I was curious about IRL. A dance piece billed as a 'thought-provoking performance about navigating life in an increasingly intrusive and connected world'. It could have gone either way. But the young @YonderDanceCo from Alabama managed to find the sweet spot between interactivity, playfulness and profundity.

The inventiveness didn't stop, and it led to moments of real beauty

The opening section is particularly beautiful. They asked us to take out our phones. Navigate to a specific website. And play the audio file that we found there. The sound of music drifting around the space, playing out of 60 different devices, all at slightly different times, was a gorgeous spectacle and a clever way to get us to 'lean in' from the very beginning.

The inventiveness didn't stop, and it led to moments of real beauty on the stage at Greenside Nicholson Square. The dancers weave in and out of each other, in what the company call the "manipulated and accented use of pedestrian phrasing". A small group peels off to explore a new idea, the rest of the company mill around them, taking photos, sharing updates on Instagram, making video calls with friends and family. The interplay between focus and distraction, togetherness and separation, is neatly executed time and time again.

You're encouraged to use your phone during the performance. At one point I found myself taking a photo of another audience member who was taking a photo of a performer who was filming his fellow performers. Meta as heck. And that's exactly what Yonder want. I was amazed at how, despite literally everyone having their phones in their hands for the duration of the piece, nobody seemed disengaged.

This is the central theme of IRL. Our relationship with our phones. How they bring us together and pull us apart and delight and torment us. It's not a perfect show, and at times feels a little unfocused and lapses into cliche. How many times have we seen people on a stage pretending to be commuters on a jostling train?

Luckily they push through the obvious and find these moments of beauty. 'plz "like" me' is a lovely scene that explores the schizophrenic relationship we have to social media; our desire to be liked juxtaposed with our fear of being exposed. And as IRL draws to a close, the lights dim. Perhaps the most engaging dancer in the company, Drew Martin (or @drew_martin1), stands upstage centre, his face lit only by the flickering light of his phone screen. Suddenly flashlights from the other performers' phones turn on. The audience start to turn theirs on too. It's a beautiful end to a surprising performance.

You could do much worse than to check out IRL. But be quick. Their final performance is on the 10th August.

Reviews by Jim Ralley

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The Blurb

Our digital lives are demanding more and more of our attention, occupying our mental and emotional space. Join us for a thought-provoking performance about navigating life in this increasingly intrusive and connected world. Yonder has brought together award-winning choreographers and composers to explore the challenges of living in a society where technology demands and offers so much. Don't forget to bring your phone. You're going to need it.

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