How did we ever live without YouTube? It has saved my day many times with do-it-yourself tutorials, it also helps me with cooking, yoga and education of all kinds. Mostly I watch recordings of dance performances, which I can do for hours. But only after seeing a live performance of Forecasting by Barbara Matijević & Giuseppe Chico (Premier Stratagème) in 2013, during Platforma HR Festival in Zagreb, did I start paying attention to choreographic patterns in non-dance YouTube videos. I saw Forecasting again at Spring Forward 2018 in Bulgaria, alongside Núria Guiu Sagarra’s Likes – which is when I started seeing social media patterns in dance performances.
Forecasting focuses on amateur videos. The first part is inspired by tutorials so Barbara Matijević is handling different appliances and sex toys, stirring eggs, chopping carrots, shaving. Likes on the other hand focuses cover dance videos – a phenomenon originating from Korea, where fans imitate the moves of their favourite pop singers – and on various forms of yoga classes. Here Guiu Sagarra demonstrates typical cover dance moves such as pumps and curves, followed by basic yoga positions like warriors, triangles, twists and bends.
This particular kind of content sees the body always trying to ‘improve’ physically, mentally and practically. It seems there’s no human issue YouTube cannot help you solve. That’s an enormous amount of knowledge right at our fingertips – and I imagine YouTube as an extended body part which is always there when we get stuck. This idea is central to Forecasting, a duet between Barbara Matijević and her laptop that can be viewed as a hybrid human-machine solo. Her body is an extension of the screen image.
YouTube is also a window to a bizarre world of rare skills, no matter how ridiculous they seem. The second part of Forecasting is inspired by animal videos, with people performing stunts with their pets so now Matijević’s choreography gets more ‘acrobatic’ by playing guitar with a bird, showing off tricks a hamster can do, kissing a gecko, or lying still while a dog licks her all over. As the piece progresses the images become even more eccentric, with massage by stiletto heel, dismembering of dead animals, and gun shootings. Dramatised in this manner, video clips make us think about the lunatic human image that YouTube will leave for future generations (hence the title Forecasting).
There’s the vanity issue of course: the amount of likes grows exponentially when the bodies shown are beautified, cute-fied and sexy-fied. So we go from showing off our knowledge and skills to showing off our physical attractiveness. The last part of Forecasting draws its inspiration from self-promo videos so Matijević is singing, performing experiments and crafting strange objects. At the beginning of Likes, Guiu Sagarra explains her interest in the relation between body image and the content’s popularity, and so was studying the physical activities on YouTube that generate the most audience likes.
Even though dramaturgically very different, both pieces in their structure mimic the way we consume social media. The images in Forecasting are short and interrupted, skipping from one to another, just as we scroll through our timelines. Audience engagement rates on social media jump in proportion to the amount of skin, cleavage or muscle shown. Similarly, Likes gradually and craftily transforms from a formal lecture-demonstration into a kitschy peep-show. First Guiu Sagarra sits at her laptop, scientifically explaining her research interest and methodology derived from anthropology. Then she juxtaposes the two movement sources – yoga and cover dancing – until they becomes seamless. Meditative yoga poses turn into sexy look-at-me showing-off, lip-synching to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape Of You’ and seeking audience encouragement to go nude.
After watching Forecasting and Likes you will certainly never watch YouTube content with the same eyes again – and you might even wonder about the influence of your own lives and likes on the contemporary dance creation, production and backing. ●