More Re: undemanding, unambitious, uninformed and uninspired

Ellen Bromberg (
Mon, 30 Aug 1999 09:52:25 -0700 (MST)

This particular thread has been evolving so Id better dive in soon as Id
like to address some previous comments. But first however, I would like
to quote a paragraph from Andys most recent posting:

"There are fundamental questions here of whether sensor-based interactive
technology has any place within traditional choreographed dance
performance, and if so, what this place would be, what form these works
would take, and whether there needs to be a rethinking of our notions of
what dance, performance, and interactivity are."

I agree wholeheartedly, and this agreement is the result of my experiences
in creating "Falling to Earth." The following comments were written prior
to this posting and they track the process of a particular artist (myself)
in grappling with these issues. It has been my experience that it is
through the process of grappling, asking questions, bringing ones
sensibilities along with an open mind, and a sense of immense
possibilities to a collaboration, that something meaningful can take
place. "Falling to Earth" was a part of a process and while many felt it
didnt "work", it worked in many ways for me and for many different
reasons. I am also able to recognize the ways in which it didnt work and
am able to participate that discussion. Certainly it has stimulated
discussion and questioning and in that regard it has been working within
our community.

I would like to use Jeffs previous comment as a point of entry:

"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
we can do it better next time."

Certainly art is not about good intentions, but about the manifestation of
those intentions in a form which can communicate. And, as has been
repeatedly stated in these discussions, we are each trying to make sense
of new tools and hopefully benefit from each others experimentation so
that our language of communication can evolve. I imagine that it is the
goal of everyone reading this to be able to eventually speak that language
with eloquence and meaning. I also imagine that this Dance & Technology
on-line discussion was started to facilitate that process and create a
community in which to share that learning and support the evolution of the

As work becomes more collaborative in process, the lines between ownership
and identity within the work blur and the product itself hopefully becomes
stronger as a result. Doug Rosenberg and I have had this discussion for
years and have found a way to work together with respect for each others
boundaries while at the same time allowing those boundaries to blur when
the work calls for it. I bring this up now for a variety of reasons,
which I will address in a moment.

In Andys original posting he stated, "Digital art has its own established
genres, aesthetics and conventions," and that in order for this genre of
Dance and Technology to evolve, certain roles and conventions in dance and
theater must be suspended so that something else, something truly
innovative might occur. I agree with this and, as has already been
pointed out, innovation as a goal in and of itself tends not to render
meaningful art. It is rather through a step by step process of discovery
by each individual involved that the groundwork is laid for something new
to emerge. For me, "Falling to Earth" is one of those steps in a much
bigger process and we are all involved in both: the bigger process and
the individual process. As an individual artist, I would like to speak
about some of the specifics of making "Falling to Earth," as I feel this
to be a contribution I can make to others who might be grappling with
similar issues, and in this way contribute to the bigger process.

My roots are in traditional, classic, American modern dance. That is the
language and sensibility in which I was raised. Due to injury I no longer
dance and I have grown to utilize improvisation with the dancers as a way
of discovering movement. Therefore, the nature of the language that
evolves is quite a collaborative process, the results of which reflect the
skills and experience of the dancers, as well as the specifics of the
improvisations. Certainly I am ultimately responsible for anything that
ends up on stage.

My involvement in things technological is very recent and my interest in
applying for a residency at the ISA was to investigate the layering of
visual and movement metaphor within an interactive environment. In my
proposal I stated "I envision the genre of this work existing somewhere
within the blurred edges of dance, performance and installation. Each
element will carry the focus at different times throughout the work,
creating a continuously changing landscape of sensation and images." This
was new terrain for me and I anticipated a tremendous amount of learning
in the process. I have not been disappointed. I happen to agree with
Johannes description of the "more abstract modern dance vocabulary" and
the fact that the choreography was more illustrative of the text as
opposed to making a comment on it. I had begun working on a narrative, a
dance and the identification of visual imagery and, once we brought it all
together in the space, it was apparent that the structure of the work had
to completely change. For me, given the constraints of time and place (we
were coming from different cities, etc.), I focussed on the sequencing of
the narrative (textual, visual and choreographic) and the ways in which
the live dancers and the visual projections would physically work in the

The piece became about identity, birth, death, family and loss. The
visual images and metaphors for the work arose from hours of interviews
and improvisations with the dancers. Water images proliferated, as did
stories about their relationships with their mothers and other family
members. I had wanted underwater movement and Doug suggested video-taping
it. Both Doug and I had recently lost our fathers in hospital emergency
rooms so Doug wanted to use "hospital curtains" as projection screens. In
looking at death rituals, I had wanted to video-tape burning Joss paper
and use the sound and image of the ripping of black cloth in the work. At
times Doug would direct the dancers in rehearsals. The point Im making
here is that this was truly a collaborative process in which we both
shared the image making and rendering. Yes, I did articulate the
movement, but at all times it was meant to be seen as part of a whole.
Perhaps the movement language made it incongruous with the whole and
thereby interfered with the IDAT audiences ability to perceive it as such.
This was not the case when the piece was performed on previous occasions,
when audiences became much more involved with the content as opposed to
the form.

It has been disturbing to me the degree to which my part in the
collaboration (which seems to be seen as the person who merely made up the
movement) has been dismissed. I use the word dismissed because no one
(from this list) has felt inclined to engage me directly about the process
or the product. Are we all so concerned about discourse that we cant have
a direct conversation? Perhaps the choreographic language needed further
exploration (which I acknowledge) but my interest in making a work for the
Intelligent Stage was to explore other things and for me, that exploration
yielded great results. While critics must (and Im really not sure why)
declare absolute successes and failures, it is the artists who must (and I
do know why), maintain a focus on the process. For, it is this focus that
leads to greater understanding.

Yes, the post performance discussions did not go well. I really question
the value of this, particularly when artists are truly at their most
vulnerable. I did appreciate the many people who approached me privately
afterwards to say how moved they were. For some reason, those who spoke
up seemed to be those who felt more comfortable deconstructing and
criticizing the work. I would have very much appreciated one on ones with
people who wanted to discuss the work more critically, but my assumption
is that it may be harder approaching the artist whose work they find
"fault" with for discussion. And maybe the high stress and complex
schedule of a conference such as IDAT is not the place. I propose there
are ways to be honest with people while still respecting the boundaries of
time, place and emotional investment. In this way we have the opportunity
to engage in genuine dialogue.

In my efforts to contribute to this dialogue, I would like to share what I
have learned from this experience of making a collaborative work dealing
with issues of narrative, multiple languages and interactivity.:

1) Scale: The ISA is a tiny black-box space in which were hung drape-like
scrims that were continuously moved throughout the piece. Although many
people found the sound of their moving to be irritating, they sounded like
hospital curtains being pulled, which worked within the narrative for me.
On these scrims were projected cinematic close-ups of dancers faces as
they told their stories. Given that these were sheer scrims one could see
through them to other projected images which created a sense of space,
layering and multiplication of voices and points of view. This was
lovely. When dancers moved in spots either up or downstage (and sometimes
both) of these images, a tremendous sense of depth was created that belied
the actual size of the space. Some people commented that the scale
differential was too great and that one had to constantly choose which to
look at. For me, choice-making was always an intended part of it and yet,
I found the most satisfying moments to be when I was able to shift my
focus to include all of it rather than choosing part of it. That was in
keeping with the holistic process as well as the narrative.

2) Space: The small size of the space did detract, however. We had
performed the work the previous year in a much larger, pentagonal
black-box space at the University of Arizona in Tucson. In this
environment the audience was much further away from the performance area
and could much more easily take in the whole. I also feel that the actual
movement language fared better in Tucson as, with that kind of formal,
classical vocabulary, spatial context is an intrinsic communicative aspect
of the choreographic as well as narrative form.

3) Narrative Content: This ultimately became the driving force of the work
and provided the skeletal structure. The narrative was expressed as both
a "wide shot", as in the accumulation of stories from the dancers, and a
"tight shot" as in the text that Doug and I had written about our fathers
deaths. This paralleled the extreme visual close-ups of the dancers and
the wider landscapes of choreographed movement.

4) Music/sound: In general, I was pleased with John Mitchells score for
the piece. I feel that he created a sense of drama and complexity that
supported the work. As sound was one of the two interactive aspects of
the work, I felt that his choices about what could be triggered by the
dancers and what was necessary for continuity of the work were right. I
also loved the multiple tracks on multiple speakers that surrounded the
viewer and immersed the audience within the score. When the levels were
lower, one could feel the space in the sound. I do agree that at IDAT
however, the music was inordinately loud and I dont know why the levels
had been raised. This did create a feeling of imbalance that had not been
present in previous performances.

5) Interactivity: Doug, John and I felt that the technology should be
invisible, that first and foremost we should be creating an aesthetic
experience and not a technical showcase. For the most part, I think we
succeeded in this as, after performances there were always questions about
what was triggered and what wasnt. When it didnt work (and this happened
in every performance at IDAT), there were gaping holes when video stories
were supposed to have been triggered by the dancers, and the stories never
came up or the wrong stories came up. This was deeply frustrating. For
some reason the placement and/or sensitivity thresholds of some of the
sensors were changed before the performances so there were parts of every
performance that just didnt work for me and there was nothing I could do
about it.

The fact that this work became so narrative, did not allow for a fuller
exploration of the movement sensing system. It became clear over time
that the fullest expression of sensing and triggering would be within a
highly improvisational structure. This may be obvious to many and it was
apparent to me at the outset, but I thought it possible to have the
content of what was actually being triggered, be the indeterminate
element. However, as the content of the work took on its life (and this
life was in the choreography itself at times) and as we contended with
time constraints and the improvisational confidence and experience of the
dancers (the original cast) that was just not to be. I am very interested
in human issues, as the aesthetic and human experiences have always been
woven together for me. I would be interested next in working to create an
improvisational structure that fully allows for indeterminacy while
dealing with more than formal issues.

6) Integration: I feel there were moments of great beauty and great
integration of media/movement/metaphor/text/sound. And in those moments I
was able to experience what I had hoped to: an immersion in a meaningful
environment. What this work has also done, and what all work does in one
way or another, is to point in the direction of next steps. That this has
happened is the nature of the process. While looking back can often be
difficult, it does not invalidate the depth of the work, nor the honesty
or integrity with which it was made.

On a final note I would like to say something about verbal language and
the community we are on this listserv. We give form to our thoughts and
feelings through words. I would like to directly address Merilyn on this
issue. Merilyn, do you really believe that genuine dialogue implies
adversity? With language like "Take it on the chin ," and "You cant get a
bloody nose on the net", that is the message I get. Is it not possible to
discuss what doesnt work about a piece with nonviolent language? Why does
conversation have to be "confrontational" as you state? Certainly we all
have strong feelings about the work we see (hopefully), but as a writer
how can your choice of words be constructive? Perhaps that is not your
intent and I cant presume to know your intent. But I do know that for me,
this kind of language and the position it implies does not invite
constructive dialogue.

I take responsibility for my defensiveness as my work has been the subject
of this language. But, as stated earlier, my role in this work was far
more than making up the steps. You stated previously "My criticism is
directed at the failure of the collaborating artists to integrate (as in
integrity) the disparate elements into one seamless entity. Failure is a
poor word to describe the efforts of two or more artists to understand and
interpret the artistic intentionality of the project." I dont understand
how you can say that the collaborating artists did not understand or
interpret what they set out to do. I think as artists we pose questions
and set up environments in which we can see what happens. It is not
unlike scientific experimentation. There is clearly and necessarily an
environment of "not knowing" and of allowing images, metaphors, structures
and meanings to unfold. In my experience, anything other than this is not

Merilyn, just as I cant presume your intent (whether or not to be
constructive with your comments), its hard for me to understand how anyone
other than the generative artist can presume to know about their own
intentions, partiuclarly without dialogue. I think we can know what has
happened, and it is looking at this relationship between the questions
asked, the processes (and technologies) utilized and the nature of the
results (not just whether theyve succeeded or failed) that we evolve, as
individual artists and as a community. And in my opinion it is this
evolution that one day will engender true innovation and we are all part
of it, whether we make the work or write about it.

One more comment. I havent seen all the works mentioned, but it seems to
me that the works that have been deemed most "successful" by members of
this listserv are those that are non-narrative and formal in nature. Is
that true and if there are others of you who are working with narrative in
mediated interactive environments, I would be very interested in knowing
more about your processes and how you have been working with structure and

Ellen Bromberg