Sunday, June 15, 2008

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.


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

Hey Lady -
Welcome to the blog and thanks for posting!

I think that your points #2 and 3 are especially interesting and important - you're right in
pointing out that it's not just "why aren't people seeing modern dance" as i've been saying, but "WHO isn't seeing modern dance, and WHY? At the same time, i think we can learn as much by asking the reverse question: "who IS seeing modern dance, and why?"

It's easy for me to get so involved in this idea of "audience" that i begin to loose the details of actual PEOPLE. Thanks for the reminder!

Jeremy said...

You spend a lot of time explaining why we need dance to be more accessible and that media is the way to do that. That's fine and all, but it already exists. There are vhs, dvds, books, magazines. There are live recordings, dance videos, and documentaries. Post modern dance gets talked about, advertised and reviewed in the times, the new yorker, time out, etc. (I am well aware I listed all new york things. It is because I'm an asshole sometimes :D). Maybe what we really need is more marketing. A reality tv show or big John Jaspers billboards. How does hypermedia address this in a significant way? How will it attract the people who don't look at dance sections in magazines and have never looked at even a vhs recording of a dance and don't know that some shows are free. You really don't need to be rich to see some of the well respected post modern choreographers.
As for point 1, quoting you quoting me "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." Unlike film and books, post modern dance, for the most part, is highly abstract. Even very narrative dances use elements of composition that may be unclear to your "average joe." Yes, hypermedia addresses this. It can explain a choice and why the choice is made. What it cannot give the hypermedia viewer is all the potential choices, and therefore it cannot give them an appreciation of the choice. So as opposed to deepening the experience in a significant way, it is unabstracting and simplifying the dance into a verbally communicative form. It is simply explaining to the audience what is already there, as opposed to letting them watch and think and figure out and learn to understand this form. Once again, the only substantial way to learn to appreciate and even understand dance in a profound way is too watch a lot of it. Not have it explained to you. That's my belief any way.

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

i just posted a long response, and it got deleted. damn.

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

here's the basics:

1.) Yes, we have lots of dance-focused media. But it's largely (in my mind) inefective in communicating the intricacy of pmd, even though they may each be successful in fulfilling their own specific natures (ex: documentary). I think what we're calling on (I'Nasah jump in and correct me if i'm misinterpreting) is NEWMEDIA that addresses pmd. At this point, someone COULD go watch the Bill T. Jones "Still Here" documentary. But they couldn't watch that footage, then click to see it in the piece, then click to watch rehearsal footage, then watch Bill talk about the piece, then watch interviews with the participants, then click to a review, then click back to the piece. I think this IS marketing.

The thing that's great about the DVD format that i was pushing for is that you CAN distribute it easily and at a low cost. You can send it to audiences before a show, you can distribute it at public schools, you can include it free with "So You Think You Can Dance" posters, OR you can sell them. It's tangible, it's theirs. Is everyone going to get into it? no. But it's better (in my mind) than going along the lines of "the only way to make this marketable is to turn it into a reality show or add lots of skin and sex appeal to it".

2. I'm interested in your point about not showing all the possible choices for decisions that get made. While you're right that we couldn't show all choices, we could detail a few of the possible discarded options. Would this be interesting for you to see?

3. Yes. Dance is abstract. Yes, verbalizing some of the elements of a dance detract from that abstraction. However, i think that what i've been trying to do (at least in this specific hypermedia) is give lots of arrows pointing to the abstraction, rather than attempt to "explain". For example, rather than try to pinpoint why the long slide back is such a powerful image, i have footage of when we made it, discussion of how the two versions are different, me saying i found it sweet, audience members saying it reminded them of baby birds, theo saying he tried to make it creepy, rowan saying he got sweaty, etc. etc. None of that really "explains" why exactly it's good, nor does it attempt to describe/verbalize/solidify what makes it personally evocative to each viewer. You can't pinpoint it. But you CAN give context that functions as interesting information. I don't think it simplifies anything.

Last - i think we're all agreeing that basically the key to "understanding" dance is to see a lot of it. Where we differ is that I'Nasah and I are hoping to give lots of different types of potential viewers a first little tour to spark interest in seeking out more dance to explore on their own. It's not about brainwashing people into seeing dance a certain way, it's about giving them a basic foundational understanding to start from. It's also not about "sucking the life" and abstraction out of dance and turning it into quantifiable and wrote packaged products - the day dance becomes that is the day i stop making dances - it's just a new way of conveying information and ideas.