable ways to fuel it and the role that Art has in influencing change, innovation and technological developments.

Before seeing the show I had already heard and read about it. I was worried that the innovative technology would overshadow the dance itself. Too often have I seen productions where the focus on technology deters from the artistic value of the work. Too often what should be the tool, the means to an end becomes the end itself. To my relief this was not the case with Vox:Lumen.

In contrast to the complicated technology developed for the show, the dancing was surprisingly intimate, accessible, direct, humble and human. The dancers exposed their most vulnerable, naked selves, both metaphorically and literary. The performance offered an insight into the vulnerability of human beings in light of the ever-expanding technology that is increasingly getting out of our control. It was honest portrayal of our most basic human instincts, desires and fears. It was an invitation to ponder on questions such as: What remains when we strip ourselves naked? What is left when we get rid of all the objects and distractions that surround and overwhelm us in our everyday, modern life? What kind of interactions can we have with other human beings, when the only things between us are energy and light? We are nature’s children bound by its laws, but as technology becomes second nature to us, are we becoming slaves to it?

The contrasts throughout the performance between light and darkness, technological advancements and primitive human needs brought to mind another striking contrast in our present-day world. The inequality in terms of access to energy and technology for developing versus developed countries. Yong himself grew up in a poor neighborhood in Hong Kong where he did not have access to electricity. His childhood experiences likely influenced his current position as a leader in implementing the use of sustainable energy for performance production.

The superb technicality and artistic honesty of dancers Michael Caldwell, Irvin Chow, Daniel McArthur, Brendan Wyatt, William Yong and Will Hamilton (dance intern) proved sufficient to connect with the audience and channel the attention towards the deeply emotional content of the work.

When reading the director’s note on the program I was surprised that he spent a lot of space describing the challenges of developing Vox:Lumen and dedicated only one sentence to describe the dance. He wrote, “I do know that the dance will speak for itself”. That’s all he needed to write, the dance really did speak for itself. No amount of words can ever describe the beauty and emotion of dancing. This dance show in particular should be able to tour communities around Canada and beyond. Everybody should have the opportunity to witness art that questions and inspires.