Re: undemanding, unambitious, uninformed and uninspired

Jeffrey Gray Miller (
Tue, 31 Aug 1999 10:21:54 -0500

I believe I need to address what I meant by "undemanding" before anyone else
accuses me of "copping out".

When Nikolais began his wonderful experiments with light and choreography,
did he have to individually wire and test each bulb? Did he have to
experiment with polymer chemistry to create the fabric for his costumes?
Did Loie Fuller have to not only dance, but also develop the film, design
the projector, and build the screen to project it on?

Probably not. I may be wrong, though.

However, this is the kind of thing which often happens in current dance and
technology. All too often, we are trying to use equipment beyond its
intended purpose, or to integrate modes of technology that are not designed
to go together. My comment about "undemanding technology" was meant to
imply that we will see a deepening of the content, a polishing of the work,
when setting up a video connection becomes as second-nature as putting on
toe shoes for a ballerina.

> We DO work with set
>choreography, but it can never be 100% set, because it is, after all, an
>interactive environment, and those environments are subject to external
>forces, and the way in which a performer reacts to what s/he is creating
>will also differ in each performance. Having said that, it does not work
>simply to work with improvised movement, at least in the work we're doing,
>because it ultimately is too loose. I would say that most of the work is
>about 90% set by the time it reaches performance stage.
Perhaps an analogy to this would be a concert violinist--the score of a
musical piece dictates the "choreography" of her fingering, yet the
ornaments and slight stylings on the frets make the difference between a
student and a virtuoso. This already has a precedent in "traditional
dance", else we would never see any difference between dancers doing

However, in defense of improv, I believe that it is conceivable that a
dancer gifted in that art and given enough time to practice with a
consistent sensing system could do without "set" choreography, much the way
that jazz musicians do without notes, using only a framework as a basis for
the piece. The problem thusfar has been, in my experience, that improv has
been used as a last resort, when technological difficulties have impeded
rehearsal time and there's nothing left to work from but improv. If this
were planned for in advance, and it was recognized that perhaps dance-tech
requires a different production/rehearsal schedule than traditional dance,
we might see more work that would satisfy Mr. Clarke. I don't think it's
laziness you see; it's exhaustion.
>I wonder what it means when the "technology [is] undemanding"? In my
>experience, working with technology is never undemanding, and I agree that
>this is a cop-out, in that it suggests that more concentration can be put
>on the choreography if and when a technology become stable enough to be

The remark was not meant to address choreography, but rather content. One
must master the medium before one can produce anything more than sketches
and studies, and the urge to go on to new and "better" tech tends to
discourage mastery by anyone. Quite frankly, I believe that more
concentration needs to be put into the presentation of the technology as
well as the choreography, and even more into the content mediated by that
technology. The question that needs to be ask is not what message the use
of technology is sending, but if technology is the best way to mediate the
message trying to be sent. Sita coined the term "techno-sceptic" to
describe this attitude, and it is this attitude that would prevent the
creation of things like "video wallpaper". Basically, it's the KISS
principle--only use a technology if there is no other way to do what you
need to do.

Technology can be very undemanding--I'm talking to several people around the
world right now simply by typing and pressing a couple of buttons.
Digitally mediated music is being played at the same time. Calling this
"old new technology" is a convenient dismissal of things that one does not
want to address--the fact that none of it was common two decades ago seems
strangely unimportant to people so concerned with historical context. Why
should the history of video design and cinema be so important while the
history of sound design and recording technology is discounted? When a
videographer's vision is as commonly realized AND as accurately delivered as
a musician's sound, we will see much better quality work--every student who
goes through a video design course proves this.