Critical Mass

Excerpts of dance with app explanation
Complete dance (note that this Vimeo link WILL take you to the complete dance)


Critical Mass explores the nature of the social media environment our society is creating through the use of smartphones. Technologies humans invent often provide opportunities to benefit the human condition as well as a means for our destruction. In this dance, we make an analogy to the dangers and opportunities provided the world by nuclear technology. The environment of the dance is expanded into and within the audience by direct engagement through our custom smartphone technology. The audience is able to form an 'online' community by texting and sending selfies to the large cube onstage. The cube becomes a character itself, communicating directly with the audience's phones. The dancers share the thought processes behind their dance solos via the phone app, encouraging understanding of, and deeper engagement with, contemporary dance. The audience is physically brought into the dance through invitations to come onstage. They are also asked to vote on their favorite dance duet, after which the dance changes in response to the vote totals. This gives the audience agency in the progression of the dance. The cube and phones eventually 'meltdown' to end the dance, leaving everyone with the question of whether or not technology is a means to a good end.


Choreography and Creative Direction John Toenjes, Chad Michael Hall

Smartphone Programming M. Anthony Reimer

Music Ken Beck

Costumes Miriam Jurgensen

Lighting David Krupla

Projections John Boesche, John Toenjes

Dancers Taylor Adams, Carli Liguori, Danielle Mastricola, Lauren Mendelson, Alexis Miller, Jennifer Oelerich, Tia Pruitt, Isabella Sadler

Student Impressions of Critical Mass (from DANC 110 class at University of Illinois)

• The cell phone app was the most interesting piece of technology used in my opinion. I had never heard of dancer’s using a phone app to guide the performance and to allow you to act and react to the story line. I thought in some ways it could be distracting because of all of the sounds and images that popped up throughout the show BUT at the same time forced the audience to pay attention. I think many times people wander off into their cell phones during performances which is very annoying. What I noticed was most of the audience was drawn in because of the use of technology. They wanted to see what would happen during the performance, they wanted to see how the app reacted, and they could almost have cared less about their Facebook, twitter, Instagram and other modes of social media. Overall, I think the phone app was a success for that particular dance and improved the audience’s interest… I would have also liked to see more perspectives on social media. One area of interest for me, as a psychology major, is how much social media influences psychopathology. How has depression, anxiety, bi polar, Cyclothymia, dysthymia etc. rates increased with social media and what does that mean for our society? Perhaps I would have added a dancer that viewed social media as a means of creating illness not wellness. — Allyson B.

• The concept of social media and nuclear energy seemed fairly clear to me, or at least much more clear than the remaining 3 acts, most of which offered very little explanation. The first act had a lot of ideas that were executed extremely well, and the inclusion of the app really helped drive the point home. The audience choosing their favorite duet is more than just interesting in the sense that it engages the audience, it also seems to be referencing the judgmental nature of social media and showing us what people go through in order to be liked…It was a super cool performance though, and I really like what you came up with. I agree that the use of technology made the performance much more engaging, or at least novel. I remember much more of this performance than the other three in the show, even though it was the first one. — Nick O.

• The nuclear metaphor relating a radioactive meltdown to the breaking point or critical mass of Internet consumption of an idea or concept was quite astonishing. At all times I was drawn to the fabulous lighting, unique stage design, and thought-provoking monologues coming from my phone. To say that it was innovative does not do it justice. I am so completely blown away by the performance that I want to take the time to praise in explicitly in the first part of my reflection. I had never seen a dance performance like this, but it is safe to say that I am now a lifelong fan of contemporary dance because of ‘Critical Mass’. Going back to the concept being transferred to the stage, I appreciated the towering, almost god-like presence of the cube. The humor that was sprinkled in intermittently over the course of the show allowed for the critical mass metaphor to be presented without being too ‘overindulgent’ is the word that comes to mind. Without the humor, the good and bad of Internet consumption of social media domination would have been more difficult to ascertain.

The aesthetics of the performance, to me, we the electronic lighting that simulated the type of light that comes from a smartphone. The cube itself, flashing various funny picture and nuclear images, presented a strange but accessible format by which the audience received the information. The app, although it crashed many times during the performance, forced me to become fully immersed in the show. The initial immersion, in addition, primed me to pay closer attention to the following shows, elevating my enjoyment of them as well. The wonderful thing about the show, I feel, is that it is a good introduction to contemporary dance. — Jake P.

• Critical mass combined cell phone with the dance. The cellphone app was directly connected to the screen on the cube that people can post their photos and messages onto it. Another use of the app is to vote for the dance that audience want to see. Also we can hear the dancer’s thoughts about the theme of the dance –social media. The cube on the stage was also very novel, it had a door to let the dancers hide inside and come out, and each side of the cube had screens connected to the app. When the cube rotated, people can see different parts on the app such as images or dancer’s interviews. Critical mass to me is like a nuclear center, and the dancers were like the splits of the center. The dancers wore security clothes to represent the danger of the nuclear, and the app fully represented the social media. This dance is very unique and I think it has a bright future. Cell phones, ipads are inseparable parts in life, the combination of these technologies with dance could be the main stream in the future. — Jiayue S.

• The only piece that felt truly alive for my money was the first performance, “Critical Mass”. Prof. Toenjes’ piece offered an experience that was thought-provoking and consistently engaging throughout its entirety. Its paranoid setting was brought to life through the use of the costumes on the dancers that looked like they were in a radioactive area, through the echoes of glitch and static that would erupt at seemingly random intervals from phones in the audience, and from the chaos of having so many different elements happening at once, very reminiscent of the Mark Morris dances where the stage was filled with performers. — Matt N.