Dance Making and Digital New Media - Can we trip machine intelligence with dancing?
In 2019, myself and team of creatives performed Touching a dance performance for Laban Theater in London. The dance work was my reflection on the contemporary moment and the ruthless commercialization of everyday life pressing us all to be Instagram-ready and fashion-forward as we live surveilled in a stubborn and - wittingly or unwittingly – excluding and sexist world. The intention was that Touching complicates the projected narrative onto each of us to be and act as we are expected to by society at large. Using MoCap data live on stage, the dancers moved with their digital partner doubles to challenge the relationship between the physical and digital self.
In researching for this dance choreography we made several new and interesting discoveries about bringing the digital and the physical together in performance. Still, in directing and choreographing the dance I wasn't interested in communicating a specific message or meaning per se. The multiple associations, meanings and narratives that an audience member might find in the work are the product of that individual audience member's internal world interacting with the performance which itself is a product of the intersection of data, dancers, projections, algorithms, and music.
In Touching, data gives meaning as much as humans do. This thought experiment was based on the idea that the human-centric perspective is a limited one in the post-human, post-sovereignty, post-nature world we live in contemporarily (..and really are we post- or are we compost? Following in Donna Haraway). At the same time, the human perspective is the only one we have. In this performance I aimed to incorporate all the normally passive elements, such as props, costumes, and lighting as active one's to reflect on the power of things which are there but cant be seen (such as, for example, the internet).
The virtual and online world that surrounds us through constant instantaneous socially engendered image is different than the internal embodied experience of ourselves. And yet they are both parts of who we all are and have enormous transformative abilities. Contextualized through mediatization as an influence on society and therefore art and culture, my research correlates an entangled relationship of embodiment, mediatization, performance, and image.
A deep listening somatics approach to training and practice of the dancing bodies was a core element of the process alongside explorations of the virtual in our R&D.
I created small experiments one in which an Avatar entered the dance studio with the dancers. An interiorization particular for each of the dancers was carefully structured before hand by somatics training and informed the dancing with the Avatar. In the end, the choreography is each dancer interpreting me and my dancing through their own personal collection and archive of their dancing body as well as thorough their newly built interiority through the somatics practice. Sometimes the information they received was from me directly in the dance studio and sometimes it was what they saw from the point of view of the Avatar or in other words, through computer vision.
Touching has two intra-connecting parts. One is a live performance and the other a virtual reality (VR) experience of the choreography. I attempted to intersect the live dancing body and its physical sensory system with algorithmic machine-produced images through explorations on embodiment and disembodiment (disembodiment via the virtual body Avatar - which is the only way I have found thus far to explore disembodiment - as it is the only way one might leave their own body).
To summarise I am as much a fan of wearing a gorgeous vintage dress in a photograph and distributing it via social media as many people are today (see proof of this here) and I am not saying that we need to all stop doing that, in other words engaging and producing ourselves through digital images. I am saying that I have decided to take a critical and creative look. I took a look at how we got to this moment when the digital image holds so much of us, what we are actually doing when we produce and distribute ourselves in this way through digital images, and what if it's possible to choose differently sometimes? What if our images are distorted? What if chaos, intra-action, and poetry rather then intention and composition generate and create our reality. My dance practice as research explores these provocations. In the following few blogs I will share with you my findings on dancing in the age of surveillance.