mixtamotus' debut work #DigitalConnection is a stunning reflection of life inside our screens
Updated: May 22, 2021
By Cristee Cook
My calendar app dings, reminding me to open my Zoom meeting and talk to Martheya Nygaard and Reyna Mondragon about their project, #DigitalConnection. Conceived and created by a 4-person collective called mixtamotus, #DigitalConnection is a collaborative work that blends dance, music, and technology. Along with Dancers/Choreographers Nygaard and Mondragon, mixtamotus includes Composer/Musician Lucas Reader and Projectionist/VFX Artist Joel Olivas.
#DigitalConnection was presented as an official selection of the AT&T Performing Arts Center 2021 season of The Elevator Project and premiered in the Dallas Arts District at the Wyly Theatre Potter Rose Performance Hall May 13-15, 2021.
My Zoom meeting chimes and Nygaard and Mondragon pop on the screen. Fresh out of rehearsal, they are full of energy and enthusiasm to chat about the project. The dancers met in graduate school at Texas Woman’s University and collaborate in a soon-to-be nonprofit dance company kNOwBOX Dance. Independently, they launched a seminal project on which Reader and Olivas were also collaborators: #WomenAre.
Nygaard explained, “With #WomenAre we started to explore social media and how we could collaborate with our community online to inform our art making. #WomanAre was the seed for this project, and the project that helped create mixtamotus.”
For #DigitalConnection, Nygaard said they are “…exploring three key elements: collaboration, creativity, and connection.” Mondragon added, “We’re curious about the interplay of those elements between our different mediums as artists: whether that's movement, music, or media. And through that exploration, we're also finding ways to engage with our online community.”
Much of the content in the piece was derived from mixtamotus ’social media. They ran polls on Instagram with prompts, asking followers to choose between two different dance movements or to identify their impression of a specific sound. Those who engaged in this experiment might recognize references and “hidden gems” in the show that Mondragon says were “completely inspired and chosen by our online community.”
Days later my phone chimes again. It’s time to go experience #DigitalConnection. Entering the Wyly Theatre, I see a large projection screen displaying a unique QR code on top of a geometric, animated wallpaper that continues from the screen to the floor, saturating the performance space with Olivas’ design. The social media and digital aspect of the project is clear from the onset.
Reading the program, I learn the performance is comprised of 4 movements: <initialize>, <plug-in>, <overload>, and <reboot>. I am shown to my seat, answer a text message and scroll through my Instagram. My phone dings with a notification as similar alerts echoes through the percussive pre-show music. I force myself to put my phone in my bag and shift my focus to the real world around me.
In the show’s opening film, <initialize>, I see my life reflected back to me. I’m witnessing a phone’s-eye view of daily life. I feel like I’m inside the phone, following Nygaard, Mondragon, Reader, and Olivas as they brush their teeth, take selfies, and cook dinner. The rhythmic sound created by Reader is a familiar mix of our daily notification soundtrack: message dings, alarm chimes, and “sent” swooshes. I realize how intensely connected I am to my phone and all of the things I allow it to witness.
The dancers enter for the second movement: <plug-in>, in which the characters seek connection through technology. Nygaard and Mondragon are dressed in simple white dancewear, both blank and futuristic. The opening dance is robotic and geometric with precise and focused movements. The performance space is amplified with a creative use of the theater’s rafters as additional costume pieces drop from the ceiling and the women transform further into electronica as they put on dollish plastic dresses. This section of the narrative offers a pristine artificiality. Digital life is slick and perfected, but is it real?
There’s a mythic, initiative quality in #DigitalConnection. The inventive use of the performance space, visual saturation, and layered sound composition creates a surreal immersion that breaks me out of the performer-audience box.
The <overload> movement feels more climactic, especially when the projection screen explodes with an endless scroll of popular memes. The music speeds up. My heart starts to beat faster as I watch, and again experience a mirror: all the late hours I’ve spent scrolling, searching for something I can’t name, all the unread messages I’ve sent to friends, and the different ways I’ve used social media as a mask. Seeing the complexity of social media and the internet’s role in our lives expressed in an interplay of digital effects, music, and crisp choreography is a familiar chaos. I’m both mesmerized and overwhelmed.
As we follow the journey of #DigitalConnection further, we transition to <reboot>, in which there are moments of deep connection and sincere intimacy. I recognize the familiar rush that comes from a popular social media post, and the dread that comes after doom scrolling and too many fear-based headlines. I crave face to face conversation, especially when Nygaard and Mondragon’s choreography becomes more connective.
Later, a digital representation of the coronavirus spike protein emerges and grows with 3D intensity over the audience. My heart sinks as I’m reminded that the virus rages on. My mask feels tight on my face.
In our conversation, I had asked Mondragon and Nygaard how the company is emerging from the pandemic. Mondragon shared, “It makes me think of a conversation that we've had lately about how during times of war, art was still being created. And with this pandemic there was a shift. We were all in a limbo, but that gave us the opportunity to think a lot deeper about the work that we were creating.”
Nygaard added that the collective thought more about “for whom we're creating work. That question seemed to be even more important. I feel like specifically now, people are going to take this risk to go out of their homes, to come to this show. And it has a different kind of weight to it. Also, understanding what people have been going through with the pandemic, with the social unrest. So, how can we provide this hour of being present? It’s kind of comical in a way because what we're working with is technology, this thing that’s been occupying so much of our time. So how can we use that to create a space to be present in a live performance?”
This part of the conversation stuck with me well after I saw the show. Certainly not every work of art is required to be of service to our emotional process, but when art boldly tackles a universal experience with fresh innovation as successfully as #DigitalConnection does, magic can happen in such a space. It’s new and at times uncomfortable, but the connection is just as human.
#DigitalConnection is both a time capsule and a seer: a piercing reflection on our pandemic year, our relationship to and within technology, and a future casting of what is coming, both in art and society.
The performance ends. As the house lights come up and the audience ambience grows in volume, I feel my phone buzz on my lap. I answer 3 text messages and a notification. I open my Facebook to see if I’ve missed anything. I barely look up from the screen as I travel back outside. Sitting on the steps of the Wyly Theatre texting a longtime friend, my iPhone’s blue light guides me back into my own digital paradigm.
For updates on the Elevator Project 2021/22 season, visit: attpac.org/series/elevator-project.