The Critics Speak

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VN (Video Networks) - Vampires in Cyberspace

To quote a recent article by Joaquin Vazquez in the Aug/Sept 1996 issue of VN
(Video Networks, published by the Bay Area Video Coalition):

"Nouveau's production, both online and on stage, is billed as "Vlad Draculea in the Year 2000" and has been up and running for one and two years, respectively. As a self-described tale of "blood-sucking intrigue," there might really be no better place for this so-called VD2001 than as another virus on the Web. The Internet is still the only non-place where language and symbolic expressions DO mutate faster than a major network's programming season. Nowhere on TV could such an enormously experimental performance as VD2001 find a place to not only appear but re-appear, metamorphose and render itself through slippery, slipping metaphors."

Anne Gelhaus - Silicon Valley

Drac's Back

Nouveau Performance Troupe's new play puts Dracula on the net

IN WRITING THE SCRIPT for the Nouveau Performance Troupe's latest production, Vlad Draculea in the Year 2000, artistic director Leslie Streit has ingeniously linked the legendary vampire to another more contemporary group of noctumal beings: the ever-growing legion computer-net surfers who log on in the dead of night.

These cybervamps are created after a drug used to cure HIV and AIDS comes into popular use as a hallucinogenic, and a good portion of society has "drunk of the blood," so to speak. Figuring the time is right for world domination, Vlad the Impaler (John Kannofsky), a real-life prince whose brutal battle strategies helped create the vampire legend, decides to reach across cyberspace to recruit his new minions, who can only access him through their computer keyboards.

Melding the vampire myth with modem technology is no mean feat, but Nouveau Performance Troupe achieves its ends to a large degree with liberal use of computer graphics and short films, along with Bill Ireton's spooky synthesized score. The troupe has managed to up its usual production values by scoring software from Microsoft Corp. and obtaining permission to film on locations other than downtown San Jose.

The play also benefits from being staged outside the confines of the troupe's regular performance space in a tiny corner of a downtown warehouse. The production is currently running as part of Foothill College's Festival of the Arts, and the Pavilion Theater there is large enough to allow for a more elaborate set design and a better incorporation of the show's multimedia effects. Unfortunately, the sightlines are such that it's difficult to focus on any action that takes place on the stage itself. Most of Jean-Ann Marshall-Clark's choreography, which she dances with Streit, is overshadowed by whatever is being projected onto the screens behind them.

Much of Vlad Draculea in the Year 2000 is derivative, but in a way that amuses more than ft offends. In The Visitor, filmmaker Adam Streit captures the overt sensuality and faux-Victorian atmosphere of Christopher Lee's Dracula movies. In Ruins, another of Streit's films, Estelle Akamine seems to have copied her costume designs directly from Jesus Christ Superstar.

Kannofsky's Vlad, who is seen only on celluloid, appears menacing until he opens his mouth, after which he takes on the demeanor of a character in Andy Warhol's Dracula. Luckily, he doesn't say much, and the show maintains the aura of a proper B-grade horror movie. With this production, Nouveau Performance Troupe has added a stylish twist to vampire lore that's perfectly in keeping with both today's computer culture and yesterday's garlic-fearing bloodsuckers.

ANNE GELHAUS (copyright 1994, METRO, San Jose, CA)

Anne Gelhaus is a staff editor for METRO, San Jose's weekly arts & entertainment magazine, who has reviewed works by Nouveau Performance since 1991.

Ronan O'Donnell - Edinburgh

Vlad Draculea in the Year 2000

The Intel Corporation and Microsoft are some of the unlikely conduits through which this post-modern rendition of Vlad, of the blood sucking prowess, flowed toward its Edinburgh Fringe debut. The troupe's Technical Director, Robin McCain, worked as a multimedia integrator for Intel in the USA and Europe. Coming from San Jose, California, the artists seem to be in touch with the deeper fears of silicon man's psyche.

This piece is scripted in and by different media, dance as well as software packages, projected videos and computer animation, all of which create a multi-media future where soul becomes pixels and Vlad is a virus communicating through the Internet. The piece also connects into other social anxieties such as AIDS and urban incommunicability. The plot of a medical vaccine for Aids that, once mixed with blood, becomes a powerful addictive hallucinogenic, offers the chance to explore the subconscious sexual fears to which an isolated elite disconnected from the rest of society is prone. Just who is becoming peripheral and parasitical? The urban and computer-ignorant subcultures or the techno wizards who are beginning to dominate society? The play mirrors the deep suspicion that technologically driven "cures" generate a concomitant matrix of flaws and illnesses. The excesses of escapism in drugs and through the computer maze are the vices of those whose vision of the political and civic society is being reduced to self- stimulating information grabs.

Silicon man understands that the future is perhaps a prison where he can operate behind a virtual mask, communicating only with those with whom he shares a specific and refined interest and stimulant. This may sound like a laden polemic piece rather than what it is, an accomplished feat of integrated dance whose true themes are the interweaving of textures in sound, movement and image. The dancers, Streit and Marshall-Clark, move like transparencies through their electric maze.

Scene 14, Ascension, symbolises a hope which translates as a physical dispersal, a release from personal fate, an intermingling with a cosmic identity, and, as such, represents death and Nirvana, freedom from both self and responsibility. Such is the dream-time of the future's computer surfer, overdosed on the images of urban suffering and disorder, surfeit with the nuances of self, caught between personal development and peripheral privilege. Perhaps this piece demonstrates more than anything else that the superhighway is its own place and in itself can create a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.

(Ronan O'Donnell) (copyright 1994, Ronan O'Donnell)

Ronan O'Donnell is an Edinburgh based actor and theatre director who also reviews for The List magazine, the Edinburgh Fringe's premier critical platform.

Interview on Festival FM, Edinburgh

The Karen Davidson Show 1:10 pm August 30, 1994

A .Now, as promised, we have our guests in the studio today. With us are Leslie Streit who's the director and writer of the Dracula show Gus & Stephanie & I went and saw the other night.We also have Jean-Ann Marshall-Clark, who was the choreographer, and we have Robin McCain, who was the Technical Director. Have I got all that right?Can I ask you first of all, it's called Vlad DraculEa? It's got an e in it I wouldn't have expected.

L. Well, it's pronounced Dracula ,in the research on the show we found an alternative spelling in an old book about the Roumanian prince so we used that spelling.

A. Ok, so is this your first multimedia show, it uses film and...

L. No, we've been doing multimedia since 1989.

A. Tell me how you got together. You two are obviously trained dancers.

L. Well, Jean-Ann's been working with us since January. Robin & I initiated the company. I had a smaller company before that in 1986 and we continued into multimedia. We have a warehouse space in California where we come from.

R. It's very technical work that we're doing, requires lots of physical resources and as we've gone along, we've built up our capabilities...

L. and we're from Silicon Valley so the issues around the computers and the Silicon Valley industry are very pertinant to the work.

A. Do you have the films done first and fit the dances to them, or is it the other way around?

L. We work simultaneously, we layer everything in, so we'd be working on film and dances at the same time.

J. And Leslie, I would read the script and get imagery from the script and each dance has a certain time frame and story to it, like chapters in a book, so to speak, and I would work with her in terms of the imagery and we'd talk back and forth and I would go away and I would come up with movements and we'd come back and we'd work on the movements, and this feels right... A lot of process.

L. We're trying to create an integrated theatre form that uses many different art forms and is layered.

A. Let's talk about this particular one, the Dracula show, because I loved the premise that the AIDS cure and the Blood Club, I thought that was so fab, how'd you come up with that, where'd that come from?

L.(laugh) Inside my head, dreams...

J. I think you told me through discussions that you had a real interest in Dracula and the reappearance through history and through time...

L. It's a fascinating subject matter, and I am Eastern European in origin, so I felt an affinity toward it, and I think there's a great deal of sensuality in the show and this is an age in which sensuality is both promoted and squelched because of the AIDS epidimic, so it was a way of dealing with sensual erotic type of issues in a way that people could accept and deal with it in an alternative way.

A. Right, Gus wanted me to ask you about giving things to the audience, involving the audience like that. He got a CD, she got a globe, I didn't get anything...

L. Ahhhh... (laughs), we'll make up for that! Well, one of the things our company tries to do is to try to immerse the audience into the performance, itself, so our set comes out over the audience, you're actually sitting on the set as much as we could possibly do and still use the spece. We try and arrange it that way, and it's a way of involving you, of making you feel in a very non-threatening way that you are a part of this and you have a vested interest in what goes on.

A. It worked actually well, when Gus got the CD, and you said "use this only if you're caught", I thought that was great, through some nightmarish thing, just the sort of thing I have nightmares about. So what's next for you? Are you going to carry on with this multimedia thing, are you working on another piece?

L. Right now we're going to be performing in San Francisco the week after the Edinburgh Festival and then hope to be in Berkeley in the Bay Area, and go on to New Jersey in the East Coast in January. We don't know what else we'll do with this show but we're already working on a movie script called Hospital of the Mind.

A. Allright, well that sounds good too, was this the first time you've been to the festival here?

L. Yes it is.

A. But you'll come back next year?

L We hope so, we've had a great time.

J. We'd love to.

A. Now I said earlier that you're still where you were, and not where you're meant to be now so maybe you could just explain...

R. This has become a technical issue, had we been able to ship out full set from the States here, we would have been portable enough to have moved venues, unfortunately shipping costs were astronomical to ship something like three thousand pounds of steel, so we decided to rent locally, and when I went around to try to find scaffolding companies that had systems compatible with ours, I found that, well, Europe's a little bit different from the States and some of the things just aren't quite exactly equivalent, aside from voltages being different. So we found a company that supplied us with pipe and different clamps, and we literally reconstructed the set as closely as we could using the available materials. It is in a sense a different show because of this.

J. Very sturdy set. The set we have at home actually moves with us, whereas this set is massive. It has more of a castle like feeling, with big bolts on it (which we're not used to), it's very massive so it gave a different feeling to us as performers too.

L. I think every time we'll do this show in any space it will be a different show.

J. The dances are designed to be portable and changeable, whichever spece we're in, because we do alternative warehouse situations. They were also designed to fit wherever we happened to be, they're not designed around a proscenium arch.

A. Ok, well thanks very much for coming in, and your show runs 7:30 every night for the rest of the festival. Thank you!