A heist is going down in Toronto and you're invited to infiltrate a secret world of operatives, agents and radicals. All you need is your iPhone. F/, a Toronto-based dance company, has created Jacqueries; a promenade-style dance/theatre hybrid layered with digital elements that audiences experience via an iPhone app.
When I first heard of the the concept of Jacqueries I was intrigued. I'm fascinated by performances that explore the nexus between technology and live theatre and by the use of technology to break down the barrier between performer and audience so a show like Jacqueries seemed right up my alley.
Jacqueries is the brainchild of Jacob Niedzwiecki. Both a classically-trained dancer and an experienced coder, Niedzwiecki designed the choreography for the show and developed the app himself. I first met Niedzwiecki a half hour before show time as I handed him my precious iPhone 5 so he could install the app required for the performance.
Not unpredictably to anybody familiar with Apple and its onerous approval process, the app for Jacqueries was not approved for the App Store in time for the show's run requiring the company to perform an unwieldy check-in process to manually install the app on each of the two-dozen-or-so audience members' iOS devices before the show.
After a bit of a wait, the iOS devices that the audience members surrendered are returned to them along with colour-coded arm bands used to divide the audience into groups that will follow different characters on paths that diverge and converge at various points throughout the show.
The roaming performance involves following a group of mysterious characters through the halls and alleyways of the Ryerson University campus as they set out on a clandestine mission that involves scribbling cryptic chalk messages on walls, passing USB keys back and forth and rendezvous with other characters in secret locales. The story is primarily told through stylized movement and the performances blend elements of urban dance, mime and parkour.
The first scene features the show's most interesting use of the app. A character called the Technician (Luke Garwood) leads us to an alleyway and stops to perform a dance. Audience members are prompted to watch him through their iPhone cameras as an augmented reality is layered over his performance.
His dance triggers a series of stylized graphics to appear on the screen and he appears to interact with the images, manipulating them with his movements. It's an eye-popping effect reminiscent of something you might experience in one of the more advanced Nuit Blanche installations.
Throughout the performance the app syncs with the soundtrack for the show which blends composer John Gzowski's atmospheric electronic score with intermittent sound effects and the occasional instructions from a narrator.
The entire experience has a very sleek, puzzle-adventure video game feel to it. In fact, I think gamers would love this show since they're used to using technology to access a story.
It's a lot of fun and parts of it definitely evoked my previous experience at Sleep No More; the granddaddy of all promenade performances. While Jacqueries is obviously done on a smaller scale and a much more modest budget than Sleep No More, I was impressed by how well Niedzwiecki and his team created a stylized universe filled with intrigue.
The technology is still in its infancy and its use inevitably feels experimental but I'm curious to see how it'll evolve. Beyond just layering audio and video over a live performance, in future productions I'd be interested in seeing if the app can be used to allow the audience to interact directly with the performance in some way.
Jacqueries is an ambitious theatrical experiment. While the performance relies heavily on the novelty of the app technology, for the most part, I think it succeeds at blending technology and live performance to create an engaging, immersive theatrical experience.
- Jacqueries is a roaming performance starting at the corner of Bond & Gould St, under the statue of Egerton Ryerson, Toronto
- Shows run July 11, 14, 18 and 21 at 8 p.m., and July 12 at 9 p.m.
- Audience members require a pair of headphones and an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad running iOS 6.1 or later
- Tickets ($20) are available online at jqrs.org
Photo Credit: Vish Hansa
By Wayne Leung, Managing Editor of Mooney on Theatre