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Connecting Bodies Symposium

15-16 June 1996 - School for New Dance Development, Amsterdam

A two day international symposium on the connections between the discourses and practices of dance and technology with a particular focus on the impact of new media technologies on dance making/ choreography. You can see more information about what took place here. The following is a transcript made from Diana Theodores' (Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Movement at Dartington College of Arts, Devon, England) summary comments at the beginning of the final Panel Discussion.

Final Panel Discussion: Diana Theodores (chair), Heidi Gilpin, Andre Lepecki, Thecla Schiphorst, Andrea Zapp

Diana Theodores: summary at beginning of Sunday Panel

[ She began by coining the term 'technography' in order to help focus on the mutually informing processes of technology and choreography. She then went on to state that there were three major issues which came up for her during the weekend 1) new range of movement; 2) new ideology for composition or construction; 3) a new psychology about presence ]

Transcription begins (the first part of the first sentence has been cut off):

... notions of composition ranging from things like internet improvs to entering into x-ray vision of choreography inside the very organs of human body as a new space. Or looking at issues of absence and presence and disappearance or erasure, the multipresent but also the through-presence in technology. So, virtual, interactive, immersive computer technologies extends and transforms the shape of movement and choreography, and I sit here as someone who comes from a heritage of very much privileging the sacred body as primary instrument, so I sit here before you as someone who is, up until yesterday, totally innocent in the arena of technology. And I'm hoping that in my innocent state of choreographic heritage that privileges the sacred body over the notion of technology will provide a set of provocative instigators for issues that will be responded to by the panelists and by audience. I have to say that I'm aware everyone here comes with various levels blah. All of the sessions have provided revelations - etc. I'm going to present an inventory of issues which have been gleaned from all the presentations.

Firstly, we enter a virtual world and we present what was referred to as a Cartesian divide between mind and body, that is, we can leave the body via the virtual and we can enter mind space or we can extend and amplify or indeed penetrate the materiality of the body. We can in fact pursue via technology the notion of embodiment in the most profound sense.

Two, we can challenge and/or confuse all existing senses that we have of order and of norms, spatially, biomechanically, kinesthetically and aesthetically. Classical frameworks of symmetry, specific body architecture, notions of sequence and even the way we recogonise our own sensory responses and faculties, all of these things are challenged and reordered radically or/ and perhaps liberatingly. As we shed the ingrained ideas of what the body ought to do, we enter into a new aesthetic and experiential order.

Three, the collaboration between media technology and choreography can expand the concept of what technology is just as much as it can expand the concept of what the body is. So, we've heard quite a bit about the empowering of the body as an informer for technology rather than only thinking of technology as a device for the body. And to quote Susan Kozel's article called The Virtual World, New Frontiers Dance and Philosophy, which is a paper she gave at the University of Surrey last spring, she said "If technology is regarded as an abstract, logical and mechanical and bodies are seen as the organic matter only, then the two will be mutually hostile. But if technology and bodies are seen additionally in terms of flows of energy or intensity or as fluid dynamics, then there is ground for collaboration."

Four, taking this point about the collaboration of the organic and the technological a bit further, it was said yesterday that technology is driven by the experience of the body itself, that knowledge of the body can inform technology and therefore it can further inform ways of connecting. That again, the notion of disembodiment in technological immersion is resisted here for its perpetuation for the sacredness of mind space over body intelligence.

Five, the thinking body empowered by technology offers up languages of bones of organs of fluids and even the langauge of seeing inside a movement. It brings us to, in choreographic terms, the notion of 'impossible anatomies', or the impossible body.

Six, technology as a compositional tool versus technology as simply a preservational or archival tool, assumes as a starting point, actually assumes as a given the impossible body aesthetic. And we'll get onto that a little bit more I'm sure. The thrill of the unnatural is reaffirmed by technology in much the same way that aesthetic pleasure was derived originally from classical ballet in terms of virtuoso technique and unnatural acts. The technologically possible anti-gravitational body, the multi-layered, the extended, the enlarged, the vanishing, the inside-out bodies of the virtual and the immersed invite us to a new definition of artifice, of extra-ordinary, and invite us to new desires for the performing body. For some reason, I'm reminded here of Paul Valery's observations on dancers needing to be in perpetual motion in order to find equilibrium, the notion that he calls the 'thrill of instability' of that being a kind of underlying aesthetic principle and physical law of dance.

Seven, the concept of instanteneity as a political site, that technology affords us access to instant transactions, whether it's audience interacting with performers or choreographers constantly constructing materials - technography, in a sense, can disappear before it has ever fully appeared. So, it brings us to a radical forgetting and a radical remembering as perhaps two emerging ideologies of technography. Instanteneity certainly invites us to reflect on the quote that all art is a speeding up, and the very speed and intensity of technological advance is in itself an informing agent for choreography. I was in New York a couple of weeks ago and had many conversations with a company there called Troika Ranch, who are working a great deal with collaboration between choreography and technology and one of the things they said about their work that really struck me was that their dance, their dancing style is constantly high intensity and very, very fast and always unstable as a direct reaction to and response to their constant immersion in and the impact of technology on them as human beings. Yesterday we saw a short video clip of Merce Cunningham deriving a rather disturbingly new kind of port-a-bras from his own observations of the computerized body and we heard one of his dancers describing this attempt to learn this new port-a-bras as trying to draw a straight line in a curved universe and how very eerie that was for him in terms of a dance language. We also saw yesterday in Telematic Dreaming this very strange system of behaviors and gestures that came about from people attempting to experience the touch of electronic presences. So there was an entire system of behaviour there that was informed by that absent presence of the electronic body. We have also seen from Kitsou's demonstration earlier today, this notion of giving the space in-between more materiality and giving ourselves time to experience the presence of someone who is not there, or as Kitsou went on to say - asserting the existence of the non-solid presence on our cognisant being, that we can accept that and begin to work with that.

Computer and media technologies are radically and subtly and steadfastly penetrating our core and mapping out new systems of behaviour. We need to prepare ourselves for this, for what Peter Brook called in describing the work of Merce Cunningham, we need to prepare ourselves for the shock of freedom, or for what Thecla described yesterday as the 'possibilities of movements as yet unseen'. And equally, we must keep on asserting the equality of dance in its ability to subvert the notion of computer technology.

Again, in no particular order a few questions for me linger from all of these sessions and again, I'll go through another inventory. The first one, is what is good about, or what makes good performance? Is that question still relevant if we look at technography - what makes good technographic performance?

Two, how do we maintain a culture of movement memory via technology.

Three, does the advance of technology signal the retreat of technique. Now, I was struck by last night's presentation of Joel's - the composer who was talking about William Forsythe, and he said at one point that Forsythe describes encouraging the visual imagination amongst his audience by rendering much of his dance invisible at times. So, if that's so, as one question might we look at the retreat of technique if we are increasingly fascinated by the invisible. What about the manipulation of the body into a fictional telematic body that is capable of extra-ordinary technique via computer projections. What happens when we are focussing on a stage space that encompasses both projected imagery and live imagery and our attention is often drawn to the imagery on the screen and we are struggling with our senses to accept the real and the projected. Where does technique go in those spaces.

We have also heard some very very well pinpointed and focussed points that Heidi made today which makes me think the opposite, that we are going further and further into technique. One of those points was concentrations rather than imitations, concentratedness versus imitatedness as a technical investigation for dancers. The notion of dancers divesting themselves of movement versus invading space as another technique investigation. We also saw in Heidi's demonstration today this notion of the very, very increasingly specific articulation of work via this body inscription process, and, again, Kitsou talked also about transferring techniques of weightlessness into the terrestrial technical training of dancers. So, we have possibly many, many avenues to look at both via intensifying issues of technique, but also possibly abandoning technique altogether.

Another question was brought up yesterday by Thecla - do we need to replicate ourselves in technology or are we more interested at arriving at an 'other' this concept of the 'other'. And is this 'other' body an unengendered body - is this body de-gendered. Is technography an ungendering. If so, why are women in cyberspace still exhibited, still imaged as vanished bodies or cloned or anonymously sexual bodies. Whither the feminisms of modern and post-modern choreographies in cyber-spacio. Is 'modemism' the demise of such choreographed feminism. What are the narratives that are accessible when we begin to look at the ways in which technology affords us constant repetition, and as someone mentioned in an article, perhaps it was Heidi, the 'illusion of control by the act of repeating'.

As we reflect on the technological instanteneity and the privileging of transactions in capitalist culture which leaves us no time for thinking to take root - as we enter this age of technography have we given enough space and time and rootedness for taking stock of what choreographic achievements have amassed over this century. We have looked at Merce Cunningham's fascination with Lifeforms and we can celebrate his marvellous and very poignant ongoingness with his own work and his own career in choreography via a new technology, and yet we can look at the screen where dancers now are younger than ever before and who maybe, maybe don't actually know very much about his earlier movement philosophies, but are already moving into the Merce Cunningham ideology of the present. Have they taken stock? Looking at the video solo today by William Forsythe, I was staggeringly struck by its similarity in intention to a work that was done by Murray Louis in 1957 called "Journey" and that work was all about the intensive specificity of articulation, that's what he worked with. As did Twyla Tharp in her very early work, the enormous range of specific articulations as a concentratedness of technique.

When we look at this notion of disappearance and appearance and invisibleness one might also think back to the early experiments of Paul Taylor when he would perform in the dark his "Dark Dances" where you could only hear them, but not see them. And when John Martin, the critic for the New York Times, wrote a response the next day to one of the "Dark Dances" which was a blank column. So, as we take stock of technology we must also, I believe, take stock of this century's choreographic heritage. We must look to technology for its compositional facility, but we must also not forget it's value as a documentary and preserving archival footnote - we must not forget to footnote choreography's history. Is Arleen Croce's comment that "Dance achieved everything it set out to do in the 20th Century" - is that a myth.

So, that's my summary

** panellists are invited to make preliminary responses **

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