Research

Through the lens of digital technologies, the definitions of dance, performance and art are shifting, creating “a new space to explore movement-based thinking” (Phelan 2010, 22). This consideration has initiated possibilities for dance to exist outside of its formal setting, as well as the questioning and stripping back of formalised dance technique and structure. Mid-twentieth century Post-Modern dance also created works that re-invented the ordinary through a fresh affiliation with art and dance. During this period, dance entered the gallery space, forging a home within art history. Since then the Tate Tanks and other arts venues have held many performance artists’ work and hosted thousands of visitors wanting to experience them. If Tate Modern was Musée de la danse? is a key example of“flushing the galleries with choreography and performance” and therebyshowcasing“art history that lives and breathes, made of dancers and made by dancers” (Roy 2015).

Although many artists and choreographers are coming back to the post-modern ideal of art in the ordinary, our understanding of the ordinary has shifted, as we are increasingly absorbed into digital culture and consumerism. Not surprisingly, the changing aesthetic of dance is now a blend of human movement and advanced technology. If the Internet Could Dance is a direct response to this, exemplifying a trans-disciplinary approach to choreography. This new attitude to dance making displays links with posthumanist art, which is widely debated within both philosophy and the arts. The posthuman appears when the artwork is “seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines” (Hayles 1999, 3). In the posthuman, “there are no essential differences or absolute demarcations between bodily existence and computer simulation” (Hayles 1999, 3); meaning artists interested in addressing the human condition of the digital age are increasingly expressing themselves through the application of technology.

One of the first key examples of computer-assisted choreographies is “Ghostcatching” (1999), (see fig. 2.) a collaboration between choreographer Bill T Jones and media artist Paul Kiser. This was an installation using motion-tracking software to capture a dancer’s movements, creating depth and dynamism on a two-dimensional surface (the computer screen). Jones comments “…there is no small irony in the exciting prospect of this most natural of human phenomena - the dance - being transformed through the medium of technology into a poetic parallel virtual incarnation.” (Jones 2002, 107) “Ghostcatching” brought new questions into the dance debate, such as, “what is human movement in the absence of the body?” (Boucher, 2011). Although the popularity of technology within dance has continued to grow since the millennium, it is important to keep asking how we can successfully utilise new technologies at the risk of sacrificing the physical and expressive qualities of dance.

Kaiser, P., Eshkar, S. and Jones, B. (1999). Still from Ghostcatching. 

Kaiser, P., Eshkar, S. and Jones, B. (1999). Still from Ghostcatching. 

In order to start working with interactive technology, the dance practitioner has to accept a new approach to dance making. Advocating this interaction, Birringer suggests that “connectivity and its inputs will move the dance” (Birringer 2006, 92) rather than the dancer simply moving through space. In developing this notion, many chorographers are now exploring interactive environments, largely through the use of sensors and projections; electronically sensitised spaces, such as The Intelligent Stage and Isadora (Troika Ranch). In these environments, the dance-digital collaboration becomes a bi-directional one; the projections react to the movement of the dancer, as the dancer reacts to his or her shifting environment. Dancers enter a new reality, slowly gain control and express themselves through it, thus the environment becomes an extension of the dancer (Krueger 1991, 217).

This collaboration introduces a significant change for performers. Not only are they responsible for delivering the performance, they are also responsible for interpreting and effecting the performance environment. However, performers’ ability to change their environment does not necessarily form a shift in choreographic practice, unless their movements are truly interactive and do not follow a predetermined choreographic structure. Interactive digital media only enters the conceptual dialogue of choreography when “its underlying principles are taken on board, and become central to the choreographing thinking” (Rubidge 2002, 5).

A performance that represents this bi-directional dance-digital relationship is “Glow” (2008), by Chunky Move and digital artist Frieder Weiss. Glow’s conjunction of dance and technology highlights a shift in dance aesthetic. “Glow” points away from the individuals trained body to the machine and human-technical fusion, producing a new “technological kinaesthetic” (Birringer 2004, 167). Previous boundaries have been discarded through the exploration of this fusion. Essentially, the divide between high art and popular culture is narrowing, creating this “new aesthetic … informed by contemporary graphics, design and gaming” (Sefton-Green 1999).

Weiss, F. and Obarzanek, G. (2007). Photograph from live performance of Glow.

Weiss, F. and Obarzanek, G. (2007). Photograph from live performance of Glow.

If the Internet Could Dance aims to challenge the superficial culture of online communication, empowering participants by allowing them to become part of the process of creating the physical work of art. “The immersive interactive installation is perhaps the epitome of interactive arts practice” (Rubidge 2002, 11). This new direction does not appear to empower the choreographer, however, who has to relinquish ownership when creating participatory work. Nevertheless, it could be argued creators of even improvised interactive dance works, including choreographic installations, do not necessarily relinquish their role as author as long as they are orchestrating their controlled environment. In this way, the author remains firmly implicated in the work.

Refrences

Phelan, Peggy. 2010. “Moving Centres.”  In Move: Choreographing You, edited by Stephanie Rosenthal, 22–30. London: Hayward Pub.

Roy, Sanjoy. 2015. “Musée De La Danse Five-star Review—Human Heaven in Living Dance Archive.” The Guardian. Accessed October 27, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com /stage/2015/may/17/musee-de-la-danse-tate-modern-sadlers-wells-review.

Hayles, K. 1999. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Jones, B.T. 2002. “Dancing and Cameras.” In Envisioning Dance on Film and Video, compiled by J. Mitoma, 103–107. New York: Routledge.

Boucher, Marc. 2011. “Virtual Dance and Motion-Capture—Contemporary Aesthetics.” Contemporary Aesthetics 9. Accessed July 19, 2015. http://www.contempaesthetics.org /newvolume/pages/article.php?articleID=614.

Birringer, Johannes. 2004. “Interactive Dance, the Body and the Internet.” Journal of Visual Art Practice 3 (3): 165–78. Accessed October 27, 2015. doi:10.1386/jvap.3.3.165/0.

Krueger, Myron. W. 1991. Artificial Reality II. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley.

Rubidge, Sarah. 2002. “Digital Technology in Choreography: Issues and Implications.” Paper presented at the 17th Annual Symposium of the Dance Society of Korea, Seoul, Korea, November 2.

Sefton-Green, Julian. 1999. Young People, Creativity and New Technologies the Challenge of Digital Arts. London: Routledge.

Rational

Dance as an art form is a wonderfully powerful mode of enquiry. In a world were we are becoming progressively disconnected from our bodies, what better way than to use dance and movement to explore the new questions we have about our digitised world and ourselves?

How can we investigate, critique or discuss these questions through dance? What dose dance offer as a counterpoint or a compliment to digital mediums or methods? Dance can present the everyday (both the body and our use of technology) in a physical and explorative way. Movement can display existing technologies through a fresh affiliation with our bodies, space, time and all in relation to each other.

In this virtual/digital landscape we have started to lose connection with our bodies. Many people see their body as a tool for getting from a to b, only a home for their brain, or something that has shame and dissatisfaction attached to it. We are sat down for much of the day and mainly in front of the computer.  What happens to our bodies when we go online, moving through the Internet? How could these hours of stillness be transferred into expressive movement? If possible, what would this movement look like and what would it say about the content that we are interacting with online?

This project aims to generate movement lost through our hours of sitting still. This will be achieved by creating a program that transforms webpages into choreographic scores. The choreographic/movement scores will use the ‘Language of Dance’ notation system created by Dr Ann Hutchinson Guest. This movement alphabet has been chosen due to its accessible nature; in this way anyone can explore the scores. This dance notation system works by connecting symbols with movement/dance terminology.

The language of Dance symbols stem from Labanotation, which was developed in 1928 by Rudolf Laban. Labanotation is a system for recording movement through symbols and can provide even more detail than film. Dr Hutchinson Guest started studying Labanotation in the 1930's and since became a world-renowned expert in dance notation. Through her studies and use of Labanotation Dr Hutchinson Guest found that although it provided great detail, Labanotation left no room for self-expression or creativity for performers. She went on to develop the Language of Dance notation system, which provided a score that would act as a framework for movement that would be a collaboration between maker and mover. By using movement vocabulary such as, turning, traveling, stillness, balance, fall, the symbols create a choreographic structure or sequence that the performer can follow and complete with their own artistic interpretation.

By combining these symbols with html tags, I want to show the fundamentals of both web construction and movement creation. By offering these two building blocks I want to say ‘it is not the technology itself that is destructive, but how we chose to use it’. The works intention is to use the websites as a site of movement creation, whereas usually they are sites of sitting still. To connect people with the movement potential of their bodies, even just for a little while.

In this way, the objective is to create a piece of software where the user can input any webpage address and the output would be a movement score, created using the data of the webpage. The output would come in two forms, the symbols and an audio that would read out the symbols. This will mean anyone can enjoy the work, with aural or visual impairments. The work could run as an installation where the movements are shown on the screen or spoken through headphones. With one computer on each side two people could participate at the same time, creating duets. 

It could also be used to create more set choreographic works, using multiple webpages and dancers to create a performance. This would mean spending time with the dancers, creating and learning the movement material and then performing live or for film. These more formalised works could explore a theme or set of webpages that would bring a specific context to the work, for example, a collection of webpages about a particular news story or event.

The project should be fun and experimental, hoping to engage people in an experience that will reconnect them with the vast movement potential of their bodies. Allowing them to be playful while also highlighting our current state of stillness.

This work aims to join the discussion of gaining a clearer understanding of how we use technology to transform our immaterial self. Through online interactions, we can practice being a different kind of person and this is also true when dancing. Online, we construct an avatar or profile, when dancing we perform a role. Understanding this basic link highlights that dance and performance could be greater utilised when it comes to talking about some of the complicated questions we ask about ourselves as an online generation.

Interdisciplinary dance works that utilise technology can provide an artistic outlook that aids our understanding of who we are right now and who we could become. Through our collaboration with technology, it is clear we are at the brink of a radically new age and dance will not be immune to change. Therefore it is important for dance and movement participation to be used creatively and productively as an investigative tool to explore our digital world.