Intelligent Machines

Dancing in the Fast Lane

Art and technology make slightly uneasy partners

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,”).

This story is part of our May/June 1999 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

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.

The adolescent narrative (movie-ofthe-week stuff about growing up with alcoholic parents) and New Age-y music, however, reminded us that no matter how well the technology is executed, without equal artistic elements, beauty is only screen deep. Not that making technology and artistry equal partners is without its
own dangers. In Inner Spaces of Drifting, video artist Rogolja Wolf and choreographer Jennifer Predock-Linnel offered mesmerizing aquatic images on the screen and a smart dance trio,which seemed lost in the dark at the bottom of the horizontally divided set. Screen and stage worked here as partners of equal but separate strength, forcing the audience to choose between watching one or the other: a tworing circus.

Others at the conference more successfully integrated technology with art. In her hallucinatory dance, Communion, Montreal dancer/choreographer Isabelle Choiniere explored ancient and contemporary nuances of dance within a tableaulike form.As electronic whispers invoked the goddesses Isis, Diana and Hecate, Choiniere-clad in a sensor-laden, Day-Glo leotard-reproduced her image on the scrims in front of and behind her. With majestic movements, she evoked this century’s dance goddesses. While sine waves undulated on the scrims, she drew a molten voice from her red-lit mouth. In slow dissolves, Choiniere seemed to incarnate the temple dancer, body builder, exotic dancer.

In Troika Ranch’s powerhouse In Plane, the only livestock was a twolegged creature: Dawn Stoppiello, in electronically augmented garb. The outfit is called a MidiDancer sensory suit by its inventor, Mark Coniglio. Coniglio-Troika Ranch’s composer and co-artistic director-positioned sensors within the garment that encoded information and sent it to an offstage computer. Stoppiello thus controlled the dynamics and timing of Coniglio’s music and video projections. She raced like a speed skater against her own image.

Since 1993, Troika Ranch has been an incubator for posing what was perhaps the main question of the conference: Which comes first, the dancer or the technology? Based on the IDAT showcase, techno-artists are still struggling to solve this riddle.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.

  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Join in and ask questions as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

You've read of free articles this month.