Walk Into Space, 2017. Photo credit Luca Latrofa

IJAD Dance Company begins 2017 with two firsts: the launch of its pioneering new digital platform (the Open Online Theatre) and the world premiere of Walk Into Space, an interactive, dance extravaganza exploring gravity and the wonders of the universe.

Set against a backdrop of views of space, taken via satellite telescope, Walk Into Space turns the performance space, the dancers, and indeed the audience into stars, planets, and satellites. Featuring three characters (Time, Space and Gravity), it tells the journey of a being from element to star.

The event also sees the public launch of IJAD’s creative digital platform, Open Online Theatre. The brainchild of IJAD’s Artistic Director, Joumana Mourad, it shall fuse digital technology with performance, be it dance, drama, music or a genre hitherto undreamt of. In so doing, they hope to transform, nay revolutionize not only the notion of performance but also the relationship between artist and audience.

Ambitious? Absolutely. Unfeasible? Absolutely not. IJAD has a good deal of experience in this field. Take, for example, The Room for Wonder, a multi-media contemporary dance piece inspired by the folklore and oral history of migrant communities. Or take In-Finite In Transit. Commissioned by The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, it featured dancing in the streets coupled with real secrets supplied by the of public. So, it is abundantly clear that IJAD is very well-versed in the intricacies of marrying dance and tech.

By the same token, IJAD has got the tricky business of public engagement down to a fine art, too. Since it was established in 1999, IJAD has attached great importance to collaboration, co-creation, call it what you will. This commitment, to make the audience part of the creative process, runs like golden thread runs through IJAD’S oeuvre. Of the process Artistic Director, Joumana Mourad, says:

“I’m passionate about the creativity I have and the creativity YOU have.”

There is a generosity of spirit in Joumana Mourad which frankly is a rare commodity in a choreographer, for she has been willing from the first to throw caution to the wind and give up control. Doing so is not without its risks, but it also brings great rewards, both artistic and otherwise.

It is plain that for Ms. Mourad such collaboration is not a mere gimmick. It goes to the very heart of what she does. Moreover, theatre, and dance are by definition collaborative. One person cannot stage a play, nor make a film. Teamwork is key. Everyone counts.

In much the same way, the Open Online Theatre will afford the audience a unique way of co-creating with performers, building on IJAD’s continuing mission to place the audience at the center of the creative process. The pool on which IJAD can draw thus goes from being a pond to a sea at a stroke.

In the run-up to the show, IJAD has been inviting audiences (both online and off) to directly influence the creative process by answering questions about the nature of time, gravity, and space. Examples include:’ If #TIME were a superhero what would be his goal?’-a question aimed at the layman. If Time were represented by a chord or a leitmotif, what might it sound like? We have had some fascinating answers, some of which have been already been interpreted in dance.

Walk Into Space, 2017. Photo credit Luca Latrofa

Nor are the questions the only way in which IJAD has piqued the interest of the public. From the outset, they have taken pains to encourage the audience (both lay and scientific) to think non-verbally about the cosmos. To that end,
What is more, there have been interviews with the cast, the artistic director, Joumana Mourad, the costumier (Isabel Castro-Jung) and the writer (Beatriz Cabur), and perhaps most exciting of all, they have filmed some of their rehearsals, giving us a fascinating insight into the world of dance.

And the interaction will not stop there. Each of the shows will be streamed live and the audience called upon to interact on social media by using the hashtag #OrbitsProcess not only online but in person during the performance at Fact, Liverpool. Like some digital whirlpool, The Open Online Theatre platform has been so designed to pull in anything and everything with this hashtag. To further whet our appetite, a live preview of Open Online Theatre will be held during rehearsals on the 12th and 19th January at 4.30-5pm.

So much for the ‘what.’ What of the ‘why’? Why technology and dance? Why sets a so much store by audience participation. The answer lies in IJAD’s ethos, which essentially is that of Joumana Mourad. She conceives of the audience, not as a faceless amorphous entity, sitting behind a glass wall being spoon-fed, but as a constellation of individuals, each of whom has much to contribute to the whole.

And from ethos comes method. It believes that contemporary dance should be for all and audiences less likely to go to dance performances should be sought. Another idea dear to IJAD’s heart is that movement is universal and can help bind people together for the greater good. One can trace a line from IJAD’s earliest contributions to the Open Online Theatre today and what they have in common is this: a profound faith in the audience as a creative force in its own right.

Technology has been a great boon to IJAD, particularly in the last ten years. The rise of social media, apps, superfast broadband has only served to make its mission easier and this trend is surely set to continue, for as new digital media emerge, there will be ample opportunities to reinvent dance.

Needless to say, the road IJAD travels is not an easy one. After all, did the groundlings write Hamlet? Did the audience compose Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring? No, of course not. Those masterpieces would have been immeasurably poorer if they had. IJAD has no quarrel with this. They have no intention of replacing with a time-honoured way of making art. Instead, they want to pursue co-creation, suitably buttressed by technology as an end in itself. So far, the results have been fascinating. Long may this continue.


To view more of IJAD performances, visit their Vimeo page

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.

This post was written by Alexander Beeching.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.