Saturday, January 09, 2010

Under the Radar Festival: Space Panorama

Photo/Nitin Vadukul

Given how easily Andrew Dawson's Space Panorama conjures up the famous 1969 moon landing, using nothing other than his dexterous fingers and a flat black table, I can at last understand why some people still insist that the whole thing was a hoax. Then again, while Dawson's pulling off a sort of theatrical prestidigitation--epic mime, if you will--his act is no simple trick. Instead, it's a sublime ode to human accomplishment, aided by Gavin Robertson's jovially recorded narration and Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony. It puts the "special" in "special effect"; no matter how much money James Cameron throws at a project, it will never be as genuine.

That's because Dawson's Space Panorama forces the audience to be just as imaginative as he is. Though at first words accompany the gestures--undulating hands are butterflies, missiles are fingers whipping through the air--they are just as often left behind, allowing the triangular shape formed by connecting one's thumbs and pointers to speak for itself as it slowly moves through space. In addition, the specific intimacy of each action gives us a new appreciation for scale: if Dawson's palm represents the moon, Luna, then that ship is less than a fingernail in the air. As Shostakovich's music builds to the first crescendo, Dawson shows us a fingertip-jeep moving across the table toward a giant, towering arm-shuttle. The scene shifts and suddenly Dawson's entire body is aping that of the nonchalant driver of that jeep, a man content to just chew gum. A moment later, his fingers have turned to legs, legs that truly turn such small steps into such great leaps.

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