Saturday, June 28, 2008

Day Eleven: Rejecting the Idea of a "Simple Piece"

Okay, so Jeremy asked me to blog about what's happened to my ideas about "simple" and "complex" pieces. A quick recap first for those of you who weren't there. Here goes:

So after i made "The What's Left Over After" (the piece that i made the hypermedia for) i recieved the comment (multiple times from multiple people) that they enjoyed the piece, but wished that it could be "clearer" - to paraphrase one comment, that sections of the piece were like rich chocolate cake, but all of the parts of the piece pushed together became overfilling and overrich - in need of editing. This made me think about previous pieces, upon which i realized that most of the feedback i was getting was that my pieces needed editing, and could be much "better" if i stoped tryting to make epic work, and instead concentrated on honing my craft and construction.

Now, let me just make it clear, that i 100% respect and 98% agree with that feedback. I make too much. It needs editing. If i could make less and hold myself to editing, it would, most likley, be "better" (let's say, in the eyes of those who judge what's "good" in postmodern/contemporary modern dance as of right now).

BUT. It brought up a lot of issues for me about the ways in which we as choreogrpahers are asked and taught to make dances; what we are taught is "good" work. A few big paradoxes came to mind, the biggest concerning clarity and the role of the audience:

When i was younger (and a little in college too), i was always instructed to not think too much about the audience. That, if i was to make good work, i needed to follow my heart and really craft what i wanted to make from my heart to your (the audience's) eyes. I'm sarcastic, but that's what i was being told. But at the same time, i was being told that i had to follow a set of structures and rules that would make the work "clear" "interesting" and "watchable" for the audience. The goal was to make somthing that wouldn't be entirely overwhelming for the audience, rather, enjoyable and entertaining. After all, we make the work for the audience. The paradox being: make the work for the audience, but make what you want to make from your heart, but make it clear and enjoyable. What if what's in my heart is complex and epic? What if it's unwatchable? Here's when people started telling me that maybe i wasn't really a choreogrpaher and that i wanted to try other art forms.

But the question still held for me: if what's in my heart is NOT compatible with the clarity that i'm being asked to deliver, then what happens if i (as well as anyone else who feels similarly) puts all that energy we've been expending molding our visions into clarity, into simply letting what we have be what it is, and finding ways to help veiwers (who have likewise been trained towards simplicity) access it?

SO. In my early grappling with these notions, i started calling the work that i felt i was being asked to make (for the audiece, but 100% from your heart, but clear) a "simple piece" and the idea of what would be possible to make if we redirected our focus/thinking a "complex piece".

Let me just say, my bad.

I did not mean to imply that work being made now was simple, nor mine vastly complex. I did not mean to offend, and i certianly didn't mean to say that i didn't see the complexity at play within every single dance created. In many cases, the pieces that seem the most simple and clear and the hardest to make and the by far the most internally complex. I know (and after last semester, have proved) that i can not and will not make a piece that is clear and simple to view, becuase it is too hard, and i lack those specific skills as a creator.

So where are those ideas now? (Jeremy, the world, wants to know!)
Actually, i've kind of rejected the idea of simplicity, especially under that name. Nothing nothing nothing is simple. However, i AM still interested in the idea of CLARITY, and how it has been constructed in our learning of modern dance and choreogrpahy.

In senior seminar this year, Sara always asked us what we were "assuming" in our work. Are we assuming that the dancers always start offstage? Do we assume and reassume that a piece is always to music? These sorts of things. Well, i feel that contemporary dance assumes many things:
  • the work will generally be between five minutes and "evening length"
  • the work will not be unwatchable
  • the work will involve bodies, onstage, moving/not moving, and music/no music
  • the work is performed for an average of two nights, or on tour
  • the work is generally ephemaral
  • the work will be clear enough that in one veiwing, the audience will be interested/intriqued/entertained enough to a) want to see the piece again, b) want to see the company again, c) donate money to the company, or d) tell a friend to see the show

etc, etc, etc. There are more, and of course all of these have major exceptions (especially here in postmodernism) but these are the ones that stick out to me. To me, this is how the dance world seems to function, and whether this is due to economic factors or artistic theories or the Will of the Muse (or all of them, which, it is) this is how we are being taught and teaching ourselves what dance is.

It isn't that we're teaching ourselves "this is good dance, this is bad dance" (even though we are.) It's that we're being taught, "This is dance, this isn't."

So that's my little rant. As you can see, i'm still very much engaged with the idea of clarity and the idea of questioning that, even if i've givin up the monolithic (and i think not really real) ideas of "simple" and "complex". Everything is both. It's seeing what we're assuming that's interesting to me now.

Personally, i'm interested in trying to create dance along the lines that Joyce wrote Ulysses. Create something that is compleatly on your terms. Create something that is too much, too dance, unread/watchable. Create something with a new language and old structures. Create somthing that must be studdied intensley for any understanding to be reached, yet is at the same time intensley provocative and moving and beautiful. Create a work that people will spend their entire lives studying, and still profess to not compleatly understand. AND. Create a study guide that goes with it.

No dance like that has been created, not that i've seen or heard of. So that's what i'm interested in making.

As always, questions welcome.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Wish you were here...


Becuase I am on the beautiful island of Santorini (Greece) and it's hands down probably the nicest place i will ever be again in my life, becuase i think it might actually be a punishable sin to not be outside, and becuase i am on a borrowed computer, no big blogging today. Tomorrow, when my sunburn sets in, perhaps. I will try to upload some pictures once i'm back so you can see how amazingly gorgeous and breathtaking this place is.

I'm calm, i'm relaxed (without being antsy...yet), i'm averaging 1.5 novels a day, drinking peach juice for breakfast, and i look cute in the new fedora i just bought. Cheers for the last vacation of my life until i get married or die. I'm joking.

In the meantime, Jeremy had a question about what had become of an old idea i was working with about "simple pieces vs. complex pieces". If anyone else wants to throw out questions - about hypermedia, me, about my work, about my theories, about how theoretical hypermedia systems function within my work, or anything else, i'd be excited to field them tomorrow. You're welcome to ask questions for the other artist/writer/s too, although i can't gaurentee responses.

What do you want to know? What's on your mind, oh fearless reader?
Off to more burning,
Love Always,

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hypermedia Day Ten - Another Angle

So, right before we left for Paris i was reading a review of a film exhibit (which i plan on seeing after i'm back in DC) that's on display right now at the Hirshorn. The article, while it detailed a few of the films on display in particular, mostly focused on the idea that none of the abstract aspects of the exhibit could really be described in the review, only the basic facts of what happens in each film - that in itself being near pointless.

The article made an argument for the theory that all the concrete aspects of a piece of art (in this case, a film, so: the characters, plot, visuals, etc.) are only there to give the veiwer's consious mind something to attach to and consiously analyze so that their subconsious mind can drift among the abstract elements of the artwork. Now, this certianly isn't what i would present as my primary understanding of what the veiwing-of-art process is, but the more i think about it, the more i can at least connect with this theory's practical applications.

So let's use it to look at dance, yes?

It seems that if we accept this this "theory of watching" (let's call it) to be true, that then the question of "how do we present our work in the best way possible" shifts from being about the concrete specifics of the piece to being about degree of those specifics.

The question then becomes,

"How much concrete information does and audience need (want?) to best access the abstract details of the piece. What is the ratio?"

Now, i think it's important here to distinguish that (in this context) providing more information about the concrete details of the piece isn't an attempt to "explain" the piece, only provide them with more of the "superficial" details so that they (aha!) can connect with the piece's abstractions. So again, the question becomes the amount.

Is it enough for our audience to simply "see what they see?" (as seems to be prefered by many of my fellow choreographers from SLC). For even in that they will undoubtably see more than we could hope to "tell" them. Or is it more effective for our audience to be thinking about the formal elements of the piece (as i felt that i was being led to do watching a piece such as Sara Rudner's last work)? Is additional process-oriented and relational information about the work helpful (for example, from my piece/hyperemdia, that i saw the "venn diagrams" duet as both men being the same person and Rowan saw it as brothers and MCF saw it as lovers) or is it just too much information?

Regardless, i think it's an interesting way to analyze this question. To me, the most important thing to any anwser (whether you're a formalist, "see-what-they-see-ist", hypermedist, or anything in between) is the follow up question:

"if that's the best way to access the abstract, then is the way that we are making and presenting dances supportive of that? If not, what needs to change?"

Monday, June 23, 2008

Day Nine - Hypermedia from Paris!

As some of you know, i'm in Paris!

This of course means that i won't be posting every day, but when i have time and am inspired (as is the case today) i'll do my best to post something of interest. Once we get to Greece and our only planned adventures are lying on beaches all day, i'm sure to be antsy enough to be posting a bit more often. That is, if we can get internet. Anyhoo.

We visited Paris's modern art museum today, the amazing Centre Pompidu (really really check this one out!). One of the rooms i came across really made me stop and think. Here's what happened.

A small single room, low lit and filled with black frames caught my eye, so i wandered over. Reading from the plaque that the artist was Christian Boltanski (bio and work), a name that i hadn't heard before, i read that he was a multimedia artist, here working with polaroid photos, paper, and some other materials, working on "his obesssion" in his work - attempting the impossible task of reconstructing one's life as an artistic endeavor. In the room were about fifteen large frames, each containing photos, letter, messages, maps, and various other artifacts of the artist's life. Of course my heart started beating a little faster, and i thought about all the ways in which this artist and myself were similar. Here we both were, both driven towards attempting the impossible of reconstruction - study guides of massive ammounts of information - Artifacts. Bingo. You may or may not know this, but one of my big draws to hypermedia is my imediate artistic focus on the aesthetics, stories, purpouses, and structures of artifacts, and sometimes antiques. Anyways, i read the description, and get excited to look, get excited beyond belief that i've found some like mind. I walk in, look at about two of the frame-fulls of information, get bored, and walk on to another room.

Now, i don't feel any less connected with this artist. I don't dislike the work by any means - i thought it was beautiful. But the thing that speaks to me the most about it is the idea of it. Knowing that he took time to compose it, knowing that it means something, knowing that it could be sleuthed through piece by piece to be made sense of.

Which begs the question:

Is hypermedia (both as i'm envisioning it related to my work, and as an "invention" for the use of the general public) important as a final product, or is the real value in the process that the artist goes through inventing it? Could it really be that helpful for someone who happens upon it as i did Boltanski's exhibit, or is it simply a pathos/ritual for the artist to engage themselves in in order to further their work or appease some personal demon/paranoia?

I clearly don't have the anwsers to these questions.

As you may/may not know, i've been fighting for this hypermedia thing ever since the idea started to formalize, and it still seems vastly important outside of myself, if it catches on and becomes economically possible. So. I don't think i'm letting go of the idea any time soon. But. I have said all along that the most valuable part of the process thus far that i've engaged in making the first prototype were the ways in which it pushed and informed me as a singular artist and human being. So what now?

I'll close for today with a realization i'm coming to while typing (and then possible add more tomorrow):

This question is the same one that i'm trying to tackle right now for the making of dances themselves. Is it important that the audience be engaged by the final product? Or is it the process of making that dance that is the important thing - simply a catharsis of some pathos?

My guess is that those who say that it's the process that's important for the hypermedia (and advise giving up the audience aspect) are the ones who feel most strongly that the audience must be paid attention to in performance. Vice versa as well? I'm not sure. Would LOVE to get some responses back on this one so we can discuss!

Maybe doing both with every piece is my attempt to ballence the two extremes. At the least, it's causing me to ask myself these questions, and you, my audience in this case, to interact with them.

Au Revoir!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Hey guys, due to power outages and water pipe breaks, i'm a little behind on my posting.
I'll try to have something up soon!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Gender Studies + Motion Capture = Because it's cool.

Hey all,
Lindsay passed this on to me, so i thought i would share it as a refreshing palette cleanser between the wallops of hypermedia that we've been serving up. Check it out!

Day Eight - How I want to use Hypermedia

Back to this question of embalmment versus organ/orifice.

For me, the true power of hypermedia isn't that it preserves dance or gives it more context as a tool but how the abilities and possible styles of creating of a choreographer with that tool is changed. Now make no mistake, I don't think that this "evolution" that i'm talking about could take place without the specific functions of the hypermedia that i've laid out - preservation, education, context, process, giving voice to the audience - so it's definitely a symbiotic relationship. However, i've gotten many question about what the point of these functions are, especially from one of my dancers involved in the project. Her point seemed to be (and forgive/correct me if i'm off, Ilona) that if all of this beautiful art making and process was only being made so that it could preserve itself, then the act and point of making art had really lost value in her mind. That the hypermedia was a nice type of new art, but that it was somehow demoralizing that i was spending so much focus on the preservation and academizing of the art that it seemed to take away somehow from the art itself.

Now, my original response to this was something along the lines of what i've been saying - that the piece is still about the piece, and the hypermedia is just an artifact of that - but i've been thinking about her feelings on this ever since she said it.

I think i understand now that the hands down most important aspect of the hypermedia is that it completely changed my working process. I've said all along that if the hypermedia is nothing else, it's a tool to get me, one person, to make better work. However, i think that it's important that i go into a little more detail about how and why here, as it was the "most important" aspect of the entire project for me.

First, hypermedia allowed me to work harder and better on the piece that i was making. Because i was recording each rehearsal and then having to download and process the footage, I was participating fully in each one, then getting to sit back and watch the entire thing over again. In this way, i as the choreographer was rehearsing twice as much. I could let my mind wander about the piece, i could focus on specific detail, i could go on slow-mo and write extremly detailed notes for my performers, and i could catch things that i didn't see (or that were happening behind my back and across the room) the first time. I was working twice as had as i could normally work, because i was giving it twice as much time. And, although time was a huge part of it, i maintain that in many ways it was actually more helpful than having my dancers for that additional time, because it allowed me to be more thorough about what i already had. And anyway, in today's economy, who can afford to double their rehearsal time. Who has dancers with that much time to devote? Not me.

Second, it allowed me to get more information about the piece. As i mentioned, during the creation of the piece i was able to get more information by reviewing rehearsal footage, but it was really the information that i received after the piece was done that was the most surprising. First of all, the audience talk-back interface that we set up yielded some interesting, if not large in number, responses. While i still feel very much that the questions being asked is one of the biggest areas that needs honing, i was excited at many of the responses we received, and pleased with the ability it gave the audience to enter their voices into the project. Additionally, interviewing my dancers provided the most and most interesting information of the whole project, which i honestly hadn't anticipated. It was interesting to me, in looking at past pieces i've made and danced in, that while there's such an intense bond over the making of a dance, and there's an incredible amount of discussion about what's being made, there are inevitably a whole world of questions that don't get asked or answered. Getting to think about what i really wanted to know from my dancers (about three months after the performance) and getting to hear their response, felt like the biggest gift i could ever imagine. I can't really put into words how valuable i feel that was to me as a choreographer. In somewhere around seven hours of interviews (everyone combined) i received more insight to the piece, my dancer's minds, our collective understanding of the work, and insights into my creative process than I have ever ever ever received or given for a piece before. I was able to listen to everything they said and really try to learn from it as a choreographer. What did they understand about the piece that i didn't? What did they feel strongly about? What were they doing behind my back? What did they know about my creative process that i had never thought of. Interview your dancers. Interview your collaborators. Interview yourself. I can't stress the importance enough.

So hypermedia allowed me to work harder better and more, with more information both during and after the process. This is a good thing. These, to me, seem like new organs/orifices in the dance as a body. It is better for me. I am asking it to evolve, and it is evolving. Now, these may seem like minor evolutions, which is a fine point. One could argue that the hypermedia functions to me like any other choreographic tool used by any choreographer - that it simply allows them to produce something that they like more than if they were doing it without the use of that tool, activity, or way of thought. YES. For this is exactly what it is.

So then maybe this isn't really an evolution, you say. Maybe it's just a new type of activity to add to the countless list of how people make dances. Part of me disagrees with you, but i'll humor you for now. Viddy this, for here is how hypermedia is 100% a new organ for the body of dance:

It negates the biggest assumption/rule that modern dance now adheres to - that
dances must be watchable in one sitting, and after that one viewing of the piece, the audience member must have enough of a liking/understanding of that piece. This "judgment" if the piece isn't important in terms of like/dislike (i would argue that i've been interested in seeing a company perform again, even if i really disliked what i first saw because i was interested in it and wanted to see more) but IS important because it leads them to decide that they either "enjoyed the piece" "were moved by the piece" or "were interested by it" which in turn decides a.) if they will have interest in seeing this company perform again and b.) if they will donate to money or volunteer services to this company. We can agree (am i wrong about this?) that a dance company's artistic success is at least partially based on their economic success. So then what this system of dance fosters, is the artistic/economic success of a dance company being based on the test of if their pieces are enjoyable/understanding/interesting IN ONE VIEWING.

Not acceptable!
Not helpful!
and, let me say in the complete and utter seriousness that i parody myself with:

What other form of art asks us to see a piece of art, and in only one viewing come to all the conclusions we will have about it? Our art is equally complex as any other form, and i maintain that it CANNOT be fully experienced or understood in one sitting. It just isn't possible.

Because of this, we have become self-limiting in our clarity. Now, i'm not saying that the pieces we're making right now are simple. They're not. They're complex as hell, and that's why i'm interested in this hypermedia system to help study them. BUT. We are all aware of that limitation. I'm not saying that our pieces are simple, but i am saying that we're all working under this "rule". What would happen if we stopped putting so much effort in striving for clarity within our work, and put all that effort into making the pieces incredibly complex and made ON OUR OWN TERMS? If we then commit to using something along the lines of hypermedia to help our audience understand what we are making, we can help them how to start to see the pieces we make on our terms, rather than on a different set of limitations that we never wanted in the first place.

Now, please note, i am not saying that the audience will then see what we want them to see in the piece, or be completely directed by what we're telling them. That would fail. What i'm suggesting is that we could start making these dense and complex works and then give the audience a study guide. They will of course take what they are going to take from it. But how can they begin to take, if they don't first have a window in? The best (and maybe one of the only) examples of this is Joyce's Ulysses (which maybe i'll talk more about tomorrow). The man writes a book that is nearly unreadable. It's thick, it's cryptic, it uses made up words, it's complex, and it's epic. If you get through it, there's no way you'll even begin to understand everything that's there in one reading of it. People devote their entire lives to the study of it, and still don't know everything about it. How could they? What did Joyce do? He write a study guide to go along with the novel so that people could begin to access it. Much like a modern dance, it would be impossible to understand everything about it. Even with Joyce's help, everyone sees something different.

So, much in the same way that we must first embalm the body to study it enough to know how to evolve new organs, and we must first grow new organs so that we are able to effectively embalm ourselves - The use of hypermedia allows us to make more and more complex pieces that, through the ability of study, allow us to negate the "need" for a once-seen piece and allow us to make work on our own terms. However, if we have any hope of anyone having interest in these pieces, we have to first educate our audiences about the dances that we are making now, so that they might have the opportunity to love dance the way we love dance. It's all cyclical, it's all symbiotic.

And THIS, in my mind, is why hypermedia is in fact new organs and orifices.
It's evolution, for those that want it.

For those who don't, it seems like it should be a harmless attempt at a new understanding of what dance could be. If it's just an "excuse for poorly made art", as some have said, then it will not be a threat to their perceived security in old/current forms. The only way, it seems, that it would truly be a threat, is if audiences start to feel like the old way needs to go, which (let me assure you as many have assured me this year)
won't happen any time soon.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Day Seven - Where hypermedia stops being embalment fluid, and starts being organs

So earlier today i got an excellent question from Tony. He writes:

"Whats left over after the dance?
A decaying body.
So are you looking to embalm the body or add new orifices and organs?"

Excellent excellent question.
Today i was planning to go into a little more detail about some of the specific linking abilities of hypermedia - i'm going to use Tony's question to structure my exposition of the different possibilities. He raises an excellent point: on one hand, i seem to be arguing hypermedia as a means for education, preservation, and historical artifact-making - all functions that in some way strive to extend the shelf-life and provide proof of existence in some way of the piece being hypermedia-ed. On the other hand, so much of why hypermedia is important to me personally as an artist is the possibilities that it holds for transforming or re-programing the format and "rules" for dance making that we currently work within.

I had the realization this year (which my thesis advisor Rose Anne quickly agreed with) that the main aspect of the hypermedia that people were really having a problem with, really rallying against, was my use of it as opposed to the idea of it as a tool. I think largely because of that i have shied away from talking about my own personal desires of how the project would be used within my own work. I have talked to many people who are so against the things that I want to do with it that i still debate bringing them into my discussions - the thinking being that it may be more prudent for the advancement of hypermedia as a form to first establish it and then talk about how i specifically want to use it. However, i think Tony (perhaps because he knows me and we've talked about my goals for this) is right in seeing that there's more to my argument than i've been presenting so far. Since i think i've outlined the hypermedia's ability to embalm pretty clearly, today i'll talk about how it can add organs and orifices.

So first, a note and disclaimer that i find to be VERY IMPORTANT:
I do not see the idea of and theory for the Hypermedia system as it pertains to modern dance as in any way related to my intended use of it. Do you understand? The Hypermedia is a tool (a loose theory, really) that anyone can customize
and use for their own needs. The Hypermedia is a response to a perceived need, and therefore can be used to almost any end by anyone who perceives the same needs that i do, or be molded to address different ones. I urge you (gentle reader) to not let the way i am interested in using the hypermedia affect your understanding or opinion of it as a tool. They are two separate things, although, since i am both the builder and the user, how much is certainly up for debate.

Well then, let's move onward.
Where when and how does hypermedia stop being an artifact and start becoming an evolution of dance making and presenting as we know it? When does it become the new organs and orifices that Tony speaks of? For me, hypermedia takes on the organ role in two different categories: the way it is seen/understood, and the way it is made.

How does hypermedia change the way dance is seen? Well, clearly, looking at dance through a screen, mouse in hand, is much different than sitting as an audience member in a black box theater. However, let's look at it through my ideal situation/timeline: the viewer goes to see a show, is interested in the piece they see, buys or is given the hypermedia, learns more about the piece, wants to/goes to see it again, and the last two repeat until the viewer is satisfied or deceased.

  • The clearest difference for me from our system of dance-viewing today seems to be an ability to study the dance. Although some ways certainly do exist - such as labonotation or written accounts - i am hard pressed to come up with another method of study that i feel accurately accounts for all parts of the piece.
  • Additionally, hypermedia shows as much of the process as the final product, creating less of a hierarchy between process and product. In extreme cases, this might even render the process as much more important than the product. In hypermedia, process becomes just as important as the final product of performance, and the performance itself is just another step of a process that continues both before and after it.
  • Excitingly, (and so here's the new stuff i was originally planning on blogging about today) hypermedia also leads to a possibility of non-linear viewing of the dance. For example, if a viewer clicked on the movement that we called "Venn diagram spots", they would come to discover (if they hadn't intuited it from the piece itself) that one of the big themes or ideas we were working with was Wordsworth's idea of "spots of time", specifically how Joyce centers on it in Ulysses.

    If this idea appealed to them , they could choose to deviate from the traditional linear way of looking at a dance, and instead follow this one thread thematically through the piece, looking at each moment the idea of spots of time came into play. While there's not a great way to demonstrate this without the actual hypermedia technology, you can see the overview for the Venn Diagram Spots movement here:

    The important part of the idea (and the part that to me seems like a true evolution of the form) is this: the dance is no long "stable". Sure, the original piece will always be The Piece, but the audience is then free to investigate it (and in so doing, re create it) for themselves. This is not a new idea by any means (check out this site if you want to play around with it - it's fun!) but i think that giving the audience to do this thematically, is. In this way, dance gets a new organ.
    And, let's be clear, this doesn't have to be only thematic. Narrative, anatomical, dancer-based, chord-structure-following, any navigation is possible. THIS IS BIG! Follow one movement through the entire piece and see how it links into other pieces that the choreographer has made. Trace all the movements in the piece in which the dancers must do something that is physically hard on their bodies, trace all the anatomical inversions, trace the use of letters, trace all the points where eye contact is important. The possibilities are, quite literally, endless.
So that's all well and good, but for me that's the tip of the iceberg. These (to me) all seem like "normal" functions that a hypermedia could choose to have; this is not my additional proposed use of the hypermedia that has, what feels like in my small world, so many people, up in arms. This has gotten pretty long, so i think i'll wait and discuss part two of this - how hypermedia could change the way pieces are made - tomorrow.

For your dreams tonight though, one unconditional statement:
In making this piece (the What's Left Over After) with the aid of a hypermedia, I have:

discovered, talked, listened, learned, produced, argued, made, and revised more
worked harder
made better
and enjoyed the process and product more

than any piece i have ever made before, and than any piece i can imagine making without hypermedia.
The question are, it seems
  1. does "more" constitute a new organ
  2. how?
  3. what does this mean for the future of my dances?
  4. does that mean anything for anyone other than me?
Answers (or at least more questions) tomorrow.

Interruption! In which our protagonist makes a case 4 hypermedia.


brief intro for those who don't know me. my name's I'Nasah (say it eye-NAH-sah) and i'm a big mess (read: writer (fiction poetry nonfiction) , dancer/dancer?, choreographer/choreographer?, former/soon to be once more filmmaker, budding vocalist, social commentator, and sometimes cook). i plan on blogging on.......oh, who knows. mostly my work. i promise i'll try and keep it interesting. for now, i want to respond to some of the responses that Sarah has been getting as she guides us through the hypermedia highway. if it sounds jumbled, please forgive me, i tend to do that when i'm impassioned. let me know if anything is unclear. i'll do this like 1, 2, 3.

from where i'm sitting (Sarah please correct me if i'm wrong) one of the purposes of hypermedia is to facilitate in the audience a deeper understanding of the artist's work (we've been talking about dance, but i'm interested in whether hypermedia can be applied to other artforms......more on that later). in fact, it is one of the primary purposes.
i am a firm believer that context facilitates not only only understanding, but engagement (keep reading to find out why i believe this). as artists, do we not want our audience to engage with our work? they don't have to like it, well that's one thing, and we have our own ways of dealing with that. but i find it hard to believe that as people who invest an enormous amount of energy in the creation in a 5 minute dance, a 1 minute song, a blog that takes an hour to write, etc., we supposedly don't care about whether or not they will engage. just to be clear, i'm not talking about if we care whether audience will like or dislike the piece. after the curtain closes, i'd rather someone come up to me and say, "i absolutely hated it," than someone coming up to me and saying......nothing. or not even remembering which piece was mine. that's what i'm terrified of. lack of engagement.
now, how do we achieve engagement? for the sake of argument, let's assuming that all of us want our art to be accepted on its' own terms. for example, if i'm covering a song by Jessie Mae Hemphill, i wouldn't want to be judged by the same standards that someone would judge, sayyyyy.........a beyonce song. you see how that's comparing apples to cheetos? not to say that a beyonce fan couldn't also enjoy Jessie Mae Hemphill (i think audiences are much more diverse and intelligent than our various industries - music, dance, and otherwise - give them/us credit for), but if that bey fan has never listened to Delta blues and knows little to nothing about the history and standards of that music (where did it come from, what makes a song "good" or "bad," etc.), i wouldn't want them to judge me based on their more familiar context (beyonce/what makes a contemporary r&b song good or bad). because they are, more likely than not, going to think that my song is bad. it will bore them. and they will disengage.
i think this is the problem facing post/post-modern dance (from here on i'll just say pomodance) that Sarah has identified. pomodance audiences are made up of mostly pomodancers and pomodance people because they/we are the ones who "get it," - i.e. understand the context. we are the ones who created it, negotiate and re-negotiate its boundaries, work with it, know where it comes from, and most importantly, we know how to engage.
and why do we know these things? well, that question just so happens to lea me to my second point........

in one of sarah's earlier blogs, a respondant said:
I learned how to appreciate dance through dance history and then through seeing many many pieces after that. I don't know if I really buy that a person gets a dance explained to them and then all of a sudden understands it. If a person wants to understand dance, they can watch a lot of dance.

that's fine, but let's break that down for a second. WHO takes dance history? mostly dance majors/dance minors/performing arts majors/and their ilk. please correct me if i'm wrong, but for the most part you don't have accounting and biochem majors just thirsting to learn about isadora duncan, nor is it required a required course for people outside of dance. but let's back that up even further - WHERE is dance history taught? in colleges, for the most part (also in conservatories and maybe in a summer dance intensive, but i would say colleges is the big home base here). and WHO goes to college? the same things that restrict people's access to college also restrict their access to watching dances, live dances at least. sure, one can spend upwards of $25 or $50 for an evening of pomodance, which one may or may not be engaged with/entertained by/understand/"get." OR one could go to the movies, which, where i live, is about $10 for an evening show.
then, even outside of academia, WHO has access to art? who has money to visit museums, plays, performance art, etc.? and let's talk about location. i think sometimes new yorkers (of course, no everyone who reads this blog is from NY) have a tendency to take for granted the amazing arts community that has established itself within the city. i'm currently blogging from ATL, my hometown, and out dance community here........yeah. it's not horrible by any means, but it's unsupported and small. you have your established companies, like Atlanta Ballet and Ballethnic, and they're the ones that tourists get pointed towards. Then you have the newer, modern/modern-based dance companies like brooks and company dance or Several Dancers Core. but unless you know where to look, which a lot of people outside of the dance community don't, you're not going to see these performances or even really know they exist. thus, outside of the occasional annual outing/school field trip to The Nutcracker, many people are going to have limited experiences with live dance. instead, they're going to stay at home and turn on the tv to So You Think You Can Dance. how is that going to help them to engage with pomodance upon first encounter?

and that's really the real reason why i dropped my dance third/major sophomore year. i am a former average joe. in some ways i am still an average joe. nine times out of ten i am more likely to stay at home and watch a movie, go out barhopping with friends, or even watch some live music before i see pomodance. i've been dancing since i was 4, but my context was africanist movement, ballet, and modern, but more along the lines of Horton and Limon technique than Judson-like. so upon my arrival at sarah lawrence college and subsequent immersion into the dance program, i was completely out of my context. i was overwhelmed. i was frustrated. and i was BORED. i was used to sweating and straining during dance, and i felt like all we were doing was flopping around and playing pretend. i didn't know HOW to engage with all this pomo stuff. why were people eating tostito chips on stage and shaking their limbs for twenty minutes? it all seemed like a colossal waste of time. more so than that, i didn't see any REASON to engage. i wasn't motivated to, i didn't particularly want to.
i think the primary reason that i ultimately came back to my dance third is because of that thing that makes us all dancers - i had to dance. and i was happier dancing in ways i wasn't always interested in than in not dancing at all. plus, all the 9am dance history lessons started to pay off. i began to understand the what and why of pomodance, and i learned to look at the movement on its own terms, instead of constantly comparing it to the movement i was more familiar with.
thus, i completely get why this - hypermedia - is necessary as a tool if we want pomo dance to continue to grow and flourish and reach a wider audience. i also think that Sarah has hit the nail on the head: MEDIA is the way to do this because we live in a very media-satuated world. and people GET media, they GET technology (youtube mp3 internets ipod iphone etc.,) and if you have a handle on something familiar when going into the unknown, it can help you grasp the unknown that much better.
and it's a completely optional tool. there's nothing wrong with creating and putting it out there for those who get it to get it. but that's exactly how pomodnce has gotten to this predictament that we've identified. and if the artist sincerely doesn't care about engaging her/his/zir audience, than that's fine. artist's perogative. my opinion, someone's got to care. otherwise, why do it? why create? creation devolves into masturbation. feels great, but it's someone unproductive. pomodance devolves into a huge circle-jerk. and after awhile, everyone's had everyone else. it's time for something new.

in the end, i guess this is plea for folks to consider their context when considering hypermedia and it's possibilities. bad art/bad pomodance exists independent of hypermedia (obvi, since hypermedia is still in the process of being created), as does excuses for bad art. hypermedia is not an excuse. i ultimately can't see the downside of creating new ways to engage pomodance audiences (or audiences for any art form). we can't force people to take a more active interest in our creations. but we can try. is it our responsibility? maybe not. not inherently, anyway. but if it interests us, i think it's worth a shot.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Day F/ix (five + six) - Hypermedia in Action!

Hi All,
First, apologies for my lack of posting yesterday - I thought that i would have time either before of after work, but alas i did not. Such is life.
However, i
did spend a good chunk of time uploading a bunch of media to post for you today. As i mentioned in the last post, my thesis work this year ended in the sudden realization that we were not, in fact going to be able to make what i wanted to make, leaving us with an excellent framework and lots of material, but no physical hypermedia. So what i can do, while i can't send you a DVD in the mail - much as i would like to, is to lay out video samples and walk you through what your options and course of action/viewing/navigation might be, were you to be playing with the hypermedia yourself.

And so we jump!
I'm not going to post the full film of The What's Left Over After yet, first because i'm not 100% done editing (it still needs to be color and sound corrected), second because i'm hoping to eventually sell it to fundraise, and third because there's no way i could concisely show the hypermedia structure by looking at the whole piece. So instead i've selected a short sample clip from which to work from. This clip comes about a third into the piece (which runs about 18min live and 19min on film). It is the very end of the lovers duet, which we've also referred to throughout the process/hypermedia as "the letter duet" and "LD2". As you watch it, try to watch it once as you would normally watch any type of media or art.

Now watch it a second time, this time posing the question to yourself - if i wanted to learn more about anything in this clip, and had been told that anything i clicked on would lead to more information and footage, what would i click on?

The visceral outline of this 2:23 long section of the piece is as follows:

  1. Larissa Handstand over
XI. Sarah’s Phrase (Rowan + Larissa)
  1. Hard fall
  2. Pelvis up
  3. Venn Diagram Spots
  4. Ungulate
  5. Sweep Around
  6. Connecting Fingers
  7. Hand to Face
  8. Sweep Forward
  9. Hard fall back
  10. Pelvis arch
  11. Hand to face
XII. Summer Section (Rowan + Larissa)
  1. Run Around
  2. Sweep around
  3. Connecting Fingers
  4. Hinge back
  5. Tilted lift
  6. Arch to floor
  7. Awkward thing
  8. Walk down
  9. Thumb to forehead
  10. Giving the letter 2
  11. Long slide back
with the bold movements/phrases being the ones that are live links in the hypermedia system (and thus deemed "important" by me in the sense that i decided there was additional information that we could share about them via the hypermedia).

So out of that 2:32 of the piece, there are are eight unique main links (1 section: LD2, 2 phrase: Sarah's Phrase and the Summer Section, and five movements: venn diagram spots, hand to face, the awkward thing, thumb to forehead, and the long slide back). It also should be noted that, had i the time and space (or, hypothetical space, as our predicted lack of space on the DVD is now voided by our lack of actual hypermedia system) that i would have created links for additional movements: hard fall, pelvis up, hard fall back, connecting fingers, walk down, and giving the letter.
For the purposes of this seminar, I'm going to focus on a few specific links, as each link has a multitude of videos that goes along with it. They are: (Section) LD2, (Phrase) Sarah's Phrase, and (Movements), and the Awkward Thing and the Long Slide Back.

Let's say you were interested in the Awkward Thing (which is that still moment when Larissa is awkwardly positioned against Rowan so that her shoulders and upper body are against the ground, with her legs braced on Rowan's upright shoulders) and you clicked on it, unknowing what you would find. First (in my ideal world of worlds) the video would freeze, and the item that you clicked (in this case, the awkward thing) would stay in color and illuminated as the rest of the screen went gray and darker. Then a flash animated menu would drop down from the still image of the movement, listing those five categories that i talked about yesterday (1. Evolution/Process, 2. Insights, 3. Meanings, 4. Questions, and 5. Media). Of course this is my fancy in-mind version. But isn't it beautiful?
In this case, because the Awkward Thing only links to three videos, the menu would appear like this:

1. Evolution/Process (2)
  • the Awkward Thing's Evolution
  • Rehearsal Footage from the Awkward Thing
5. Media (1)
  • Connection to Sarah A.O.'s piece "Haunt"
From that menu, you could decide to watch any of the three videos. Here they are:

In much the same way, here's what the menu would be if you clicked on the movement of the Long Slide Back, which to me sticks out as the most iconic image from the piece.

1. Evolution/Process
  • Evolution of the Long Slide Back
2. Insights
  • Vivi
  • Mrs. Sharp
  • I.B.
  • W.C.
  • Rowan
5. Media
  • The Music of the Long Slide Back
And here they are:

From both of these movements, after watching some, none, or all of these videos, you could go back to watching the piece, or navigate through the media web. You could navigate to the phrase (Summer Section) or section (LD2) that these movements came from, investigate specific music or lighting details, or click on one of the "related videos" that came up during one of the videos that you watched (much like a YouTube setup). For example, Vivi mentions making the movement for the Long Slide Back in the first day of rehearsal over the summer, so a link would come up in the related shorts for the short that shows that day's improvisations and rehearsal. Additionally, in the rehearsal footage from the awkward thing, i mention that it's a moment of stillness. While I don't make a direct reference to other moments of stillness in the piece, the link to a movement we called "Lift 1/2/3 Underwater" would come up under related shorts, because it is the other important moment of stillness in the duet.

Now let's say you were interested in something earlier on in the clip, something that wasn't linked, such as the hard fall or the sweep around from Sarah's Phrase. If you clicked on one of these movements, because the movement isn't linked, it would take you directly to the phrase. Phrases are different from movements, in that they would each have a separate "page" - think like a small pop-up web page that would have the shorts for the phrase, as well as a list of all the movements in the phrase, so that you could look at information for the phrase as a whole, or for the individual movements therein. If you clicked on Sarah's Phrase, you would find two videos:

Last, let's say you wanted to find out more about the overall section of the piece. You could navigate backwards from the phrase page, or any of the movements, to get to the larger section page. If you wanted to find out about LD2, you would have the option of choosing from a bunch of videos (only about half of which i'm showing here, as only about half of them pertain to the short clip of the film you saw.
The menu would be:

2. Insights
  • Rowan's Experience
  • Rowan and Larissa's Relationship
  • LD2's Importance to Sarah
  • LD2's accessibility
3. Meanings
  • Sarah's about

I hope this gives a good example of the type of information that would be offered with the Hypermedia. As you can see - each linked movement/section/or phrase offers a wealth of information, and this is (unbelievably) only about two thirds of everything offered for this 2:32 clip. Let me remind you that the film is NINETEEN MINUTES LONG!!! Fantastic.
I'll offer more insight and analysis on how one might navigate this structure, as well as a discussion of how things could be linked as "related" - which is where the hypermedia really takes off in my mind and stops being about "explaining" and starts being a whole new art form in itself - tomorrow. I think this is probably (more than) enough info for today.
Also, i'm sure parts of it are less than clear - questions?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Day Four - The Hypermedia System for "The What's Left Over After"

A note written at the end: This is LONG. I'm sorry. It's as much for me to have a record and reflect on the process as for you, but for both of us i wanted to be thurough. Read at will.

Hello from New York!
It's so beautiful today, and nice to be back among the hipsters, artists, strangers, and SLCers.
(But i digress.)

SO. I made my claims for why Hypermedia was not only valid, but nessecary for those who wish to adopt it as a format, and I designed the theoretical components of what a hypermedia system might entail. Then it was time to actually put my money where my mouth was and make the damn thing.

To give a quick background on the timeline: I had started work on what eventually became "The What's Left Over After" the summer before my senior year with the A.O. Movement Collective in DC. From the bat, i labled the summer as "research" for the next semster's piece, working on material, ideas, and exercizes through the summer to eventually come up with five short pieces. These pieces were presented seperately throughout our program (which featured three other pieces) but accmopanied by a program note that described their "research" nature and how they would be used the following semester. While i had proposed and outlined a skeleton of my hypermedia thesis weeks before i had left SLC for the summer, I didn't start really developing the theoey, researching, and designing the components until i returned to Sarah Lawrence my senior year. We began work on the new (SLC) version of the piece right away. This is all to say: becuase i was making the piece as i was making the hypermedia (in fact, always a little bit ahead of the hypermedia) sometimes designs or advances in the hypermedia were not created in time to incorperate them into this hypermedia system. For example, one of the ideas of the project was to film everything associated with the making of the dance. However, over the summer i didn't have my camera yet, so i only have footage from three or four out of the forty or so rehearsals we had.

Starting last fall (my senior year) we filmed everything associated with the dance. Studio times where i would work alone, the audition, rehearsals, showings, feedback, etc. Everything. Working with my tireless film crew (the amazing Rafi Gamboa and Dylan Morgan) we were able to cover just about everything, missing only about 10% (my estimation - just the making of the Venn Diagrams section) of the rehearsals.

We made sure that the AV department was filming both performances (so that we would have historical records of the performance from a still tripod) and then also orchestrated a few shoots to get the footage we needed for the film. We filmed the dress rehearsal with two cameras - one from the bridge/catwalk directly above and in front of the stage, and one from the top left diagonal of the upper level of the PAC (by the sound booth for those of you who are familiar). We additionally blocked off a six hour shoot the day after the performances (when everyne was, of course, exhausted) to shoot the rest of the footage - a still camera in front and from either diagonal (so 3 seperate cameras total) and then an extensive list of close, medium, and moving shots from a number of different perspecitves. Editing the film of the piece together (in a first rough cut) took somewhere around 30 hours, and i was able to have it done by the time we got back from winter break. Damani (one of my two advisors, a teacher in the film department and all around genius) and i continued to edit it for the rest of the year. This was the extent of the movement footage that we took.

Additionally, at the time of the performance, we had set up an "audience talkback" interface to get impressions and questions for audience members after they exited the performance. This interface contained four mac laptops (the kind with the isight camera built in) each with a prompt for the audience member to respond to, as well as directions about how to record your video clip. Questions:
- What images did you see in the peice? Did they remind you of anything you have seen before?"
- Ask the dancers or the choreogrpaher a question
- Was the piece "about" anything to you? If so, what?
- If you have seen showings or versions of this piece before, how did your previous veiwings affect your veiwing of the performance, and your understanding of the piece as a whole?
Audience members were also instructed (i had some wonderful volunteers helping me at each show) that they could disregard the questions and say whatever they wanted. This system proved an interesting expirement, if not 100% sucessful. Problems with the setup included that only about 10% of the audience felt inclined to (or comfortable enough to) leave a video, as well as the fact that the questions themselves still need much tinkering, in terms of finding questions that give the audience member enough of an impulse to speak, but aren't too leading or limiting. I think the crafting of these questions was one of the hardest parts of the process for me.

Moving on. We then got into the interview process, where i filmed interviews with each of my dancers (Michael Charles Foote, Rowan Magee, Larissa Sheldon, Ilona Bito, and Emily Sharp, and from the summer Connor Voss, Vivi Amranand, and Lillie DeArmon) and collaborators (Theo Wilson and Gabe Aronson), as well as had Rafi film an interview of myself (questions written by me, submitted via Audience Talkback, and posed by my dancers, namley Larissa who offered the most interesting questions of the entire project). These interviews ranged in length from 20 minutes to 2 hours. Each dancer and collaborator respectievly were asked the same questions, but with follow up questions of course leading in different directions. Editing these down took a combined total of somewhere around 50 or 60 hours. So that was all the interview footage.

I then spent a short time gathering artifacts - scanning my journals and notebooks from other classes with doodles pertaining to the piece in the margins, video of other pieces, etc. About five hours there - easy brezzy.

The next big step was outlining the dance and the hypermedia. Let me (for a breif moment) describe how hard this was. I remember reading a book that talked about how humankind's biggest evolution wasn't moving to being bipedal, but making the transfer from storing all of one's knowladge in thier head to writing it down and forming a collective human knowladge. The hypermedia, in many ways, feels like the same thing. It would be impossible to hold, at the front of one's attention, ALL the information about the piece (the steps, the choreography, the music, notes for each dance, how each movement was made, what an audience member said about it, what the dancer said about it, where it was made from, what studio we were in etc etc) all the time, all at the same time. The hypermedia is a tool that can contain all of that information, so that the veiwer and the choreographer can look specifically and with great detail at any of these singular aspects of the dance, and the ways that they link up. HOWEVER. To build the system, i did have to reckon with as many of these things as possible at once, holding as much as i could in my head in order to reason out what the clearest way to program it would be. I really do believe that, in working on this project, i've expanded my ability to hold information at least threefold. It's really amazing, but was extrely excruciating at the time - Darla and Ej can attest to finding me with my head in my hands, yelling at the computer screen, muttering that i just couldn't think about everything at the same time.

That being said, outlining it consisted of notating (in my own outline-like way) every movement that happened in the piece (in order, from each dancer) and then priortizing which of these movements were "important" in terms of the meaning or narrative associated with them (meaning that they would, in the hypermedia, be the ones that were "linked"). I ended up breaking down the piece into "Sections" (such as the letter duet "LD2" or "Beekeeper Solo"), "Phrases" (such as "Sarah's Phrase", "Ilona's Exhaustion Phrase", or "Venn Diagrams Accumulation") and "Movements" (such as "Antique", "hard fall", and "the awkard thing"). From this outline, I then cross referenced, seeing how many of these "important" sections, phrases, and movements we had - basically, how many links there would be.

I then went through ALL the footage (rehearsals, studio time, showings, talkback, performances, interviews, other pieces, etc.) and pulled relevant material for each link, crafting them into short films. Some of these films were short little nuggets of a rehearsal interaction or idea, and others were longer "shorts" that combined different types of footage to make a longer exposition of the idea or point at hand.

We then set it up (the outline/framework, i mean. None of this was actually being programed yet) so that each "link" (ie: important movement, phrase, or section that one could click on in the film) to lead to a screen with five sections:

1. Process/Evolution (clips that showed how something was made, the way it changed, the moment we found it, etc.)
2. Interpretations (clips with audience, dancers, collaborators, and myself talking about our interpretations of the final product)
3. Meaning(s) (the plural is important - interviews where myself and dancers revealed the origonal - often conflicting - sources and ideas of where the base material started from)
4. Questions (from audience, dancers,collaborators, etc.)
5. Media (relevant media such as an earlier version of the music or another piece that was influential to the link at hand)

and sorted all the films that we had into one of these five sections. Exceptions to the sections were material that we decided (due to the small size of a DVD and fear that all the material wouldn't fit on one) would be "bonus material" offered on a seperate DVD. This included information about the lights, set, and score, as well as shorts about general topics, such as my creative process, or typical rehearsals.

At the end, we were left with a mass of material: outlined, organized, and waiting to be linked.
We had (and i'm sorry, these are aproximations, becuase i'm working off of a friend's computer):

One twenty-minute dance film which contained:
9 linked Sections
25 linked Phrases
29 linked Movements
a whopping 234 Shorts, ranging from twenty seconds to seven minutes
232 Artifacts (journal pages, photos, interviews, etc.) and
27 pieces of additional media (including audio files, films of other dances, and films of this piece's performance and summer performances)

This, my friends, is a lot of material.

So then, the downfall.

Initally, we knew that we wouldn't be able to create a real hypermedia system, in the sense that my ideal program is both structured in a unique way (much like the internet with each link linking to a location rather than each having a unique file) utilizing yet-to-be-programed structures, as well as flash animation, which is expensive. So instead we had set out to make a mock-up of this system, a DVD which would look to the used like it functioned in the way we wanted it to, but instead of actually being programed correctly, would utilize lots of tricks and shortcuts - more of a sample to gereate interest and support than the actual media itself.

However, when we began programing, it became clear that (for some reason) DVD Maker Pro (the program we intended to use) wasn't going to work as it would not accept the amount of files. We then moved on to attempting this through iMovie, where we found we could place the links, but not time when they showed up, the result being that every one of the 100+ links would be onscreen - overlaping and in the way of other links - the whole film. Not acceptable.
So we came to a standstill.

I know what i want to do is possible and logically feasible. As Damani put it - when big move execs understand that they can start to make DVDs where, as the kid sits at home watching Transformers, he can click on Shai LeBouf's shoes and immediatly buy them, that's when the techonolgy will start getting developed. So i have to wait for them to make something to further their sweatshop labor before i can use it for my art. How frustrating.
But it is actually possible (and i mean without the sweatshop labor - i don't have time to wait for them anways).
All it takes is a team of programers, a flash designer, and a ton of grant money.

So that's where i stand and, coincidentally, why I was always working this year.
That is a (very) detailed account of the first hypermedia project to come out of A.O. PRO(+ductions) - i'm sure i've missed things and i'm sure parts are unclear, but questions and reminders are always welcome.

Once i'm home i'll start posting vids as samples of these sections and types of media - the good stuff.
Thanks for bearing with me!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Day Three - Ta Da! Hypermedia!

So! Here we go.
Today i'm going to outline actual features possible (and thus far designed) in a hypermedia system, as well as detail what my specific hypermedia that i was building as my thesis project this year entailed. I'll also try to give my reasoning for why these specific features are useful/important. I urge you (especially if you're someone who disagrees with my theory or feeling of need for the hypermedia) to look at what i'm describing just as a tool for dance. Is it interesting? Could it be helpful? I'm not trying to overthrow dance here, just invent something new.

With that being said, possible components of hypermedia system include:
  • Footage of all performances of the piece from a stationary far shot still tripod (as to maintain a historical record of the performance(s).)
  • A dancefilm version of the piece at hand. Because the aforementioned wide still shot captures so little of what the actual performance is like (many people, including myself, find these types of recordings uninteresting and hard to watch) it becomes necessary to create a version specifically made for the screen. This version could be as literal (in terms of being a representation of the original piece) or take as many liberties as the artist desires. Doug Fox has been leading an interesting discussion of what makes dance videos (specifically internet videos) "successful" on his Great Dance blog here.
  • Footage from rehearsals, showings, studio time, and any other relevant work on the piece. The hypermedia could use footage as a historical record (including ALL footage that has been captured over the course of making the piece) or just specific clips that the artist deems "important" or "interesting" (to be used to direct the viewers attention to certain points in the dance and enrich their knowledge of the process). Additionally, the way that the artist chooses to gather this footage is up to them. While one artist might deem it important to have every rehearsal fully captured, others might only want to record the phrases that have been made or the sections that have been worked on - opting for more of the "final product" of each rehearsal than the rehearsal itself.
  • Footage from collaborators working on their respective aspects of the piece. For example, a composer in his studio working out specific parts of the music, or a lighting designer hanging specific lights for the piece.
  • Interviews (and lots of 'em). While interviews of every and anyone could be included in the hypermedia here are some obvious options: the dancers, the choreographer, the collaborators, the tech crew, anyone who has seen the piece before it has been performed/while it was being made, etc. It is important to note that what the interviews cover, the questions that the persons being interviewed are being asked is not really the most important factor here, insomuch as they are represented and have a voice on the hypermedia. While it might be important for one artist to know what meanings and interpretations interviewees attributed to certain movements, it might be important to a different artist to hear the dancers understanding of their anatomy while dancing, or the ways in which they had to physically prepare for the piece. Yet another might be interested in the social interactions (and possible drama - a la the style of reality shows) that formed in the making of the piece. Another could ask interviewees to place it within their understanding of modern dance and art, and draw parallels to other works. Do you see? It's not what is being asked, but that asking and recording is occurring.
  • Some version of an audience talk-back system can also be included. There are a few (a million) different ways to accomplish this, but again, the representation of their voice is more important than the specific format of the talkback or the questions posed. One method (which is what i ended up using for my project) is setting up a computer interface. As audience members leave the performance, they can go over to a table of computers, each of which could have a different question for the audience member to consider and answer (or no question at all). Audience members can then record short videos of themselves either answering these prompts or just saying what they have to say. Another option would be to have a camera person going around the lobby post- (and maybe even pre-) performance, asking audience members for feedback. As i said - a million different formats, tones, and questions possible. What works best for YOUR piece? Additionally, the artist could decide whether s/he wanted just initial reactions from audience members, or if they wanted to later follow up with some or all of them and ask further questions.
  • Footage of other dances, choreographed both by the and other artists, that the artist sees as in conversation with the piece at hand, influential to the piece's creation or sensibility, or somehow important to an understanding of this piece. These would all of course need to be obtained with express permission of the respective choreographers. Additionally, the hypermedia would be a platform through which choreographers could include films or performance footage of their previous work that they saw as related to the piece at hand.
  • Footage, Files, Images, and multiple other formats of any type of other art that the artist (or for that matter, anyone interviewed) sees as relating to or important for the piece at hand.
  • Artifacts such as journal pages, blog posts, news reports, newspaper clippings, photos, sketches, and fabric samples to name a few that give insight to any part of the piece and its creation.
  • Notation of the piece's viscera/choreography. This could be anything ranging from Labon or LifeForms to a choreographer simply recording a verbal account of what is happening in each movement. Through diagrams, film, animation, or more, choreographers would have the option to somehow historically preserve the movement of the piece.
  • Hypermedia could also develop interaction between the audience and the piece via instructional videos or manuals. These could be as literal as a dancer teaching the steps to a certain phrase for the viewer to follow along with, or more creative and open ended for the viewer - for example leading them through an exercise that the dancers used during the process of making the piece to make their own original movement.
There are millions upon millions more ideas and modifications for what could go into a hypermedia system. This of course is the main feature of hypermedia - each system is modular, customizable, and built to fit the piece at hand. So, for example, if you're me, you might want to make a system that focuses more on the narrative and meanings at play within the piece - the subviscera - and base your system more on the interviews and artifacts, not including notation of the actual movement. If you care more about the physical movement of the piece - the viscera - you might make a system that focuses mainly on notation and instructional video, opting to have little to no discussion of "meaning" in the system. If you want to display that everyone has a voice within the process, you might strive to represent as many different views as possible. If you want to keep the precess a secret (well...first off, you might not opt to pursue hypermedia, BUT if it did intrigue you) you could only include the film of the piece and audience reactions. Bill T. Jones can add (the incredibly moving) documentary footage of his work with terminally ill patients, Merce Cunningham can insert info about his work with Cage, and Balanchine can show diagrams of amazing spatial patterns.
See kids, something for everyone!!!

These are the BASICS. This is generation one. Hypermedia will and must evolve as time passes, and must incorporate new functions, facets, and revisions. These aspects are the ones that i see as necessary and obvious in terms of my invention of them, but i welcome more and more as people begin to develop an interest in having systems made for them. The point is not for me to propagate my own views over and over again, but to present a new option for choreographers to show their work.

A note for today: I was planning to also breifly blog about the specifics of my system today, and then post samples of each category tomorrow, but i've been offered two interviews for jobs in NYC, so i'm hopping on the train from Union Station in just a few hours and booking it up to the city. I'll do my best to post tomorrow, but I won't have my hard drive with me, so i'm going to blog about my system tomorrow, and then post samples on Friday.
As always, thanks for checking it out, and keep the comments coming!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Day Two - uses and needs, uses and needs

So what's the logical next step to solve these problems?

Almost two years ago, i began to accumulate some ideas under the general heading of "hypermedia" and proposed and exploration of these ideas as a senior thesis to the powers that be at Sarah Lawrence. Having been a student in Tony Schultz's dance technology class for one semester my junior year, and then returning to it for the entirety of my senior year (you can check out our class blog from this year - Dance Machines - here) i was extremly impressed by the new way of thinking that Tony presented us with.

Rather than using programs that already existed to express artistic ideas and projects (for example: using Final Cut Express to edit a dancefilm or using a time lapse program to capture footage over the span of a few days), we were suddenly being asked to think about the intended final project first, and then design our perfect machine that would help us create and capture it.

To me, this seemed like a drastic shift in my thought and creative process; it was like someone had suddenly made me a very small god. As a creative artist, my understanding of my "job description" has always been somewhere along the lines of creating the "best" piece of art that i can (whatever that means) within (and sometimes breaking with, but always in relation to) the "rules" of a stage or film setting. Suddenly i was no longer asking myself how to create the "best" piece i could for stage or film, but how i could create and engineer a completely new system that would best support and showcase the work that i was making. Do you see how exciting this is? It's reinventing the wheel so that your Chevy Impala (that for some reason truly is unique, has immense unknown value, and is vastly Important to you) runs like a charm. It's reinventing the wheel so much so that (by the time you're done) people will look at your car, and declare it's value somewhere near to that of a jaguar becuase you've engineered it to be that valuable.

Anyways, the question becomes: what do you include to make the perfect dance showing machine? Well, what is it's purpose - what is is being used for? As stated before, this machine addresses multiple problems and therefore has multiple uses. Here are a few possible uses:
  • as a teaching tool for potential/current audiences (teach: ways to look at dance, analytical vocabulary, the foundations of the craft that we choreographers use such as time and space, the way the specific piece fits into the larger dance cannon, the way this piece relates to other contemporary pieces, etc. etc.)
  • as a teaching tool for teaching choreographers and dancers (teach: specific creative processes, a comparison between choreographers, "background" information in the study of specific dances, etc.)
  • as a marketing tool (grab the attention of potential audience members by giving them a "sneak preview" of the piece they' can buy tickets for, educate them on the piece's creation so that they might further enjoy seeing the final product in performance, impress donors with an inside look into the creative process, reach out to people who wouldn't usually want to see a dance performance etc.)
  • as a revenue source (sell the final product to interested audience members/company supporters at performances or online)
  • present a representation of the dance (as identified yesterday as so so so much more than just the performance) that is more holistic, encompassing, and truthful than presenting pieces that are solely performative might feel to certain choreographers (read: me.)
  • as a historical artifact of the dance that was created and performed
  • etc. etc. etc. etc. The possibilities are endless.
So what, then are the specific aspects of the dance (according to me) that the hypermedia would need to capture and represent? Of course, this is a small and incomplete list, but it's a start:
  • ALL rehearsals, showings, performances, studio times, etc. - anything that shows the physical time spent in the making of the piece
  • the performance(s)
  • references and usage of other works of art within the piece
  • references to other dances, both from the choreographer and other artists
  • the context (both artistic and cultural) that the piece was made in
  • the dancer's experience of being a part of the process, understanding of the piece, etc.
  • the choreographer's experience of making the piece
  • comments from dancers and choreographer at different times throughout the process
  • comments and questions from audience members
  • the work of any and all collaborators on the piece
  • interpretations of the piece from the choreographer, dancer(s), collaborator(s), and audience members
Tomorrow: Hypermedia Revealed! I'll let you know (and show examples of) everything that they hypermedia is made of. How excited are you??!?! Very.
Stay tunned!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Day 1 - Identify the Probem(s)

So here we go - day one of my Kloster-woman mini tirade/educational exposition of hypermedia.

Before we get into the technology, bodies, or theory of what hypermedia consists of, it's important to understand where my perceived need for it comes from. Why does PMD (postmodern dance - i'll use this here to represent the time period that i'm referring to, not necessarily the specific values or artists) need it? What is this new technology attempting to save us from? What problems does it attempt to address?

Ultimately, from status and stagnancy in our work, and from the eventual unspeakable:
having to stop making work.

1. People don't know what to do with PMD.

People don’t know where to place postmodern dance. While we as a dance community existing in academia may have taken classes in dance history, or at least been educated through asides in dance classes about lineage and styles, people outside the dance community who find themselves viewing dance may not have ever been exposed to this.
New choreographers attempt to redefine what postmodern dance is at a very rapid pace through the self-proclaimed authenticity of their own new work; even if choreographers don’t acknowledge that their work is in response to work in their near historical proximity, postmodern dance is founded on the tenet of breaking with what came before and defining one’s own unique style and outlook. The dance community may be aware of how to contextually view new work, but a non-dancer would have trouble tracking the constant evolution and re-definition of the genre. This leads to problem #2:

2. We make dances primarily for an audience of "dance people".

While i don't think that there's anything particularly criminal about this - why not make art for the specific niche of people that will understand it to the fullest extent? - i think that staying in this place as an entire arts community is actually really hurting us, an inherent weakness that we've yet to address. Many people who are not writers read books, many people who can’t act see theater, and many people who can’t operate a camera or write a screenplay see movies. When non-dance people continually feel that they “don’t get” what they are seeing in a dance performance, thy begin to lose interest with why PMD is important or interesting. Why is this?

3. Ephemerality and permanence.

How many times have we herd the phrase "dance is ephemeral"? Since January, nine. I counted. Ephemerality becomes the excuse for why dance can't be studied, becomes the reason why it's hard to pin down, becomes the nail in dance's economic coffin. Why? Because it actually is. While there are certainly aspects of the ephemeral nature of dance that are extremly positive and exciting, dance's ephemeral nature is the major roadblock for the majority of "non-dance-people" who "don't get it". The audience member is put in the position of not only having to come to terms with an entirely new foreign vocabulary and mode of thought, but also to remember as much as they can about what they are seeing, in the time span of a single piece, sometimes only minutes long. "Some postmodern dance is emotionally resonant with many viewers but some, like a movement equivalent of Joyce’s cryptic Ulysses, requires investigation and study... [audiences then] flat out feel like they “don’t get it” and are provided no way to work towards their idea of what “getting it” might entail. They think that they are supposed to take something from the performance that they have never been told how to understand or appreciate, and feel lost, overwhelmed, and put out by something that they would have, at one point, been excited to be a part of. We then get the view of postmodern dance as cryptic and self-indulgent because we as choreographers are uninterested in or unwilling to teach the audience how to watch what we give them. Additionally, we have yet to create a way to convey to our audiences everything that we are able to see in it as its creators...It is not only interesting, but crucial, to involve the audience beyond the performance and in so doing, create some sort of support system so that the audience has evidence and consciousness of the ongoing process of watching, processing, and understanding a dance piece." (Thesis, 4-5)

3. "as long as the audience can connect to something – one movement – anything, that’s fine with me.”

This is killing modern dance. While the sentiment is on target (that the audience doesn't have to understand or feel attachment to every thing that happens, but hopefully moments will feel important, clear, and moving to them even if the whole is cryptic or dense) the widespread adoption of this tenet is (and i'll say it again) KILLING us. Think about it: if you went to see a dance piece, and you took one thing away from the entire (let's say hour long) performance, wouldn't you want your money back? I would.
Why are we as choreographers settling for “one thing”? It seems inherently compromising to our work, and even more unfair to our audiences. It is a cop out to say that we are satisfied with a singular thing resonating with our audiences. What we really want is for our audiences to understand that there are many things at play in each performance, in each piece, and even in each singular movement, and that any one or combination of those meanings or understandings that they see is inherently right. So perhaps the problem isn’t that audiences aren’t able to “see one thing” in a performance - perhaps out problem is that, as choreographers, this is all we’ve asked them to do. Theo and i were talking about how a characteristic of postmodern work (of many forms) is a lack of caring. He writes:

"The post-modern mindset (identical to hipster mindset) finds caring to be the greatest human weakness, as it renders one victim to heartbreak. The result is a body of work, or a culture of individuals, containing no heart, who care about nothing, and who's pieces are merely illustrations of aloofness. After all, how can anything fail in a world where all rules are meaningless constructs?"

Let's just put it out there: i Care about my work. i Care about the meaning(s) emotions(s) interpretation(s) and ideologies that are present in my work. And i, the choreographer, CARE that you, the audience, see and connect as many of them as humanly possible.

4. "If we tell people how to look at our work, it cheapens the work and makes it less artistic"

again my friends,
When we educate our audiences in how to look at dance, how to understand connections between visceral movement and subvisceral components (subvisc = “The implicit meanings and themes inherent in the viscera of a dance performance.” just like subtext = “The implicit meaning or theme of a literary text”), we simply give them tools to work harder as viewers with. As we give our audiences tools to work harder, we set the standard for ourselves as choreographers higher and higher. If our audiences are working harder, then we better damn well be making work that takes more and more ability, more and more understanding and craft at watching, to watch.

5. For PMD, Product is not equal to Process.

So looking back today (6/10) i realized that this was the one point that this post was missing, so i'm adding it in in hindsight. In dance (and i have always felt this way) performance, to me, is not an acceptable (or at least highly problematic) translation or representation of the process to the audience. Now, i know that the point of performance isn't really to show the audience the process; the point is to show the final cumulation of what you've been making. However, it's always seemed so unfair, un-encompassing, and simply untruthful that the performance never really shows all the gems and excitement of the process, which to me (and i would argue many other dancers) is always the
best part. The dance isn't the performance. The dance is the preparation, invention, audition, context, rehearsal, revision, interaction, showing, reworking, performance, feedback, reaction, and all the emotions and logic associated with those steps of the process. So why are we showing the audience the dance instead of the dance?

and last,

6. The PMD economy is failing, in free fall, kaputz, dead, done, dying.

"I am always surprised at the number of dancers and choreographers I talk to who seem to feel no need to rebel against this system in hopes of changing it. I have often felt the pull of multiple jobs, and my desire to make dance a livable profession comes from my desire to have more time to devote to the work that I love and find important – the making of dances. If dance artists were able to devote their entire work life to dance making rather than downwards of 15 hours a week, then the subtleties and sophistication of the work at hand would increase dramatically. It is important for me to express that this goal then seems to be not entirely an economic one, but an effort to make a shift in the was that artists are able to produce and enrich their work and themselves as artists. By talking about it economically, we are not invalidating the artistic and invaluable nature of our work, only looking at our creative processes realistically within the system in which they function." (Thesis, 9)

The DTW blog recently had a discussion about the need for artists to embrace marketing here, and it's exciting to know that (even while some artists remain adamantly opposed to letting marketing have a place in their artistic vision) many artists are beginning to look into both mainstream and alternative methods with which to propagate and support their art.

These are the main problems that my "hypermedia solution" is attempting to address.
In the coming days, I'll lay down some of the theory that the program is built on, talk about the process of making and programing it, and post some samples of the program here as well. I would love as many comments and challenges as you care to leave - the only way that i keep developing this work is through the constant evolution of it via feedback of other creative artists and audience members.

More tomorrow!