Post by Katherine McKeon
Packed elbow to elbow this past Valentines day, the dance performance Trigger, débuted its second installation. The performance was free, and patrons found themselves in the cozy Vermillion art gallery and bar in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.
“We live in such a progressive city,” Molly Sides, a local dancer and curator of Trigger, said to me over coffee a few days after the show. “Everyone knows everyone and this collective vibe is starting to build. It’s happening in architecture, it’s happening in technology, it’s happening in dance, and [influencing each other] is basically bound to happen.”
Technology-lovers should check out Seattle’s performing arts and dance scene for these reasons:
1. It’s new. Maybe to you at least. Have you considered how technology can build from the already super complicated world that dance offers?
Specializing in popping and locking, Austin Nguyen, a performer in Trigger, is double majoring in dance and physiology at the University of Washington. His senior project for his physiology major is measuring the center of gravity for break dancers. Using 3-D motion censors placed around a body, he can see how exactly a b-boy’s quick changes of gravity occur.
“People are definitely thinking about technology, and bringing new aspects to dance we haven’t seen before,” Nguyen says. “Besides creating art, we’re using technology to improve our movements and our understanding of the body.”
2. Technology brings something unpredictable to performances.
Offering a new avenue for creativity, dance offers a new light into how technology affects our lives. Even architectural features are technically technology. A window to the street, in addition to the normal stage, offers performance viewing from more vantage points. The fact that pedestrians could view sparks ideas for how performance art should be made available to more people, adding another level of variability and expression to a performance.
“Whether you choose to use it or not, whatever technology you use is going to have a mind of it’s own,” Sides says.
Hallie Scott, a friend of mine and performer at Trigger, has performed at several venues around the city. She says she often thinks of ways that technology and dance intersect.
“It takes more time and thought to tailor dance and technology together to the specific venue….. As Vermillion is small, people have to use technology in nuanced and scaled ways.”
To a certain extent, some people in the performance community are weary of technology infiltrating dance. Sides admits that there are times when a big part of her only wants to see how bodies can fill a space, with bare lighting and no props or curtains.
3. Yet cross-over is inevitable. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Seattle is renown for both industries, and trailblazers from both are bound to affect each other.
The arching wide-sweep of a pointed leg can be modeled on a computer exactly how choreographers so choose. Notable artists, such as Merce Cunningham, have used computer programming to keep orchestrating pieces even when they loose their own physical abilities to demonstrate for dancers how a sequence of movements should take place.
It’s not a one-way street, either. Dance performances spotlight both trace and exaggerated movements and patterns that tech-innovators should be pulling from. A video game artist could see how dancers’ centers of gravity are modeled to better illustrate the characters of their games.
4. What else is new: Algorithmic theater. Sounds nuts, right?
A text is canonized in computer programming. Various algorithms choose which scenes and elements performers are to showcase at various moments in a show. It’s digitalized improvisation.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet, will be adapted with algorithmic theater, entitled False Peach, and is coming to Seattle from Feb. 21 through Feb. 24. The famous play’s script will be converted into computer programming and projected onto the walls. Patrons will witness how algorithms choose which elements of Hamlet are portrayed at various parts of the show.
According to the organizers for On the Boards, the Seattle venue at which Annie Dorsen’s piece will be performed, False Peach concerns “the nature of human intelligence and language”, as recycled in different variations through computer programming.
When so much emphasis falls on the individual tasks of today’s highly specialized jobs, it can be difficult to expose ourselves to things we don’t prioritize or think relate. Yet with bringing ourselves to touch areas outside of our comfort zone, we actually improve how we complete our day to day. This forces us to identify the frameworks and limitations we’ve placed on our livelihoods, spawning more room for creativity and innovation.
Up and coming techie-friendly shows:
False Peach, Feb. 21-24, On the Boards
How to Disappear Completely, Mar 21 – Mar 24, On the Boards
Scuba 2013, Apr. 26-28, Velocity Dance Center
.Trigger 3. May TBA, Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar
Craving more art-tech mental gymnastics? Check out this TED talk about the physics of culture, i.e. the frontiers of popular behavior that computer programmers are still competing to model: