What is the ominous PYLON? In each installment of the PYLON series, audiences get a different view. There is always the disorienting use of projection and surveillance equipment, lighting and music, to create an immersive environment for dance and movement. This is true, too, of PYLON III, premiering at Cornish Playhouse on February 8. However, for this finale the mise-en-scène will be more amped than ever to create a multilayered, multimedia experience within a more traditional theatre setting.
PYLON I at the Paccar Pavilion in The Olympic Sculpture Park brought attendees in among performers. PYLON II (which premiered at the arts and technology fest 9e2) kept the audience in place, but seated in a novel configuration: It was like an ominous runway show, whose catwalk was a long red carpet terminating at a red wall. The dancers, dressed in zentai, used the full length of it, marching, crawling, twisting beneath angled screens, on which were projected digital images and drone’s-eye-views of a city.
PYLON II was staged at King Street Station’s third floor, which, like the Paccar Pavilion, is a kind of panopticon. The pavilion looks out into the sweeping darkness of the bay and beyond. The station looks out onto the city itself and even to our city’s largest panopticons, the stadia. In these settings, the choreography—at turns sexy, sinister, disturbed—worldlessly conveyed a fully realized, tightly controlled world whose denizens were not entirely themselves.
PYLON III is the highly anticipated finale to the series, and in advance of its opening, we asked its mastermind, Coleman Pester, to discuss the past, present and future of this work.
VS: Can you tell us briefly about the origins of the PYLON series? Was it always in your head to make it a trilogy?
Coleman Pester: PYLON was initially conceptualized in 2015 with my previous collaborator Ethan Folk (who eventually relocated to Berlin). We began by analyzing complex and gigantic societal systems that enabled fear and control. This evolved into questions of how do we personify these systems, which led us to the entity that is “PYLON.”
We didn’t initially conceive of the series as a trilogy, but wanted it to have multiple differing iterations and forms. At one point Ethan and I were discussing up to eight different works, all of different scale and at diverse performance sites. After PYLON I, Ethan relocated and I continued directing the PYLON series solo. It was then that I decided a trilogy would be the course of this series and it aligned with the commissions that I was receiving.
VS: In both Pylon I and II, the staging was nontraditional. What are the challenges of moving to a traditional stage environment for Pylon III?
Coleman Pester: The challenges of shifting to a traditional stage environment have been huge. Some of the initial conceptions for PYLON III were around how to shift a traditional performance space into an immersive environment that will engage the audience directly, rather than allowing them to be passive. The Cornish Playhouse is a union house and has very rigid rules about what can or can’t be done and how things are to be done.
As logistics began to clarify, the collaborative team had to shift our focus towards using the set and sound to create a more immersive world. We will be utilizing projection mapping, sculptures, robotic arms with lasers, a hazer, and a fuck-ton of sound to do so
VS: Tell us about your collaborators and how you have been working with them on this project.
Coleman Pester: My collaborators are each brilliant artists in their own right. We’ve been having biweekly check-ins with the full team throughout the process since September. It’s difficult to describe our process because it has unfolded so erratically, with many layers formulating at the same time.
During the beginning phases of PYLON III, there was a lot of improvisation happening daily in the studio with the performers. The sound composer (Monika Khot) and visual designers (Alex Boeschenstein and Ben Chaykin) were generating a ton of content for us to engage with. Eventually we began to find structures to start to pour the work into, and defined six sections of the work. Those sections began to build a narrative through line.
The narrative led to understanding the dynamic arc of the work. The performers were doing a lot of writing to process throughout these early stages. Material began to stick and codify. As dance material began to solidify, we then would take it apart and put it together in even more simple or complicated attempts. The whole process has consisted of ample collaboration and searching for questions to guide us. As a result, the work is nuanced and layered in a way that contains pieces from each artist and allows us to each meet the work in a different and complete way.
VS: Ideas of surveillance and virtual spaces have been a key element in the Pylon series, and the staging, video and sound design have been crucial to conveying this wordlessly. How are these ideas shaping Pylon III?
Coleman Pester: Essentially, the performative world that PYLON III exists in is a metaphorically virtual space. For this work, we’ve been focused on dissecting time in a nonlinear form and having performers traverse through that skewed timeline in order to defy the logic of real-time. We use surveillance as the eyes of PYLON to create an ominous and oppressive, nonhuman presence looming throughout each section of the narrative. Alex Boeschenstein’s animation renderings project actual virtual spaces within the performance space and serve to further create the visual sensation of a virtual world onstage. You can definitely expect to see the same amount of video and sound engagement as previous PYLONs.
VS: This may be the end of the Pylon series, but are you still planning on exploring some of its themes in future work, or are you ready to move in a new direction?
I am definitely ready to move in a new direction. In knowing my process, I understand my work is always accumulating and being informed by my past work. It will be impossible to not carry these explorations into what I make next.
PYLON III is at Cornish Playhouse for two nights only, Thursday, February 8 and Friday, February 9. $20 general admission. Get tickets online.