Hyperlinking through the museum
Ryan McNamara stages a dance adventure through the ICA
MEƎM 4 Boston: A Story Ballet About the Internet
By Ryan McNamara
The Institute of Contemporary Art
May 18 – 19
The show began ordinarily enough — three dancers slinked towards the neon-lit stage and began an energetic and repetitive pas de trois that blended hip-hop, ballroom and contemporary dance. Just as their combinations started to tire however, the door to the theatre opened, permitting a glimmer of music and lights to waft in from the outside. My curiosity was piqued as the audience began thinning, with members of the ICA crew using makeshift wheelbarrows to casually cart them away to this mystery performance outside. With a mild frisson, I wondered when I might be picked off too.
Soon enough, a crewmember whirled me around to discover another piece I did not realize had been happening right behind me. In total, there were five dances occurring in the same room, each surrounded by audience members who had likewise been whisked away from the main stage. The room was segmented effectively by LED strips, demarcating the diverse dance styles that each soloist or duettist was employing to interpret the shared music.
Before long, I was picked up again and carted out of the theatre altogether, to begin my journey through the ICA. There were three more pieces to be found in the rest of the building, including a duet enjoyed from inside the glass elevator, with the dancers split between the first and second floors. The work must clearly have been a logistical nightmare to stage — probably requiring quite a complex algorithm to grant each audience member a unique path through the piece.
“MEƎM 4 Boston: A Story Ballet About the Internet” was originally developed by Ryan McNamara in 2013 as a commentary on the internet, and was thus a fitting addition to the ongoing ICA exhibition of “Art in the Age of the Internet.” As McNamara shared after the show, the goal was to replicate the experience of clicking through hyperlinks on the internet. McNamara aimed to contrast the feeling of moving through physical as opposed to cyber space.
It was not clear, however, what feelings the piece was meant to evoke. The main sensation throughout was one of FOMO, fear of missing out, with audience members continually looking over their shoulders or around corners to spy on what other pieces they were missing out on. But where on the internet, we might have been able to click away to something different, the show’s setting did not permit this. The key contrast established was then not so much about the difference in ease of between moving in physical versus cyber space, but rather that our fates were in the hands of the crew rather than our own. The relation to the internet was hence a fairly weak one.
All the same, the event was a visual spectacle, complete with the mild adrenaline rush of being wheeled around the building, and the thrill getting to take the elevator up and down 20 times that satisfied my inner five-year-old. The evening might not have been meaningful, but it was indeed entertaining.