The use of technology in collaboration by Casson and Friends

Casson & Friends was a show curated by Tim Casson featuring a collection of contemporary dance pieces. The show was performed in March 2015 at Sadler’s Wells. The theme of the evening was collaboration and there were three main performances, which were all created in collaboration with dancers and professionals from a variety of different backgrounds. In addition to these performances the audience were invited to create their own dance acting the role of a choreographer to a dancer in the foyer before the show and during the interval.

I will be discussing the collaborations of two dance pieces and the different ways digital technology was used in them in order to attempt to situate myself, and my practice to identify my role as a collaborator. What could I bring to a performance with my experience and knowledge that is completely unique?

I will review the two of the dance pieces that featured, Copter and Fiend, focusing on technology with regards to body, space and spectator.

Copter

Nina-Kov-Copter-rosie-small

ninakov.com – Image by Camilla Greenwell

The first piece, Copter from Nina Kov, saw an unexpected partnership between the dancer Rosie Terry and a remote controlled toy helicopter. The dance explored the shifting relationships between the two as Rosie became fascinated with the helicopter that demonstrated it’s own identity and characteristics.

“The human dancer and the product of technology dance around one another, creating a beautiful sequence that flows effortlessly. This is broken by moments of physical distress from Kov that is visually conveyed through her body, questioning our relationship with machines and technology. Her image is projected onto the screen behind as the performance ends, forcing us to think about how surveillance creates an unconscious tension in our bodies.” (Howes)

There was an overshadowing theme of how technology surveillance has control over our lives. This was emphasized during a section with the introduction of a drone fitted with a camera, whose image was projected on the back wall. It was a completely unique approach to using technology in performance, which is something I am always excited by.

The pilot, Jack Bishop, brilliantly controlled the helicopter as it maneuvered around the stage within centimeters of the audience, not only flying but also crawling across the floor, twitching and flying upside down. The conversation between dancer and technology was wonderfully executed taking conventional contemporary dance relationship techniques such as canon, question and answer and unison and applying them to body and non-body subjects.

As the helicopter whizzed around stage it caused a sense of uneasiness. The fast pace of it as it circled the dancer Rosie appearing to wobble made me think it was going to crash or hit her. At times the helicopter came close to the audience heightening the sense of being vulnerable.

The space was simple with an empty stage and the only props being the helicopter and drone. There were moments of lighting, which cast a silhouette of a helicopter onto the dancer as she spun around with her arms out in a similar fashion to a helicopter spinning. The choreography in the piece didn’t stand out as the main focus was directed towards the toy helicopter that exhibited characteristic behaviors and performed its own dance. This could be seen as a negative impact on the contemporary dance that poses the question. Was the helicopter the main “dancer”? In the synopsis Copter describes the piece with “Operating constant changes in the power dynamic between the two ‘performers’, the piece is aiming to question our relationship with objects in a sometimes playful, sometimes unsettling way.”

“Although Kov’s choreography for Terry sometimes feels a little underdeveloped, the premise of the piece is interesting enough to keep you watching” (Murphy)

I agree with Siobhan Murphy on this occasion. Copter was an exciting and unique piece that showed a successful collaboration between a dancer and a digital subject. The choreography was a bit simple at times and I felt the choreography should explore unique ways the duet could be performed and go beyond the traditional duet contemporary dance conventions.

Fiend

Image by Camilla Greenwell.

Image by Camilla Greenwell.

Fiend by Tim Casson and Tom Butterworth was the final performance of the evening. The dance was a solo performance based off Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun as a starting point. The piece used live video footage that was manipulated in real time by Butterworth during the performance, which questioned the nature of a solo performance, creating multiple performers digitally to be shown on a projected screen.

The space for Fiend was slightly different from other dances that use video camera technologies in dance. There were similarities with a camera on stage and a marked out detection area, and a technical desk on the side where the digital collaborator was sat. The difference with Fiend was that the camera was facing the dancer from the side of the stage as opposed to the front of the stage. This meant that the audience had two views of the dance, a side profile view and the view from the camera, which was projected onto a large screen on the back.

The decision could be technical or intentional but it worked well as the corporeal body in the dance complimented the digital body in the video projection and made the piece engaging. The difference in angles gave a new dimension. It also raised the question of whether we were watching a solo piece or if there were multiple performers. This question was raised even further when the video image mixed with VDMX software recorded the movement of the dancer and repeated it on a delay so we were seeing multiple performers on the screen.

“In person on the stage, he is a solo performer; on the screen he is interacting with delayed virtual images of himself repeating segments of the piece. Careful choreography means ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ Cassons split and merge with a freewheeling sense of joy.”(Murphy)

The choreography was clever in this sequence, as it required precise timing and location within the detected space for the camera, as the multiple subjects in the video performed movements of relationship which each other. The balance between creating the movement to be recorded on stage and the final outcome on the video was well crafted, engaging the audience to both mediums without one overpowering the other.

In another scene we were introduced to voyeuristic themes, the idea was conveyed through changing the nature of the camera and video image as well as the tone of the choreography and sound, which became more disturbing. The camera zoomed in on the dancer Tim invading his space as he looked uncomfortable, it panned across his body and followed him around stage as he couldn’t stop it following him. In turn it raised the question were the spectators also voyeurs as they were watching the piece on the video however due to the space and the different angles. We could observe the stage and the real body of the dancer making our own voyeuristic looks.

“There are complex questions raised about the self and its place in society that are refreshingly thought-provoking.”(Howes)

The narrative for Fiend was well delivered, provoking the audience and this highlighted a successful collaboration between Tim Casson and Tom Butterworth. They were able to articulate an idea and develop it keeping a integral balance between real and digital meanwhile highlighting a digital presence through the multiple performers and themes of voyeurisim.

The evening showcased two different collaborations with completely different ideas and technology. Both pieces worked well at conveying their ideas with a suitable balance between the presence of the technology and the movement of the dancer. One of the main reasons this worked is that the meaning of the dance pieces themselves acknowledged the use of technology and it was a vital part in the message of the piece.

References

Howes, Scarlet. ‘Wild Card: Casson & Friends At Lilian Bayliss Studio Dance Review’. The Upcoming 2015. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Murphy, Siobhan. ‘Tim Casson – Casson & Friends – London’. DanceTabs 2015. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.