Forget the streets. In Tempe, Ariz., this winter, they were dancing in the fast lane of the information highway. At the International Dance and Technology Conference (IDAT), hosted by Arizona State University and its Institute for Studies in the Arts, virtual dancers, real dancers and animated life-forms toe-tapped on sensory stages and keyboard-tapped in galleries. They even sent choreography into cyberspace by Webcasting 27 hours of the conference activities, including panel discussions, performances and demonstrations.
Whether they were dancers using technology or technologists experimenting with art, IDAT performers displayed how far digital technology could serve them in extending bodies, motion and audience perception. Throughout the conference, dancers outfitted in audio uniforms, optical suits and holographic costumes controlled video, sound, projected images and lighting with a flick of a finger or a flex of a knee. After a weekend immersed in demonstrations of how technology can augment displays of artistic human motion, though, it is apparent that despite some dazzling displays of techno-assisted artistry, the connection between dance and technology is not always made.
Of the score of demonstrations at IDAT, Songs for the Body Electric by composer Todd Winkler and dancer Gerry Girouard stood out. The athletic Girouard wittily danced on the walls and ceilings of specially constructed boxes with the aid of a simple rubber-tipped pole. Girouard’s space-cutting kinetics-handstands and carving arm motions-tripped signals to vary the music and lighting. His digital collaborator in this process is Very Nervous System, created by David Rokeby (see “Dances with Machines,”).
The disconnect in many of these productions stems in part from a mismatch between the artists and the technologists. Consider, for example, choreographer Ellen Bromberg’s Falling to Earth, a piece that was created on the Intelligent Stage-a sensory space that registers and responds to input through video, audio and cueing systems. Artist/technologist Doug Rosenberg projected lyrical imagery and descriptive text on S-curved drapes and the dancers’ bodies.