In an exercise of free association, the word “insect” may incite the following responses: creepy, repulsive, disease-carrying. It is something to swat, squash, kill. These reactions of aversion, fear and neuroses are what one would expect. Certainly, most people wouldn’t find sophistication in an insects movements, admire their fierce sense of community or be amused by their peculiar appearance. Then again, most people aren’t Svea Schneider, the artistic director of Kinematik Dance Theater. She created Insekta, an homage to “the bustling world of bugs” with a multimedia dance expedition.
But, how does one persuade others to set aside their prejudices toward creatures that we know to be pests and parasites? Svea takes the funky and frenetic route, with the energy levels of her dancers and media technicians at 110% for Insekta’s entire 60-minutes duration. With the help of assistant director Kristina Martinez and production assistant Marie Paldrup, Svea shuffled through reams of iTunes, selecting only the most schizophrenic of house and New Age rhythms, some of which were inspired by the soundtrack of the arthropod documentary Microcosmos—think synthesizers and water droplets, anxiety-ridden and atmospheric. And to top it off she hired Cheng-I-Weng, a computer imaging master who projected a complementary show on the back wall.
If it sounds a bit over the top, it’s not. It’s quite fitting, actually. The Kinematik team knows their audience. No matter how old, their spectators are tech-savvy New Yorkers who thrive on sensory overload. They need to text while they walk, read while they commute and watch the news while they run the hell out of treadmill belts. When they go to a show, they want the same: flashy, noisy, intellectually stimulating and, most importantly, they want it to be different. New Yorkers tend to be neophiles, after all. They have an insatiable craving for inimitable experiences and Insekta doesn’t fail them. There’s nothing like it.
Never before have cockroaches been viewed as endearingly spastic. The robotic pivoting of their segmented bodies so awkward it makes one chortle. There’s a colossal caterpillar, each dancer a set of limbs, using their adjacent “limbs” as sit-upons as they sway to and fro. In a portrayal of its awakening cocoon, a pair of enveloped dancers scramble about, joints poking at a balloon of fabric until a head emerges and eventually a torso; the insect morphs into a centaur for a flicker before fluttering away. Watching the firefly display is like being at a luau with flashlights becoming torches as the women maneuver in capoeira fashion through the blackness. An army of ants forms a superorganism, marching in sync as if they can sense the vibrations of the others’ steps. In the background, there are lightning bolts of blue and at times it seems as if the harmless critters are headed straight for an electric zapper. Even still—after all of that—it’s the arachnid finale that may be most memorable. The dancers spin about, looping ropes through rungs on the walls until a web threads the room. They tip-toe through the mess they’ve created, silent and as nimble as hooded bank robbers. Alas, they cannot escape. Their craftsmanship is stellar; their web serves its purpose, tangling them into paralysis as the house lights eclipse.
Despite the psychedelic beauty of Insekta, you’ll probably continue to shriek upon the sight of a cockroach. Or crush it. But so what if your impression of real, live bugs hasn’t altered? Even the smuggest New Yorker can respect artistry, especially when it’s novel. This show just begs to be surpassed by a dance that’s even quirkier, and most likely, Svea is going to have to take the reins on that challenge to outdo herself.
Insekta was performed at University Settlement on the Lower East Side. Photos by Jim Moore, courtesy of Svea Schneider.