In what ways does Siro-A use digital technology in their performance?

Siro-A are a Japanese based company formed in 2002 and have recently toured the UK. Their work is heavily influenced by digital technology using video projections, lasers, DJs and video cameras.

They currently have six members who come from different creative backgrounds. They say that they are “a fusion of mime, entertainment and dance” and their performances are similar to a circus cabaret act, which has been taken to a contemporary and futuristic setting. Each show is split into multiple sections to create a series of acts utilising video projections, cameras, dance and mime. The result is a visual spectacle using sound and animations mixed with precise body movement and timing. The video animations range from silhouettes of objects, colours and texts to images and the show contains a variety of popular culture references.

Being a Japanese based company touring in London, they have had to solve a language barrier through their work with a strong focus on visual aesthetics to produce entertaining content in a universal language. They say that their use of comedy is also an international language. It could be argued that being Japanese has played to their advantage as audiences in the west usually associate Japanese culture with modern technology. The use of text and speech is minimal. Sounds and images are prominent in order to engage with international audiences.

One of the scenes, titled Ball, begins with a mime artist behind a screen that is along the proscenium. A light is shining outwards so the audience can see his silhouette and a projector is projecting an image onto the screen from above the audience, who are unaware of this at first. At the start of the scene the artist plays with a real bouncy ball. Eventually, the ball disappears and is replaced with a virtual ball using the video animations from the projection. This tests the audiences’ perception of space. What is digital and what is real? The ball takes on unusual forms such as growing in size or bouncing impossibly that would be defying the laws of physics. The mime artist interacts with both the real and virtual balls keeping precise timing and movement to create an effective illusion.

Another scene incorporates the use of live feeds from video cameras. This brings the audience into the performance who are invited individually by one of the performers to repeat a noise and gesture, which is then filmed. After several audience members have been filmed the footage is then remixed in real time to perform a “chipmunk” version of Pharrell Williams’ Happy. It is not obvious what is happening straight away which is done on purpose to mystify the audience. The end result is humorous but it’s not an advanced or creative idea and doesn’t necessarily work on stage in comparison to the ball scene.

The set’s physical space has two settings. The first, a blank white screen on the proscenium and the second behind the screen on the stage which is a plain white room with two platforms, one for the disc jockey and the other for the video jockey. There are a number of props, which are all used for video mapping purposes. Blocks of cubes are interacted with in time to music and video projections and handheld flat screens are used to give the illusion the artists are capturing the projection images.

There isn’t any real time motion tracking technology used in the performance but the performers compensate for this with accurate timing and positioning to interact with the digital space. However, the use of live camera feeds and interacting with the audience does demonstrate their ability to work with immediate real time technology. It was interesting for me to see a performance completely suited for infrared tracking or 3d depth camera sensing but instead relying on space and timing in both a digital and temporal space. The performers themselves have to repeat the exact same movements in the exact same time in order to complement the digital space, which is pre-rendered. There is no opportunity for the body to be used as a controller that interacts and manipulates the digital space.

With Siro-A the main digital focus is on video projections using video mapping and interacting with pre-built animations. They have explored using live cameras in their performances as part of interacting with the audience and using software to manipulate the footage in real-time while on stage. For me I feel that this performance highlighted the missed opportunities that tracking technologies could offer. Mistakes were far and few in between but they were obvious enough for me in the audience to spot. The concepts for their ideas such as the ball scene are unique and demonstrate creative thinking which plays around with the idea of screens and their position on stage and the space of the performer in relation to the screen. The discussion of these ideas will help me evaluate my own original ideas when exploring a digital space on stage.

I would develop the performance further by allowing the visuals to interact with the performers more naturally using tools to recognise the body in order for the digital space to respond. This would eliminate the need for precise space and timing and theoretically less rehearsals and gives room for more improvisation in the performance. This could then go on further to allow a higher degree of audience participation where they can interact with the visuals themselves.