Re: Did you get what was supposed to be happening?

Richard Lord (
Thu, 18 Mar 1999 01:15:53 +0000

Dear Robert

I wasn't at IDAT - couldn't afford to come (maybe people saw me on the
SHIFTS link with London) so I didn't experience the events there. But I
find it rather depressing when people are worried that the audience may
not be clear about what the grey box in the corner is doing. It's a grey
box in the corner. It may be a supercomputer mediating beteween many
media, or it may just be an ice box keeping the beers cold for after the
performance. The important matter is the performance itself. If the
audience need to understand what the grey box is doing then someone
(either the audience or the choreographer) is missing the point. I don't
care what lighting controller a production is using and how it works. I
don't care whether the music is on CD, DAT or mpeg3 streamed from the
web. I only care what it looks and sounds like. Sometimes the
choreographer considers the understanding of the technology to be an
integral part of appreciating the performance, but more often it's just a
means to an end. And as an audience member it's that end that matters.

I suspect that many choreographers neither expected you to discern what
the technology was doing, nor considered it a challenge that you try to
discern it. They may rather have hoped you'd sit back and enjoy the

As a choreographer working with technology, that's how I feel. If you
were to see one of my productions and were upset because you didn't know
how it was done I'd find that rather ludicrouse because I don't set out
to explain how it's done. I understand that you, as someone working with
technology, want to know how it's done but if you want to know this you
should ask me. If you want to see a performance then watch it, listen to
it, and react to what you see and hear.

Perhaps in one key respect you and I differ. I don't consider dance-tech
per se as a new medium. The web is a new medium (and many know of my work
with it), but most dance-tech is new tools used within old media - the
stage, live installation, television, film...

These tools simply extend what we can produce, but the product is what
matters. I feel we should have stopped worrying about how it's made a
long time ago, and instead we should concern ourselves with what is made
and why it's made. Employ the same critical faculties we use when viewing
dance-non-tech and dance-tech will mature to join the real world. Then
we'll all be normal choreographers again and this mailing list will find
a new purpose. Not that I don't like talking to you all but I don't
consider myself an odd/techie/sort of choreographer working in some
new-fangled field. I'm just a choreographer with some uncommon skills.

That's my two euro's worth.

Best wishes,


>Dear Dance-tech:
>Even for us "experts" it was often a challenge to discern what the
>computers were doing at many of the IDAT performances
>and demonstrations. Were these challenges what the choreographer had in
>mind? If not, then why is this mistake so often repeated?
>Are dance/technologists simply so familiar with the systems they are
>using that they have become out of touch with how a lay person
>experiences the piece? Does the audience need more skill watching?
>More information?
>Or is it enough that the technical system changes the way the dancer
>feels as they move? And it changes they _way_ they move -- I can believe
>-- but unless it results in something discernible to me then I consider
>it something better suited for the lab than for the stage.
>I believe there is a common under-estimation of how simple and clear
>interactive works need to be (assuming you care at all about bringing the
>audience with you). I certainly do not want to argue that we should
>leave out all sense of mystery and subtlety in our art. Obviously it is
>precisely the variety of applications and approaches that is opening up this
>burgeoning field. What I want to say is: let's be careful and hear
>what the lay-viewer is politely trying to tell us before we further
>alienate our audience. We need to find ways to make our discoveries
>more accessible, our shows more audience-friendly.
>I have some suggestions:
>1. _Use less technology_. And then use it more carefully, pointedly,
>and transparently.
>2. Begin the piece, or at least have some part of it be _real simple_
>and clear. Yes, _hit them over head_. Later in the work people will be
>more patient with subtlety if they have at least had some opportunity
>to really "get it".
>3. Avoid confusing overlaps between different interactive systems.
>4. Don't use a technical system when the same effect can be achieved
>without it (e.g. triggering the start of a film or sequence of music can
>be done by a technician simply knowing the cue.)
>5. Don't "fake" interactions when they get unstable or crash. Disclose
>what's up, simply and without apology.
>6. Its hard to make a piece today using interactive technology which is
>not, on some level, also _about_ the technology itself. Its not
>impossible perhaps, but I think it is important to appreciate how
>sensitive the audience is to the fact that it is a "computer" piece.
>Accepting this is perhaps relevant in designing the format and content of the
>With friendly regards,
>Robert Wechsler