Re: undemanding, unambitious, uninformed and uninspired

Kent De Spain (
Tue, 28 Sep 1999 00:11:10 -0400

Dear Andy and Listies,

        Andy was busy over the weekend but I didn't have time to reply to his 3 postings until now. Here goes:

Andy Clarke wrote:

I think that a distinction has to be made between technologies that alter the type of dance that can be performed - either the type of movement that can be performed and the nature of its presentation - and those that have the potential to change the formal dramatic structure of the dance as a whole. Here I am thinking in particular about the use of sensors to create certain types of interactive performance space.
I think that any analysis of the effect of previous technological developments must be viewed within the appropriate historical context. To say that technologies such as theatrical lighting or the pointe shoe did not "change the formal dramatic structure of the dance as a whole" is, I think, to underestimate their effects based on present day experiences. Interactive performance technologies may seem less "trivial" at this moment (whoops, this moment already went by), but it may or may not seem so next year or next century (whoops, next year is next century). And please be careful of connotations in your choice of descriptors. If you try not to refer to whole categories of interactive environments as "trivial", I will try not to refer to new technological developments as "gimmicks."

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Concerning branching structures: they are definitely an important avenue of investigation in the future of interactive performance, but I wonder how much of the underlying structures will be evident to audiences. How will we communicate enough information within and without the work to inform audiences (ostensibly increasing their appreciation of the work) without being pedantic?

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Concerning the use of the term "virtual": I don't see it as imprecise, depending on the context. If you are simply naming (or describing) the "kind" of dancing figure, then "animated dancer" would be more accurate. But if you are looking at the issue from the point of view of critical analysis, then "virtual dancer" is quite useful. Virtual is primarily defined as something that has a certain status in all but name. But there are ontological reasons for withholding that name, a point of clarity or resistance in the language of a culture. I use the term virtual dancer not only to refer to animated dancing figures, but for the images of humans captured in space/time by film or video. All of these are dancers in a sense, but we withhold the full designation and refer to them as "virtual" because of their two-dimensional electronic status. It is clearly still important within our culture (thus the persistence and popularity of the term "virtual") to parse the flesh from the silicon.

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Andy wrote:

Is improvisation with sensors really any different to improvisation without
sensors, and should we be praising it when there are other more interesting
things that we could do with this (and other) technology in dance?

Yes, improvisation with sensors is different than improvisation without sensors. It is also different indoors than outdoors. And different on Tuesdays than Thursdays. That doesn't make it good or bad, just different. I think it would be most helpful to judge work one piece at a time. I could be wrong, but it sounds like you are falling into the aesthetic trap of conflating innovation with quality.

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Lastly, Andy wrote:

I judge work objectively - if a work is good, then I can see that it is
good and will say so, no matter what it is or who did it. And I think that
it is clear from my previous messages that I will also criticise poor work,
no matter who did it and what their reputation is.

If you judge work objectively, you are the only person on the planet to do so. We are always, already inextricably contexted within our own set of experiences and our culture. Positivism died decades ago (I heard it withered away in a cheap motel in Florida) and no one mourns its passing. Fess up, Andy. You judge work based on criteria that you value. It may be useful criteria, but it is not the only criteria. I am interested in your evaluations, but don't try to hide what they are: opinions (informed and experienced, undoubtedly, but opinions nonetheless).

Thanks for listening. KD