motione participant Arts, media and Engineering

computer screens

in the words of the creators

Trisha Brown

I slid into my seat in the dark theater where a row of computers and their operators were lined up nearby. I heard someone say “how long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume?,” which I quickly wrote down on a pad of paper, thinking, what kind of poetry is this? Let me decode: they were asking, “will the dancer standing on the edge of the stage leave soon or not?”

I had heard the words “movement render,” “movement capture,” “infrared cameras,” and “visual graphics” but I didn’t know what it would look like, or how it was made. This was going to be a learn-learn situation for me.

I now know that rendering and capturing movement means to dance wearing a set of sensors in a pattern that infrared cameras, placed overhead, can identify, record and send to a central computer. The computer analyzes this data and uses it to trigger changes in all of the theatrical elements: visual graphics, music, and lights. This is the realm of live-interactive performance.

The figures the computer generates, which I would describe as exquisite drawings, are projected onto a front scrim but appear to occupy dimensional space beyond. They seem to be alive because they can assert growth, react to the presence of one or more dancers or graphic events, interfere with diagramatic progress, frame things, lose connections, fall over, and occupy the highest overhead space. As in all abstract work, one can read narratives if one chooses, so that the touching of a line to a dancer, or the bust-up of a form, has an emotional quality. These figures, which are malleable and fluctuating, can also indicate location, spatial constructs, tangles, barriers, machines, plant-like forms. They are an immense shifting palette of extreme refinement.

The entire stage is in flux in a way I have never encountered. Seeing the abilities of the exquisite graphics, designed by Marc Downie, Paul Kaiser, and Shelley Eshkar, and hearing the musical composition by Curtis Bahn that accesses the same data as the others, I understood that the dance had to be as fluid in nature as its counterparts. For this solution, I determined to develop units of dance malleable enough to envelop or spin off other units. At the time of this writing I have not yet seen the piece in its full regalia and intended environment. Let’s hope my innocence and lack of bias on the cutting edge of technology will serve me well.

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The Katherine K. Herberger College of Fine Art and the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering at Arizona State University.
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