Reality Check: Located at the intersection of technology and humanity
By Paul Samra, Creative Loafing, 6/5/99
Alvin Toffler's 1970 book Future Shock-the one that basically predicted technology would make dog food of us all has finally come of age.
As terms like "virtual sex" roll off the tongues of hopefu1 Internet zombies, candle-lit dinners are stymied by jackasses bearing cell-phones and the latest Fatboy Slim "song" makes you pine for some of the Knackšs less-inspired work, many of us are by now considering going Amish.
Still, once in a great while a techno-head with a more tempered appreciation for "progress" reminds us that, in the face of lightning speed advances, homage can-still be duly paid to the more organic side of life ... the one that made us human in the first place.
One such individual is Atlanta multi-media artist/electronic composer Allen Welty-Green, whose high-tech wizardry enjoys an unlikely marriage this month with the more earthy choreography of local dancer L.E. Udaykee, as the two stage Reality Check, a collection of performance art vignettes at 7 Stages Theater.
Joined under the name Gnosis (Greek for "knowledge") in 1992, Welty-Green and Udaykee have erected a sparse but attention-grabbing handful of performances in and around Atlanta, evoking strange visual landscapes via surrealistic costumes, projected film and computer-geberated images culled from Welty-Green's years with the Nashville-based conceptual group, Mind's Eye.
Reality Check, with its melding of on-site video, cutting-edge computer graphics, heartfelt dance, water pumps, wind machines and, for the first time, live music by Welty-Greenšs band Z-Axis, is proving one of the more encompassing Gnosis shows and, odd as it sounds, a needed return for its creator to nature.
"I can get bored pretty easily with technology,"admits Welty-Green, a bulwark of monitors, keyboards and mixing boards surrounding him in his home studio. "Without a human or a natural component, I've found it gets pretty dull."
"More than any of my work, Reality Check tries to find common ground between the high-tech and the natural world... and to find the place of humans somewhere in between. L.E. and I have created an elevated sensory experience- one that will hopefully challenge people on both ends of the spectrum."
At the center of Udaykee and Welty-Green's staging are two contrasting collections of vignettes: "Entropy and Alchemy" and "In the Country of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is King." The former, with its use of dripping water, wind machines and dramatic, earth-toned lighting draws upon elemental themes, reminding-viewers of their primordial bond with the earth. One piece includes video footage of Udaykee, covered from head to toe in mud, dancing among the stalactites of a north Georgian cave.
"Country of the Blind," by contrast, issues in a more high-tech, media-driven version of reality, feeding live video images of dancers through an effects board and onto a background screen, projecting text from various Internet hoaxes (the Neiman Marcus cookie scandal, etc.) over stationary bodies and distorting dancers forms via state-of-the art lighting.
Serving as bookends to these two segments are shorter numbers meant to bring resolution between our beginning, and hyper-advanced present. "Slat Dance," for instance, features a single dancer manipulating a mass of pipes, wooden dowels and rods in very simple, tribal-like formations, as lush computer effects weave in and out to create complex geometrical patterns. "Slow Glass," in turn, enlists the help of high-tech black-lighting to offset a system of tubing placed around a danceršs body. The changing colors, coupled with odd winding movements, evoke a kind of ongoing evolution.
"I realize it's hard to put a handle on this stuff," admits Welty-Green, who is inspired by everyone from Laurie Anderson to the Blue Man Group. "It's very out-there for some people. The key is to let yourself go, give reign to your senses and try to walk away with something fresh and powerful in your memory."
Udaykee and long-time collaborator, Berkeley Davenport will perform all dances for Reality Check, accompanied by the busy orchestrations of Welty-Green's band Z-Axis (Phillip Hart, percussion; Jeff Tyson, bass; Mark Baker, guitar; and Welty-Green, keyboards), an ensemble whose style he has dubbed "post progressive new-edge music."
"My work with L.E. has taught me therešs nothing that connects better with an audience than the unpredictability of live performance," says Welty-Green. "In a production with a distinctly human component, I figured it was finally time to bite the bullet."