~e; the electromagnetic dance

From human being <human@electronetwork.org>
Date Mon, 29 Apr 2002 20:46:06 -0500

  [below is an article which is of high-value with regard to
  the breadth of electronics in the traditional disciplines of
  the arts, in this case, dance. had remotely heard or saw the
  troupe from San Francisco, probably in a TV news report on
  the Webby's or something. or Tech TV or CNET TV or whatever
  was once on television (or the .com part of the tv news on
  the local station, with the rest of the news). in any case,
  had saw (televised) Merce once using and talking about the
  software which he was using to test the limits of dancers,
  it seemed, by using the 'poseur'-like-software to go to new
  positions by way of experimentation with the body as an e-
  model of movement. in any case, just like shakespeare and
  EM, so too, dance. as dancers could interpret EM or could
  like the below use EM tools and integrate them in perform-
  ances. have admired dance but like music, little understood.
  so it is great to know more about these explorations, and
  performances such as these (or, for example, high-tech events
  as has the 'cirque de soliel' become, with EM technologies)
  are something which can open up imaginations to new worlds.]

** full article with URLs from Wired News, online at:

Borg of the Dance
By Jenn Shreve

2:00 a.m. April 29, 2002 PDT

In a nondescript concrete soundstage nestled between classrooms at the
University of Maryland-Baltimore County, three dancers are leaping,
embracing, lifting and lunging their way through a routine against
the backdrop of an unadorned wall.

But for audience members tuning in on Internet2, the sight is quite
different. The onscreen stage is set with digital props -- moving
visions of city streets, flea market stands and World Trade Center
rubble. Live images of the dancers are interspersed with the film. At
times they seem to sashay through the streets and float above the
debris before slipping offstage, which in this case is any place a
camera is not.

Slowly but surely, the ancient art of dance has gone digital.

Choreographers are using software to create their pieces. Working with
video-conferencing, video-editing, and motion-capture techniques,
academics and dance companies are transforming the stage from a
physical space into something that can exist in many places at once
-- a specialty known as telematics. With elaborate "wearables" and
sensor-equipped stages, they've endowed physical movement itself with
new dimensions and properties such as sound.

If the connection between dance and technology is not immediately
apparent to you, rest assured you're in good company. Dance, after
all, is a medium that uses the physical body as an instrument, while
technology by definition is once-removed from the natural body.

"There are some people who would call the idea of mediating the human
body with technology sacrilegious," says Mark Coniglio, co-founder of
Troika Ranch, a Brooklyn dance company that has pioneered the use of
technology in performance. Indeed, traditionalists aren't likely to
warm to a fully wired dancer or a tap-dancing robot.

But for people like Coniglio, the need to bring the two worlds
together was obvious -- technology could make the body move in ways
it never could on its own. Performances would no longer be limited by
stages. Audiences could be introduced to new ways of enjoying and
seeing dance.

To this end, Coniglio created the Midi Dancer, a wireless contraption
that, when worn, generates sounds activated by the wearer's movements.

John Mitchell, director of the Dance Multimedia Learning Center at
Arizona State University, developed an interactive stage equipped
with motion sensors that set off various audio-visual events when a
dancer crosses their path.

Carol Hess, chair of UMBC's dance department and choreographer of the
performance described at the beginning of this article, uses video to
play with the audience's focus -- for example, a close-up of a
dancer's tensed muscles will appear on a screen behind the dancer --
or simply to become the stage itself, as in the streaming

The very notion of what constitutes a dancer is now up for grabs, as
choreographer Doug Hamby proved when he collaborated with UMBC
engineering professor Tony Farquhar to choreograph a six-legged robot
named Maurice TombČ.

Until recently, only a few dance-world oddballs scattered around the
globe mixed dance with technology.

"In the beginning, people thought we were crazy," ASU's Mitchell says.
"There was a following. It was very much underground, a very small
group of people around the world doing it. It's really blossomed now.
It has to be because the world has changed."

"In a sense," echoes Johannes Birringer, a choreographer and
multimedia artist who directs Ohio State University's dance and
technology programs, "the analog world has shifted into the digital
world, so it became a natural progression for me to explore the
potential for new media language, new digital technologies and their
place in art."

Indeed, in the late 1990s, as universities pressured all departments
to become technologically with-it, dance academics began realizing
that high-tech was to become integral to their work whether they
liked it or not.

"We had a big dance and technology festival here in 1999," Mitchell
says. "I felt that was a watershed year. The big difference was that
dance administrators came to that conference and they all wanted to
know about integrating technology into their programs. Previous dance
and technology conferences had been fairly small, a hundred people;
this was like 500."

It certainly didn't hurt that some big names also got into the act
early on. As far back as 1991, acclaimed choreographer Merce
Cunningham was using the choreography software Life Forms to create
his pieces. In 1997 Mikhail Baryshnikov performed Heartbeat, a dance
that used technology developed at MIT to amplify the Russian dancer's
heartbeat so the audience could hear it as he performed.

Today, graduate students at Ohio State can obtain an MFA in Dance and
Technology, and dance departments increasingly are teaching motion
capture and video-editing skills alongside movement and choreography.
The Association for Dance and Performance Telematics (ADAPT), a
consortium of five universities, now meets regularly via Web
conference to further exploration of performance and choreography via
the Internet.

A small marketplace for dance-related software such as Life Forms and
OSU's LabanWriter dance notation software has sprung up as well.
Coniglio's Isadora software, which facilitates real-timevideo
manipulation, is also popular.

Dance companies like Troika Ranch and Capacitor, which are pioneering
technology as medium and subject through performance, are growing in

And audiences, already accustomed to technology's influence over
nearly every aspect of their lives, seem primed to accept dance's
dramatic transformation from a kinetic, physical medium to something
less tangible but rich with new possibilities.

Copyright (C) 1994-2002 Wired Digital Inc. All rights reserved.

[fair-use, ~e.org 2oo2. see original article for referenced URLs.]

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