In a mad dash from person to person, the cast of Luca Silvestrini’s Protein (formerly Protein Dance) tackle love, loneliness and life online in LOL (Lots of Love). Racing through space to the buzzing, bleeping, chiming and clicking of Andy Pink’s techno-inspired score, six dancers whiz, dive and flit between one another as if physically enacting the high-speed connections of online networking.
We are bombarded with information as voices overlap, narratives swap and change, and images flicker past, projected on the screen behind. In one short section, three dancers perform an online conversation jabbing and jolting their bodies to the sounds of rattling computer keys, while in another the whole cast become mechanical doll-like avatars, tottering along on straight legs and waving with stiff stuttering arms.
There is a great deal of stand-up-style humour built into the work, such as one-liners dropped in by Sally Marie in her accurate portrayal of a barmy, desperate woman, exclaiming ‘I don’t mind if you’re a little bit disabled, you’ve probably got a lot of personality’. Equally, Kip Johnson’s charisma drives this work forwards with his casual harmless wit, bopping along with '80s moves in a club-style scene, as his comrades perform a slick hip routine.
However, despite the mirth of Marie and Johnson, it soon becomes clear that there is darkness behind the humour. In one scene between Johnson and Stuart Waters, the two meet in real life after, as Kip puts it, ‘having already met’ online. Yet, as Johnson innocently recounts to us the events of their meetings, Waters fearlessly shoves, clings to and leaps on Johnson, at one moment heart-stopping moment even springing up to stand on top of Johnson’s shoulders. But, despite the abuse and discomfort we begin to feel at watching this, Johnson passively and obliviously continues his story, unaware of the danger his online relationship is putting him in.
Indeed, as the work reaches the final few scenes and the dancers meet as a real-life couple, the harsh realities of the online world begins to hit home. As one man bursts into tears and another buttons his date, arms and all, into his white coat like a straitjacket, we begin to see that without the safety net of technology, real life has become a frightening and uncomfortable world.
Performed with charm, whit and personality, the success and poignancy of LOL is due to the extreme relevance it has to our lives today. Indeed, as Johnson cradles and clings to a web of wires, we begin to question what we are most attached to: real-life relationships or technology. Yet, it is not until after the show, when logging on to Facebook or Twitter, that the true impact of the work hits us and returning to our online worlds seems somehow different, if only briefly, in light of LOL.