It seems that no show can begin without the (not so) friendly reminder to turn off our cell phones and devices, and refrain from flash photography or recording of any kind. So as the crowd settle in to their seats before Branché? we are not surprised to hear a mechanical voice addressing us and indicating proper behaviour. What is surprising is the indication to please keep all devices on, take as many photos and videos as your heart desires and don’t forget to post them live to the official Facebook group.

Sébastien Provencher © Sandra-Lynn Bélanger
Sébastien Provencher
© Sandra-Lynn Bélanger

Three levels of seating surround the dance floor on three sides. The remaining side is the backdrop for the dance: a live projection of the official Branché? Facebook group. Putting a twist on the usual static décor, Ratthé and her team have opted for a constantly changing, continually refreshed background for their piece, comprised entirely of the audience’s user-generated content. From selfies and real-time videos of the piece in progress to comments on the music and even a poll on what the dancers’ final costume should be, the flow of new information is relentless and constantly shaping what happens next.

The three dancers are young – clearly of the smartphone generation – and casually dressed in brightly coloured jeans and workout wear, Nike sneakers on their feet. Equipped with their own smartphones, they recreate a hangout among close friends that wouldn’t be complete without social media interaction. Between choreographed, hyperactive trios, one or more breaks away from the group to check their newsfeed or post a photo. They can see the audience’s interactions on the backdrop and stop to point out a particularly funny post or address a critical comment. An iPad circulates the room, allowing anyone who reaches it to change the music loop using a nifty sound production application.

At first the choreography blatantly pokes fun at how we use social media. One dancer directs the other to “pretend you’re walking the catwalk at Paris fashion week… and you’re actually enjoying it… and now you’re a chicken walking the catwalk at fashion week!” One poses and acts as the other snaps away, taking a ridiculous amount of photographs that we’re sure will end up on the page behind them. As it goes on though, the show moves from something mainly theatrical to more athletic and abstract dancing. The audience has fully embraced their active role and is busy posting, commenting and trying all the while to keep up with the piece (something easier for the kids in the crowd, with most of the adults struggling to keep up with the multimedia multitasking). The three performers have made their point – audiences need not be passive – and are now having fun with the idea of connectivity and interactivity. They throw themselves into each other’s arms, they dance in relays, they jump and soar and smile and have a damn good time.

When the performance ends, it’s not actually over. The Facebook group, such an instrumental part of the piece, is still being updated as we applaud and even after as Dena Davida from Tangente sets up the Branché? team for a question and answer period. Amazingly, every single attendee stays for the talk, a first in Tangente’s experience. The overall sentiment, from both the artists and the audience, is that finally we have found a plausible way to engage in live art events while embracing the technology that pervades every other aspect of our lives. We leave with the interesting thought that perhaps in the future we can replace the limiting pre-show request to turn off all devices with a more expansive invitation to join the live discussion.

As Andrée-Anne Ratthé commented on her creative process, this was not about critiquing our use of social media and devices. This was about extending the fun we have with them into the realm of art and live performance. Though this has been tried many times and in many ways, I know of no other attempt that has been so successful at complementing and enhancing the experience as Branché?.

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