Bridging the Void, choreographed by Rachel Johnson, was Experiential’s first dance piece and tour as a dance company. The dance used film and music to create an immersive and mesmerising sunrise experience, inspired by the Native American saying “Every Night is followed by Sunrise”. This review is about my role within the company as technical manager which gave me an insight into the workings of a professional dance company.
As a technical manager I fulfilled several duties including designing a website, creating a portable lighting system, communicating with theatres to structure get in/get out times and for certain performances stage managing. The collection of these roles was an invaluable experience.
In this essay I will discuss my approach to duties as a technical manager and how they relate to my practice. I will evaluate my work and identify how it has and will benefit towards my Masters degree. Finally I will review the dance piece and the effectiveness of video projections.
I know Rachel through working on previous projects together as part of our studies. I helped her with a dance piece for her MA in Choreography at LABAN and she helped me with my BSC Creative Computing third year project at Goldsmiths. Since working together she set up her own dance company, Experiential.
My first major role as a technical manager was to help with ideas for lighting design. I recruited the help of Alex Walker on the MA Theatre Design course to provide input. We discussed creating a portable lighting system that attached to the dancers hands. The intention was to replicate the feeling of the sun emitting from the dancer’s hand while the space is in complete darkness. With this intention in mind I was then able to investigate ways in how this could be achieved, effectively and inexpensively as the company were on a tight budget.
The original intention was to build my own LED system powered by a small button type battery; this circuit would be sown into a glove with the electrical wires soldered together. It became clear that this would take too long to create and it would be too difficult. An alternative was to take a torch or push light and modify it fit into a glove. Going back to the collaborative project I remember a discussion about lighting and PoundLand selling two push lights for one pound, which was very suitable for the budget. It was a challenge building the lights, as the materials were not designed to be in a wearable glove. In the end, a medical bandage was used instead of a glove as it allowed more flexibility and ultimately a cheaper solution. The lights were sown onto the bandage, covered with the fabric of tights to replicate skin tones and to soften the sharp blue LED light.
The finished kit worked effectively and fully represented the original idea of having the sun in the palm of the dancers hand. Using the material from tights gave it a soft warm feel replicating the sun. However, having a low budget meant the lights kept breaking as the wires were easily broken and the buttons were loose. The process to create the lights was rushed given the time and money constraints so they were never fully realised and worked occasionally.
On reflection I would allow myself more time to produce something similar but with a lot more research prior to developing. In this instance the research was done while the idea was developed which meant there was little room for exploration with something completely different.
The second major involvement was unexpected and required a lot of on-the-spot thinking and fixes.
During the tour at the Old Low Light in North Shields, the space for Bridging the Void was rather small and caused a few problems. We hired a rear projection screen in order to project from behind so that dancers and people didn’t cast shadows on the footage. The space was unusual in that was a long room divided in two by wooden frames but it meant that these frames would interfere and cast a shadow on the projection image.
The only way was to get a big image would be to project from an angle. This was my opportunity to give Isadora a go with the projection mapping features I learnt during the classes with Jaime. I also built a controller within Isadora with play, pause and reset buttons for the video and a small preview for me to see while stage-managing the show.
Throughout the show Isadora ran without any glitches. There was an issue with the resolution of the footage for the video I had been given which was rendered at 2400 x 1350 pixels in Apple ProRes 422. There wasn’t enough time to render this at a more suitable size such as 1920×1080. Isadora managed to play the footage although I noticed there was a little stutter presumably due to having to work with a large file size. Occasionally at times when I shut the program down it closed it would crash.
To use Isadora in a professional setting was a new experience and a skill that is very useful to have. The nature of the circumstances meant that it was rushed and it was used as a last resort purely for the projection mapping features. With more time I would have rendered the video at a more suitable size and tried alternatives such as Millumin however we were fortunate that I purchased Isadora only a few weeks before the show.
These two experiences took two scenarios that I could encounter at any time within my practice and work. Instead of the university environment and support of others. I had to deliver myself professionally. The experience was invaluable as it is one that can only be found while being in a working environment.
I could have avoided these scenarios with better detailed planning and my role as Technical Manager highlighted the importance of being prepared and the level of research that is required for the role. At the same time I learned that the role is not one that I would pursue after University. During the course I have been building my creative practice and designing my own art in order to develop ideas creatively. I felt that a technical manager, particularly in this experience, was more of a problem-solving role completing tasks for people.
Bridging the Void was in fact quite relevant towards my practice. The dance is a 40-minute piece, which takes the audience on a journey from darkness to sunrise. It is intended to be an experience, as you are taken into a room in complete darkness at the beginning while you hear and sense dancers around you. Gradually a video image emerges of a sunrise shot on location at Primrose Hill.
As a technical manager helping with the tour I understood the difficulties working with technology in various theatre venues. The company sometimes relied on the theatre’s own projector which at times was sub-HD or had a low lumens output which meant finding workarounds or other solutions.
The only time I felt the piece was its most effective was the use of a rear projector in Newcastle using the HD projector. There was the issue of projection mapping and stuttering frames but the experience of the performance itself was fully realised. During the dance the dancers reach towards the sun getting as close as they can to the screen. The rear projection worked as it eliminated a shadow that would be cast if it were projected from the front. The relationship between the dancers and the video images complimented each other and the audience were able to appreciate the dance in relation to the sun transforming them into an experienced state as opposed to feeling the presence of a theatre surrounding.
With Experiential I have learnt the challenges of a travelling production and the level of research that is required beforehand. It has given me a platform to work on after University when I will no longer have easy access to equipment and materials and I will have to source my own through funding.