Digital Media and Dance


In November of 2011, the Ryerson Theater School Dancers performed the world premiere of Axon, a techno-lyrical piece choreographed by Allen Kaeja and projection design by David Bouchard and Aaron Bernstein. The piece experimented with narrative by incorporating technology both on the bodies of the dancers and on the backdrop. The combination of body movements and dynamic pixels emphasized the differences between the mediums of expression and illustrated a new way of story telling.

Dancers brought technology on to the stage by attaching single LEDs on the wrists and ankles, which lit up during dance moves. Blinking lights brought attention to parts of the dance that would not have been noticed otherwise.

An aerially placed presence-locating system tracked dancers on stage and mapped their changing coordinates using an animated and dynamic computer-generated sketch as the backdrop. Not only did the visualization bring attention to a perspective not seen by the audience sitting at the front, but it was also a new way of representing individuals in the group and how they relate to the whole. Space between the dancers took meaning, similar to Degas’ paintings where large open spaces on his canvas communicated potential dance space.

The effect of the aerial view was reminiscent of Scott Snibbe’s art piece, Boundary Functions, “a virtual community that… exists in a physical space.” Snibbe uses a projected diagram to show changing personal space, defined by proximity to others. This is similar to Axon where position tracking is mapped using an animated sketch to show dancer’s position with respect to others’ on the stage. Both pieces illustrate social dynamics in a virtual reality through the use of algorithms.

Through the visualization, Kaeja illustrated mathematical abstraction in a comprehensible way. Computer language and human language contrast vastly and causes the general public to resist computer exploration, despite the benefits of personalizing the computer to fit our unique needs. It is for this reason that Axon is a step forward in bridging the worlds that originate in the 19th century. William Emerson Ritter (1856-1944), a teacher and biologist during the Industrialization Era, noted that the field of science was becoming a specialization that did not share its discoveries with the world. This would explain why a minority group of people are developing and benefiting from the distribution of information technology. Aside from economics, greatness can come from interdisciplinary creations such as how algorithms were used to communicate the aesthetics of dynamic living in Axon.

Axon is a step forward in terms of expanding the realm of expression in dance. The dialogue between a traditional art form and emerging new technology is important for art to reflect the state of the day and stay relevant. While these visualizations were quite organic, I envision technology to continue its ubiquity until is it indistinguishable like proposed in the idea of singularity.

Snibbe, S. “Boundary Function.” 1998. Web. Accessed on 20th November 2011.

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