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.