New Tech: New Movement: New Future

New Tech: New Movement: New Future
Pavilion Dance South West, Bournemouth

My relationship with technology is best described as ‘complicated’. It’s a little like my relationship to Tony Blair – admiration for it’s ability to vision a brave new world and respect for it’s ability to effect change and equalities, tarred by a sneaking suspicion it will one day turn around, stab you in the back and sell you out for the dollar.

Working in dance, the physical body is our primary medium. I have always believed that dance’s unique strength is it’s visceral, kinetic connection. The stuff that makes our muscles twitch in empathy and buried recall, that makes our blood flow a little bit faster and makes us believe our bodies are dancing with them. 

Technology and physical performance both fascinates and scares me. It’s evolving so much quicker than the human body ever can. Please bear with me while I try to move beyond my reactionary body protectionist tendencies…..

At the same time that Pavilion Dance South West (PDSW) were holding this event, The Edge at Bath were also hosting CoLab. It’s astonishing that two regional arts organisations are so subliminally in tune. This is clearly important work. And work that Bristol based artists are pioneering with the support of PM studios – Julia Thorneycroft Dance and Zubr VR shared their ‘Immersion’ work in Bath while Laura Kriefman curated and presented at PDSW in Bournemouth.

And a mighty fine job she did too. There was a fascinating range of presenters; sound designers, installation artists, an aerialist, a vocal artist, tech developers, choreographers, dance researchers and artists. This was exciting grounds for collaboration, carefully structured to put technology tourists like me at ease.

Chagall, a musician and vocal artist working with programmed gloves that feed the music tracks, showed how the gloves have forced her to think like a dancer. She worked with a choreographer to develop her live performance and found that she could work with the technology to discover what her movement sounds like.

Composer Joseph Hyde spoke passionately about the power of sound to affect us; Karina James, an aerial artist who is registered blind, is working with audio description to see how she can make it more poetic and less didactic. Collaborators spoke about how they created a shared language between artists and digital experts rather than artists having to learn a new language and Jasmine Wilson from Studio Wayne McGregor explained how they worked with technology as an 11th company member, in a reiterating process of call and response.

Laura had pulled in some real pioneers here. I remember reading about the work of ‘body > data > space’ at Chisenhale back in the early 90s and feeling curious but bewildered. I had no way of imagining what they were writing about. Ghislaine Boddington explained how their work was about putting the body at the centre and how, since the fledgling telepresence technology of the early 90’s, we’ve become so much more tele-intuitive. Key to Ghislaine’s work is hearing and seeing each other at a distance. Headsets were proving a conundrum, leading her to question whether they are disembodiment or hyper embodiment, a question we got to explore over lunch.

Over lunchtime there was a chance to experience ‘Whist ’ by AфE, an experience ‘that merges physical theatre and mixed reality technology’. Queuing for our headsets, some of us couldn’t help but notice the body language of others already ‘in’ the experience. Feet firmly rooted while they took time to locate themselves and adjust, arms hanging ready against torsos, hands waiting. “They all look like zombies having the life sucked out of them!” said the person next to me. This was starting to look distinctly Black Mirror. 

Headset on, I entered a room with a trunk in the corner. A girl began to crawl out of the trunk, she scurried across the floor to different corners, scribbling indecipherable messages and sums, then moving with more velocity until I no longer knew where my feet were or where I was in the room.

This was beautifully crafted and gently discombobulating.  It merited more time than was possible to really appreciate this. I struggled to adjust to being in a shared space  without being able to see or make eye contact with others. I enjoy the communal moments of live performance and couldn’t help feeling that if I want a lone audience experience I can stay at home and watch telly. But perhaps I’m missing the point and actually the potential of this is way past being limited to traditional arts audiences. 

Kendra Horsborough of Birdgang, (to my mind a company of some of the most talented, exciting and relevant artists around), has been a PDSW Discovery Innovation artist in residence at Redweb – a creative technology company based in Bournemouth. Together they’d been exploring control and participation, with dancers controlled by the viewer via vibrating motors attached to the arm. They found that when you take choice and decision away from people it helps them learn to dance. Non dancers found contemporary dance more accessible and exciting than they had expected. 

Kendra is also R&Ding a new work, ‘Nox – Evidence of Absence’, a 360 VR experience whose starting point is the idea of an alter ego. In R&D Kendra explored how with dance as the main story telling tool, the video can guide and direct the audience rather than allowing total free choice of eye direction. Again, the concept of technology as a partner was central, “I wanted those moments when you feel like there’s a real exchange,” and the sense that technology’s impact can help us bypass conscious reaction, “The interaction can almost make you forget that you are dancing.” For an art form that always feels vulnerable and under resourced, this offers huge potential to reach new audiences and participants.

A recurring theme throughout the day was the fluidity, poetry and responsiveness it’s possible to produce with digital tools. An inviting offer to really make technology work for us. And reassurance that technology can work for those of us creating physically. Jasmine from Studio Wayne McGregor: “What’s interesting is that dance is about pushing the potential of the body. If technology makes this potential limitless it can become less meaningful and diluted. Neither can replace the other and they both need each other. What we’re looking at is how we make that seamless.”

Katy Noakes

For Theatre Bristol Agents 

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