Cosmic Body @ MCA Stage: Recreating the Dreamachine

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Back in the day when record players were originally popular and William Burroughs still roamed the earth, he and fellow artiste Bryon Gysin created a real life Dreamachine from an idea they had read about in a book, based on their desire to enter hypnogogic states without the burden of damaging drugs, or maybe because of the burden of damaging drugs. They put a cylinder on top of the record player and cut some slits in it, adding lights to the center and then closed their eye. The resulting pulsations of light at a certain tempo created visual patterns on the back of their eyeballs that put them in a trance induced frame of mind. Since it was the 60’s, being on the threshold of consciousness and sleep was considered a good entree in to the creative mind…a sort of yoga for those who didn’t want to bother with all of the stretching and deep breathing.

Director Ingri Fiksdal was inspired by Burroughs and had a notion to make a real human sized stroboscopic device redolent of celestial happenings that would use repetitive motion, light and the electronic music of Ingvild Langgård to put the audience in a trance. It began with a series of large rocks which were hung from wire being swung in to action by the dancers. The audience was given the time to get in to the pace of the piece as the rocks synced up their motions in to a beautiful snakelike swaying before dissolving in to dissonant flux. A sole dancer appeared on the floor and began spinning in place methodically. He held to this activity for several minutes, breaking down the viewer’s expectations about anticipating change. Very gradually, 3 others joined him and the revolutions turned in to upright patterns of humans running in their own elliptical orbits quite like planets. The dancers twisted as they spun, or swayed, or reached or curled up, exploring how the range of motion was effected by rotation and all without shifting their blank entranced expressions.

Hung from various places above the white triangular space that marked their stage were lights and reflective discs that spun and projected shadows and light onto the ground and the audience. The discs proscribed eclipses and full moons, furthering the impression of events happening in the airless atmosphere of outer space. As the movements of the 4 dancers evolved, they were always orbital and repetitive to the point of lulling the mind. The dancers were as removed from the process as objects, neither making eye contact with each other or us, having no relationship with anything besides their ceaseless movement. They were not human. They were asteroids, planets and pulsars, huge objects whose movements had their own sense of physics and interacted only via the influence that gravity exerted on them, forcing their patterns in to ever tighter gyrations until it seemed possible that the laws of the universe that they were describing were not just distantly beautiful but also integral to the lesser rubrics of mankind, what goes around comes around, every dog has its day, what goes up must come down, give unto others as you would have them give unto you, an eye for an eye and every other circular reasoning you could imagine.

As these elliptical patterns emerged and receded, the result was quite like that of the Dreamachine. The audience, seated extremely close, was ultimately induced in to a trance so that the 70 minutes seemed more like 15. Much of the effect was helped along by the electronic music by Ingvild Langgård. It was a swell of celestial electronic rhythms that cycled the dancers through their revolutions in the same dramatic manner that a soundtrack can carry forth the action in a film. The set design by Signe Becker was abstract and light, yet redolent of space, with the orbs, lights and the line of undulating asteroids bisecting the triangle of the stage.

Ingri Fiksdal says she likes to make art that is “utterly useless” and that still inspires change. This contemporary work did have the useless presence of a toy, like the Dreamachine itself, an object that you can pick up and explore, take some pleasure from or not, and ultimately gain some experience or insight from as a direct result of having interacted with space and time to do so.

Cosmic Body is part of the In>Time Festival, a Winter Long Performance Festival for Chicago, and is running at MCA Stage until February 7th.

Kim Campbell
Kim Campbell

Kim Campbell (they/them) is a freelance editor, podcaster and creative writer who has spent a career focusing on the arts, particularly literature, theater and circus. Former editor of CircusTalk News, they have written about theater and circus for Third Coast Review since its very beginning. Kim is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the International Network of Circus Arts Magazines. In 2019, they were on the jury of FIRCO in Madrid (Circus Festival Iberoamericano) and in 2021 they were on the voting committee for the International Circus Awards. See their tweets at @kimzyn or follow them on Instagram.