When Dance Making Goes Digital

Arianna here! I’m another one of the summer fellows working in the Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio. I’m also a dancer! I’m currently working towards finishing my MFA in Dance Performance this spring.

During my first couple weeks in the studio I’ve been exploring some digital media components to incorporate into my dance performance, including some digital interactivity and motion capture work. This requires familiarizing myself with the Kinect motion capture system, digital creative programs like Adobe After Effects and Premier Pro, and, perhaps most importantly, a computer program called Isadora.

In short, Isadora acts as the control unit that drives visual manipulation components in a performance. Within the program, the user connects different modules in order to manipulate components like lighting, special effects, or video imagery that is played on a projection screen. The modules allow information to travel from source to source, and allows the user to transform an experience—similar to the way a stage manager would orchestrate the configuration of lighting, sound and other effects in a theater experience. Here’s an example of a skeletal tracking sample patch within the Isadora program:

Now you’re probably thinking, “That looks like computer programming,” and you’re right. Your next thought is probably (and understandably), “Dance and computer programming? But why?…I don’t get it”. It’s true, these two mediums don’t seem to mix.  But there is a growing and evolving following of this marriage of mediums that people have grown to call “digital dance making.”

Without question, the programming aspect of this work has been the most challenging. Maybe frustrating is more accurate word? Okay, I’ll say it: it’s the worst.

Jokes aside, as someone who has very little experience with computer coding and programming, it’s really challenging to trouble shoot issues as they come up. Maybe the most surprising realization has been how many extra programs need to be installed just to simply start running the skeletal tracking and motion capture programs.

But I think I’m getting the hang of things. I’m most excited to start meshing my dance practice into the digital aspects I’ve been working on. I think the motion capture data from my improvisational dance scores is going to be incredible once mixed with the Adobe design components that I’ve been creating.

I’m pretty passionate about this idea of blending artistic mediums, and especially this idea of incorporating anything digital into artistic practice. One of my favorite debates is whether art imitates life, or life imitates art; regardless of the answer, our lives are certainly incredibly influenced by technology—how could this not be true of our art?