Monday, June 16, 2008

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.


Nathan Dufour Oglesby said...

Re the statement "We are becoming self-limiting in our clarity." If I'm understanding you right, then it seems to me that the fulfillment of a "dance on its own terms" via hypermedia is a just an expanded manifestation of this same self-limitation for the sake of the same Clarity. It is a similar, if apparently more elaborate means to the end of Being Understood. The infinite liberty of some wondrous and incomprehensible work, instead of being edited in itself, and thus being Bound in such and such a way, is now bound to some degree of interpretive specificity by the binding action of hyperlinks—right? Freedom is delimited by the internal system of linkage woven into the dance as a hypermedia experience, even if the experiential agency resides in the viewer’s clicker finger as much as it formerly resided in their stage-bound eyes.
However, in judging your ideas to be a new version of a familiar and necessary impulse, I’m not saying you’ve not got a very great thing going, if for no other reason than that Being Understood requires Being Seen, and the Urgent Artist’s task as much as anything is to condescend to that practical question of How to Be Seen, which question is answered by the rough fact that, folks are more likely to watch something on a screen then see it with their actual eyes. So this route is, I think, a good exercise of noble sacrifice. ‘Cause as it happens, I’ve seen more dance on videotapes than on stages.

Sarah A.O. Rosner/The AOMC said...

Hi Nathan, welcome!
You make a really interesting poinit - and in looking back i agree with you that i am contradicting myself a bit on this point. Certianly the project that i propose offers only a different TYPE of clarity from the kind that post-modern/current dance world adheres to today.

Almost all of my dances follow a narative and even semi-theatrical path, and i would argue that all of my dances are about some type of human interaction/relationship. Because of this, i find that some level of clarity is important to me, in that i strive to make my dances evocative for people outside of myself to watch. I am not interested in making dances in which the ideas and emotions behind the movement are so abstract that the dance is only about the anatomy and physicality. So yes, personally, i strive for a certian amount of clarity in my work. I think what the hypermedia offers is a different way of being clear in one's work - the idea of "well, what if we can be externally rather than internally". What if "The Dance" can't Be Understood, but "The Dance + The Hypermedia" is Understandable? I don't know the anwser to that hypothetical.

But you've got me interested in this idea of "the infinate liberty of some wonderout and incomprehensible work" that you offer, largley because i've been feilding so many arguments this year about how the hypermedia is indeed that, and how that is a bad thing. (Jeremy, care to jump in on this one?) I've been told, and i'm paraphrasing of course, that a major goal of dance, as art and entertainment, is to "put asses in seats". People argue that if the work is not in some way attainable within one veiwing (in that, in one veiwing, the audience is sufficently intrigued, enriched, or experiencing of enjoyment) that it is "bad art" and that the hypermedia (or any outside sources) are simply apologists.

Now, i'm not offering the idea that you can make a bad piece and then save it via explanation via hypermedia. Nope. But. I am suggesting that the audience may build a higher tollerance to what they feel that they "don't get, don't understand" etc. if they know that they have the oppurtunity to hold their judgement until after further investigation, and then make their own conclusions.

But that's besides the point. What i'm asking you (and jeremy, and anyone else that wants to weigh in) is this:

When and How does a work overstep the bounds of being "wonderous and incomprihensible" and turn into something that is self-important and a vanity project? Does the audience need to be a focus in the production of the work? Is it valid, in a performance setting, to compleatly ignore the audience in the making of your piece? If so, how does one deal with the fallout from that action?

Nathan Dufour Oglesby said...

Regarding the line between the "wondrous and incomprehensible" and the "vanity project": I don't know quite what to say off the top of my head, except that maybe it's best to give it a simple answer: that if the artwork is the sort of thing that inspires the gut response, "Damn, that was good," then the degree to which it crosses such a line becomes irrelevant. To return to your comparison with Joyce: couldn't we say that as much as anything Ulysses is a just a great and big-ass embarkation into an articulated Vanity, the Vanity of Being-Able-to-Make-It, a Vanity that just happens to be “wondrous”? Vanity and Difficulty do their job in proportion as their source is able to secure its identity as a Worthwhile Thing. …That's all pretty vague stuff to say, I know, but it's that kind of question...
Regarding “completely ignoring the audience”—who’s dance is it, anyway? It doesn’t belong to the audience but to the mutuality of the Artist’s and the audience’s Imagination as it exists in relationship with the art. And really, it’s the same kind of mutuality made of the same kind of relationship no matter what the medium. The director/film editor, for example, may appear to be making more final and “closing” choices than the choreographer, but if they are, it’s to a negligible degree, because the point is that Choices are being made either way. And we can see in general that folks are into this concept of Choices these days, given for example the popularity and artistic interest of deleted scenes, alternate endings as new features of the average home video. So all in all, maybe one ought to say, “I’m gonna give ‘em something they like right off the bat, and seduce them into wanting (and needing) all the other good stuff that’s connected to it. Let a piece show enough of itself to get the viewer in the mood for its secrets, and let be revealed whatever secrets are the truest and most important.

Sarah A.O. Rosner/The AOMC said...

i think we're very much in agreement, nathan. I'm hoping that my friend jeremy will jump in on this though, becuse i'm guessing he feels much diferently, but don't want to put words in his mouth.

As my friend/co-blogger Theo often reminds me (which, just to point it out, i'm not 100% sure if i agree with...) the point of these questions isn't to anwser them, but to propell us to making work. That is all that matters, and as such, the questions themselves that we spend so much time arguing and laboring over are very much MacGuffins in our overal artistic journey.