Interview: Erica Gionfriddo on IN THE ETHER, ARCOS Dance, August 7 - 14, 2021, by David Glen Robinson
An Interview with Erica Gionfriddo of ARCOS Dance
in advance of In the Ether, streaming and live, August 7 - 14, 2021
by Dr. David Glen Robinson
Erica Gionfriddo (they/them) and Eliot Gray Fisher (he/him) are the co-artistic directors of ARCOS Dance, probably the most avant performance company through a wide swathe of Texas. They have announced show dates of the latest iteration of their current series, In the Ether.
Multi-modal doesn’t begin to describe their work. They characterize their productions as experiments. Knowing this and having gotten only a bitty taste of their experiments in the past, this writer (he/him) decided to make direct contact. The artists happily accepted my request, and Erica Gionfriddo and the writer met at Opa’s coffee bar on South Lamar. I highly recommended Opa’s for coffee, shade, relaxation, and excellent conversation.
ARCOS proceeds from the acknowledgement that we human beings are embodied identities, and growth itself means that we have flexible and fluid boundaries. We can become much more as identities, egos, and witnesses to the universe as we move through life and time. We can change our bodies and embrace the machines all around us to enrich our being. Driving automobiles and carrying cell phones are simple but profound examples of the process. The work of Donna Haraway (1991) gives a positive prospect of this reality, analysis cited and highlighted in Fisher’s and Gionfriddo’s 2021 article Embodying Agency in the Human-Techno Entanglement. In short, Fisher and Gionfriddo maintain that instead of extracting ourselves from the tangle, we must push through it and become part of it in order to adapt to the baffling complexity of this world. This recalls the relatively old term cyborg, or cybernetic organism. In Haraway’s view as interpreted by ARCOS, a cyborg is an embodied identity involved with technology, a human entangled irremediably with technology. The concept is much softer than that of the cylon monsters of the scare-inducing TV series Battlestar Galactica. ARCOS’s performance series seeks to light the way through an increasingly darker world.
The company was established in 2011. Gionfriddo, member of the faculty of the University of Texas in Austin, came into performance studies from music and dance, Fisher from new media and interdisciplinary studies. They defined their mission as “to experiment rigorously to discover adventurous new forms of contemporary performance” (Fisher and Gionfriddo, 2021: 347). This opened the door to what has become their trademark use of social media, cell phones, and other commercial-grade media devices in presentations that combine installations, live contemporary dance, and livestreamed performance. This advanced embrace of new forms recombines to become a series of performances that increase the fluidity and flexibility of the embodied identities participating in it. ARCOS’s 2016 work Domain was a months-long series of ever-changing performances in indoor and outdoor spaces in multiple states. Audiences witnessed, participated, or produced live streams, singly or simultaneously and at different times. Domain’s livestreaming experiments inspired the Ether series, still evolving.
Their nudging of the envelope of performance goals is aimed ultimately at increasing humane empowerment of cyborgian humanity. The current iteration, In the Ether, moves it all forward. As Gionfriddo said, “This whole Ether project is about building our capacity to hold complexity.” Applying Harawayan philosophy through performance studies, Gionfriddo explained, “We are groomed to think there is a linear pathway through life. If we follow it, everything will be okay. We’re given a false utopia, and we are not encouraged to consider alternative realities.”
Given limited encouragement, what are we up against? Fisher and Gionfriddo’s article cites three examples of the socio-cultural ills confronting us: the murder of Philando Castile while his partner took cell phone videos of it, Syrian bombings of Aleppo as its citizens posted family farewells on social media, and the video recordings of Standing Rock pipeline protesters being physically harassed with high pressure water hoses.
These are just a few of the cyber-involved tragedies and dilemmas, examples of the use of technology in unplanned ways, each one a cry against injustice. The specific issues have moral enormity. Contemplation seems to lead to despair. How can expanded flexible embodied identity push back against such global ills?
Gionfriddo says, “Stay local. Labor with the like-minded to chip away at the monuments of oppression.” That older activist philosophy applies equally to more newly empowered cyborgian individuals.
A cyborg may exist as an embodied identity gaining fluidity and flexibility with technology and thereby gaining more agency in dealing with the world’s complexity. Fisher and Gionfriddo (2021: 356-357) assert that this concept describes all of us to greater or lesser degree, due to the human-techno entanglement. We’re all in this together; complexity never simplifies or unties its own knot. But more profound embodiment provides greater ability to act, to invent, and to achieve social change. This is essential, never-ending labor.
Manifesting positive aspects of the entanglement seems to be the point of ARCOS’s work. In the Ether is no exception. The central effort of the work is the hybrid presentation of livestreams radiating from multiple locations—in-person audiences join in generating a browser-based experience that reaches audiences that are more varied and more widely dispersed.
Dance is the expression of corporeality at the core of transmedia arts and every performing channel that has emerged since. After that, who knows? Solos in the desert are not unprecedented. Group pieces performed thirty feet down in the Gulf or while skydiving loom as serious possibilities, because those who are In the Ether-aware and comfortable with the requisite technologies clearly possess the fluidity and agency to act in those elemental media.
Where does Gionfriddo themself want to go after In the Ether? They answered immediately that they’re planning a series of self-sustaining, inclusively challenging, and modular performances for smaller communities across Texas. The performances will engage all necessary resources, with zero-waste options de rigeur. The shows will be climate-change-embedded in operation and probably in theme. But first, In the Ether.
Fisher, Eliot Gray and Erica Gionfriddo
2021 Embodying Agency in the Human-Techno Entanglement. Chapter 4.5 in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Dance and Philosophy. Edited by Rebecca L. Farinas and Julie C. Van Camp. Bloomsbury Academic. London. Pp.347-357.
1991 A Cyborg Manifesto. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge. New York. P. 150.
In the Ether with ARCOS Dance Company by Wayne Alan Brenner, Austin Chronicle, August 6, 2021
In The Ether
by Erica Gionfriddo
August 07 - August 14, 2021
unspecified in Austin
somewhere in Austin
to be announced
Austin, TX, 78700
August 7 - 14, 2021 in Austin, Texas -- in-person or streaming
August 7-9 at 8 p.m., August 12-13 at 8 p.m., August 14 at 9 p.m.
The ONLINE EXPERIENCE is a bespoke interactive website originally presented by the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Theatre & Dance as part of the virtual Fall 2020 season. In July 2021, ARCOS workshopped website revisions with students at the American Dance Festival who performed the online experience in the Festival’s showcase. For these August viewings, we have further updated the website and generated new content with ARCOS’ professional company, including a pre-filmed performance with over a dozen interactive camera angles in addition to live portals into the in-person locations’ simultaneous streams.
The IN-PERSON EXPERIENCE is our most recent experiment in hybrid performance. But “performance” no longer describes what we’re exploring here. Should you choose to join us at one of the in-person locations, you will be entering and witnessing a complex experiment in hybrid forms; body processing, imagining multiple realities, and sensing into the non-physical as reality. This is our first gentle reach back into live gatherings. ARCOS is closely tracking the health precautions and protocols of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Travis County, and the City of Austin, and is in communication with participating dance artists regarding their personal safety needs. In-person audiences will be required to affirm they are vaccinated and will wear masks indoors for the duration of the presentation. We reserve the right to cancel any in-person events.
Special Drive-In Experience on August 14, 2021
at the Museum of Human Achievement
Welcome to the Ether. You are there. I am here. And together we are creating a third space, between yours and mine. In the Ether, we encourage you to find ways to slow down and listen to your body. Feel any sensations that come up. Let us know how you feel. Send a message and help our host navigate this space alongside friends and strangers. Feel free to wander: we're not sure what we're looking for, or whether we'll know if we find it. But remember, we are all journeying in the Ether together.
ARCOS experiments rigorously to discover adventurous new forms of performance, in part by making hybrid work that integrates newer and older technologies through bodies in movement to question dominant understandings of the world. Provoking interplay along a spectrum from human to mechanical to digital, virtual and physical, live and asynchronous, ARCOS seeks to imagine tangible new relationships that may be surprising, intimate, and immense.
Enter the Ether from your laptop or desktop computer. This browser-based experience is a digital meditation; you will be guided through the interactive website and be offered opportunities to slow down, breathe deeply, and connect.
Google Chrome web browser and a broadband internet connection are required to join us online.
>> CLICK HERE to reserve your ONLINE experience.
Spend time with the Ether artists as they engage in their hybrid, durational movement practice. Each location will feature 1-3 dancers with an intimate audience. The dancers will be live streaming into the online experience while you witness in real time.
Verification of vaccination and wearing of masks are required to join us in person.
Take a look at the map on the next page to confirm locations before completing signup:
>> CLICK HERE to reserve your IN-PERSON experience.
This project us supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department.
2021 © ARCOS Dance | Site Design by Think All Day