Re: undemanding, unambitious, uninformed and uninspired

Jeffrey Gray Miller (
Wed, 25 Aug 1999 14:33:49 -0500

There is no virtue inherent in being new--nor in being old.

Why the need for "innovation"? It seems to me that the same people (this is
not a slam, but a generalization) who decry the overuse and over-reliance of
technology in dance performance then go on to denounce the lack of

What ever happened to the idea of practice, of polish, of deepening the
understanding and use of a medium or tool to better express oneself? I have
used, on various occasions, projected images and/or video in dance
performances. Sometimes it was seen as a completely integrated part of the
performance. Sometimes it was seen as a distraction. I've seen it used
many times, in many ways, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
However, I do NOT believe that the fact that it's been done a lot means that
this particular form of dance-tech has been completely mined. Rather, I am
encouraged by the fact that, as Doug and Merilyn have said, there is a
critical discourse developing to figure out why it does or does not work.

I also feel that I am, as a dance technologist, fulfilling a role similar a
maker of musical instruments in the Renaissance. Science was discovering
new things constantly, and many new instruments were being created, right
and left. The Krumhorn, for example...which didn't last long, due to its
resemblance to the sound of a duck being strangled. But it led to the
creation of the bassoon and the oboe, which, in the hands of masterful
performers, can touch the soul. What if, when the cello replaced the viola
da gamba, the performers and makers decided they had to come up with
something "new", "innovative" right away? There have been
innovations--electric cellos, 5 string, etc--but it is the fact that that
tool, that invention of the cello, was explored, rather than changed, that
leads to performers like Yo-Yo Ma.

I've created a "sound canvas" in BigEye that is embarassing in it's
simplicity, especially in the company of the technological expertise of this
list. Less than a page of code, and most of that adopted from demos. But
it works, and when Jin-Wen Yu used it in his Water Series, I was able to
see, each night, his ability to master the finer points of his dance and
movement, to where he was consciously controlling dynamics, pitch, and
volume, and integrating it into the movement. I almost cried, it was so
moving at times. Other times, I was swearing at the machine. But those
exhilarating moments, of seeing the result of my technical training combine
with my aesthetic experience to actually produce something beautiful--should
I, instead, tell Jin-Wen that we did that, we used that program, we'd better
move on to something more "innovative"? It is only through practice,
development, and exploration that this particular "instrument" will ever be
more than a diversion or plaything.

At IDAT, I saw good and bad projection design...and good and bad
choreography, and good and bad sound design. But the fact that the three
only worked well together occasionally doesn't make me want the performers
to quit. Try again! Use what you've learned! Don't just go out and try
out vidvox software because your imagine program didn't impress anyone;
build on the basis of your experience!

Don't get me wrong; I love innovation, I'm always one of the first ones to
get the new gadget, download the new software, try out that new teacher.
But like Mary Lou the teacher, expressed, we are still in a state of
play--even in terms of just the use of video. To carry her analogy further,
if you tell a child that he should give up drawing because his scribbles are
no good, he'll never grow up to be Albrecht Durer. Nor should you tell them
that their scribbles are magnificent, or they'll grow up to be Jackson
Pollock (sorry, personal bias). But if you explore the scribbles, the
intended meaning behind them, and what works, expressively, and what
doesn't, you help the child grow. (And yourself, as well, but I'm getting a
little to pop psychological here).

Unfortunately, artists are not children in terms of ego (other personality
traits may seem that way). None of us likes to be criticized, and our works
are like our own children, which we want to protect. A constructive
discourse is needed, one which addresses specific qualities of work and
gives attention to the intention as well as the result of a work. That way,
we can do it better next time.

In looking at the subject heading that started this discussion, I would say
the following:

Only when the technology becomes undemanding will the resources be available
to produce demanding work (and we ain't there yet, lemme tell ya). Ask
Sophia how much energy she had to address her work at IDAT after spending 24
hours straight trying to establish a link to the UK. The answer, of course,
is to have other people worry about that--but then where is the
collaboration? We are all, I think, still trying to find the balance
between collaboration and division of labor.

Ambition is overrated--personally, I refuse to take part in a competitive
"I've got to be more incredible than them" mentality". Don't be ambitious;
be true. (Great. Now I'm Polonius.) Above all, to people who don't like
the work, I say "Too bad". If I wanted you to like it, I'd be working in
Pop Music. I do not create pieces to be liked, or to impress anyone. I
create because there is something inside me that needs to be expressed, and
these are the tools I have to express them, clumsy though they may be. You
don't like it, fine, give me a constructive reason why or go away and make
your own; generalizations and opinions are useless and a waste of time.
Everybody who generalizes should be shot.

If I am uninformed--and yes, I know I am--it is because, as the historians
and dance writers on this list have said, there is both too much and too
little information. Yes, there is a great body of work in film that
addresses dance for the camera--unfortunately, during my degree I had to
squeeze to get dance comp and sound design in, and there was no room for the
film history class. Much less the 3-d modeling class, which might address
the history of digital media a bit before delving into SoftImage's a credit to the program at UW that the graduates at least have
an idea where to look for the information they need to fill out their
education. Few criticize art majors who don't take 4 years of art history;
nor do we judge dancers who don't recognize works by Maya Deren. Should we?
perhaps. But if we can't even agree on what nouns to use, how are we ever
to get to verbs?

On the last descriptive--uninspired--I couldn't agree with Andy more. No
work that is uninspired should ever be put forth. But who am I to say what
inspiration is? I've found canonical dance pieces, that people gushed over,
completely uninspiring. But there is the difference, you see. I think that
there should be a recognition that a work may be inspired but uninspiring.
Think of the number of artists whose works were dismissed at the time of
creation--but which are now the focus of our contemporary aesthetic theory.
I read, recently, that Hamlet originally only ran 20 shows.

Apparently after that, Shakespeare had to innovate.

Sorry for the length, and the toes on which I've inadvertently trod,