Second Space was a solo contemporary dance created in collaboration with Ben Logan, a third year undergraduate dancer from LABAN. It was shown as part of the MA Interim show at Wimbledon in April.
I contacted several dance schools in London asking if they had any dancers who would be interested in working with me to create a piece, I sent the following in an email:
“I am currently studying MA Digital Theatre at Wimbledon College of Arts. As part of my creative practice I am exploring the use of interactive technologies in contemporary dance.
As part of my studies I am looking to collaborate with a male or female dancer from Trinity Laban to help me create and choreograph a 10-minute contemporary dance piece with the view to continue collaborating for further work. The aim is to explore how improvisation in choreography is affected by the inclusion of interactive digital technologies.”
Ben got in touch with me after receiving the email saying he was interested in working with me so we arranged to meet and share ideas to find out if we had potential to work together successfully. The meeting went very well and we agreed to start rehearsals as soon as possible.
In preparation to the rehearsals as well as part of research towards my critical paper, I explored three choreographers and their approach to collaborating with technology. I identified the different approaches and processes they used in order to help me create my own choreography for a performance. The aim of this was to understand how technology had an impact conceptually and choreographically.
Ben and I shared ideas and began forming our piece during the second meeting. I set a list of aims and objectives for our meeting and topics to discuss. These were:
- Explore the theme of digital relationships.
- Following discussion, decide on a type of technology we want to use and how it will be used.
- Refine and agree on a starting point for improvising movement based on the theme of digital relationships.
- Set a structure for future rehearsals.
The outcome of our meeting was positive and we decided to begin creating the dance by coming up with a narrative or finding a narrative based on an example either personal to us or something we’ve seen that highlights a moment where technology has affected us negatively in a real social context. This narrative would be used to create movement and ideas, which would then be broken up to create a more conceptual dance piece.
My approach to choosing the technology for our piece was similar to Troika Ranch’s loopdiver in that I initially recognized the piece would use technology in some form related to the starting point, which was questioning the idea of how mobile phones and social networks have an impact on relationships. This meant that I was able to explore ideas for both the choreography and the technology without limiting either while the starting point was being developed as opposed to working on a specific piece of technology and developing choreography around that.
Ben found a TED talk by Sherry Turkle which was related to our current ideas for the piece. Turkle talks about how mobile phones have connected us together but in reality have made us more alone as we rely on a screen and our individual selves to communicate, no longer through human presence. We took this talk and used words in the video as stimulus for inspiring movement. I came up with the idea of sign language, as it is a method of communication using movement and facial expressions that technology would be difficult to replace. It allowed us to create movement based on the patterns and gestures of certain sign language words chosen from the talk.
The next process involved experimenting with technology. I used a variety of different methods in order to explore what we could use and how it had an impact on choreography. The first was giving Ben the opportunity to test different hardware and software that I had previously created. I attempted to treat this like the eleventh member in a studio as Wayne McGregor explored in Atomos by giving Ben some simple ideas and emotions to convey while interacting with the software I had created. This included an interactive Kinect installation built with Isadora, another interactive installation using Leap and processing and several demos built using Isadora to manipulate sound and images.
This gave us new ideas to explore conceptually such as the idea of real and virtual spaces and the difference between, instead of creating movement that we used in the final piece. Our ideas from the session were developed in the next rehearsal where we both focused building movement without technology.
The rehearsal that focused on movement as opposed to technology gave us room to explore choreography and create ideas for technology. During this session we were able to plan a structure that was influenced by our previous testing of ideas and technology. Eventually after a few rehearsals we hit a creative block with our ideas trying to make our structure work. Instead of further attempting this I decided to sit back and look at the bigger picture and try a different idea, I came up with an idea influenced by Merce Cunningham’s movement phrases from Biped, which were digitally choreographed.
Using Isadora, our main choice of software and the same software Troika Ranch used for ‘loopdiver’, I created a recording program that recorded short video clips from a live stream coming from my mobile phone and another camera on stage all in real-time. I then edited the videos and assembled a piece of digital choreography which was shown as a projection on stage in order to reflect our conceptual idea of how mobile phones are changing us and our identity, being a different person online or talking to people through messaging applications where we have the control over what we say with the ability to “delete” before we send.
This idea is also explored in the final section of our dance where all technology is removed and Ben is isolated, he is now exposed as a real person and he can’t delete or go back which his movement portrays as he attempts to complete movement phrases and undo them.
Our final piece was broken down into three main sections.
- Being connected together online, the positive aspects of this and being in control.
- The struggle to keep up with the demands of being online, problems that can be caused through online communication.
- The loss of technology, what does it mean?
Each section was portrayed through the use of movement complimented by technology in relation to the meaning of the sections. The first section was represented through Ben using his voice repeating words from the TED talk, these words were repeated digitally by looping and layering them with new words building up the technology and “staying connected”. These words were eventually replaced with video and the audience began to see the view from his phone camera that was projected on to a screen at the back.
The scene of recorded videos transitioned between the first and second section leading into the struggle to keep up with demands of being online and questions, who is really in control? The dancer was pulled and distorted through the video imagery that was digitally choreographed.
A phone battery diminishing represented the second section. We took our idea of two spaces. The first space representing the real world, and a second space representing a virtual space online. This was conveyed using video projections of a projected colour that gradually got smaller and smaller over time and turned from green to red. Ben’s movements got more constrained within the space and increasingly agitated. Over time he steps out of the space but is afraid and runs back into the virtual space where he is comfortable despite it getting smaller and smaller.
Eventually the virtual space disappears, the phone battery goes flat and Ben is now lost without the technology. This is the third section which Ben improvised using a pattern of themes we set. Heavy hands, failed eye contact with the audience and finally ending with Ben heading back to his phone and hiding in the corner faced away from the audience.
The performance ran well despite working within a tight timeframe and only having a couple of technical rehearsals. The process to create our dance worked effectively using a mixture of set exercises and tasks as well having an open-ended goal letting ideas form naturally. The challenges of working with an open-ended goal was the time constraint we had which allowed little room to explore new ideas and find different starting points however I planned for a short timeframe, the original intention was to create a 10-minute piece which ended up being 15-minutes.
I received positive feedback, one review came back “Superb interweaving of movement, real-time digital images & sound”. It was interesting to hear what parts people enjoyed and what they understood by the piece but the biggest overall response and compliment was that I evidenced my ability to put together a production of a professional quality. Broken down from taking an idea, developing it in collaboration, arranging rehearsals and finally putting the show together complete with lighting and sound.
As a result I intend to continue work on Second Space for my final masters project. With more time and more space I will develop the piece in conjunction with a website that will form as a hub for material and games an audience are invited to upload and interact with. Results from the website in the form of data or numeric information will help inspire and create further dance material for Second Space.