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2016 Fall Culture Guide

A Dance for the Dark Net

Photo: Clayton Hauck

In The Fifth, Philip Elson explores the world of whistleblowers, hacktivists, and digital crusaders.

By Lauren Warnecke

Published Sept. 12, 2016

Four days a week, Philip Elson posts up in a corner of the Apple store in Old Orchard mall, where he spends the better part of each day consoling customers who find themselves overwhelmed by their gadgets. “Technology has always been a fascination for me,” says Elson, who, in addition to being a Genius at the Genius Bar, is an ensemble member with the modern dance company the Seldoms. “I take on people’s fears of this thing that I find so fascinating.”

The complex dynamic between humans and technology is at the heart of Elson’s new choreographed piece, The Fifth. Steeped in stories of online whistleblowers and hackers whose identities have become a national fixation—Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, for example—The Fifth is a visual representation of the individuals behind the crusades. “I’m putting this new content in an old form of presentation,” says Elson, whose stage directions include a set of elastic bands and white tubes to suggest computer transmissions. “I’m not celebrating whistleblowers and hacktivists, but revealing their humanity.”

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