The Scotsman Sessions #404: WAMNAM

Welcome to the Scotsman Sessions, a series of short video performances from artists all around the country introduced by our critics. Here, dance collective WAMNAM perform an extract from a longer piece, Digital Dance Odyssey

In an era when most entertainment is consumed digitally, it’s inevitable that artists will have something to say about how that work is accessed and appreciated. This Scotsman Session from WAMNAM, a dance group formed in 2022 at the Dance House in Leith, has multiple layers.

Firstly, it’s a video recording of a live show – a short segment carved from a longer piece called Digital Dance Odyssey. So far so simple, but the piece itself explores the digital representation of a predominantly live artform – dance – which in turn poses questions about the benefits and deficits involved in viewing movement through a lens rather than on stage.

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The opening scene in WAMNAM’s Scotsman Session will be recognisable to most of us – people walking around, almost zombie-like, eyes glued to their phones. The central character attempts to interact with them but to no avail – whatever is on their screen is clearly more interesting. As they enter her orbit, it’s as if her body has lost all autonomy, reacting puppet-like to the phone-users. Comparisons to the lure and pressures of social media are not lost.

Out of this absence of control, however, a sense of empowerment is born. A shift in music and lighting accompanies a new way of being, where our heroine is the one in charge. Finding a phone in her pocket, she swipes the screen and a dancer bursts into life, popping and locking. Yet just as he’s getting started, a finger swipe renders him motionless and he’s replaced by a new dancer, leaping daintily with balletic grace. So it continues, with each performer demonstrating a different style, from whacking to contemporary and commercial dance, all of them at the behest of the yawning finger-swiper, who quickly loses interest despite the talent on display.

It’s hardly a news flash that short attention spans and a desire for something new often govern our use of social media. But WAMNAM’s approach to demonstrating this comes with a second, more positive layer. With each change in style, the lead character attempts to learn the moves, something many dancers have used the internet for since the advent of YouTube. The ability to share tips, promote work and play artistically with digital platforms is a definite upside of the online world, but not always a good experience. “There’s a larger meta-structure and narrative to Digital Dance Odyssey that’s a reflection of our experience as a dance crew trying to grow on social media,” say WAMNAM, who prefer to be quoted as a single entity. “So we strike a balance between exploring the darker consequences of social media on art and dance, but also make light of it.

“Our aim is to reveal the hard work and time that goes into online content creation and to inspire the audience to reflect on the impact modern digitalisation has on the way artists create and present their work. But also how this affects the way we consume performance as viewers, and how we interact with each other as a society.”



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