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motion (e) - a world premiere

by Merilyn Jackson
April 11, 2005
Galvin Playhouse
Arizona State University
The Corner of Mill Avenue and 10th Street
Tempe, AZ 85287
480-965-5337

motion (e) - a world premiere

Presented at ASU's Galvin Playhouse
Tempe, AZ

Merilyn Jackson
April 11, 2005

If you think about lighting, recorded and electronic music, and film and video, technology has always been intrinsic to the performing arts. But even though John Cage and Merce Cunningham and others have combined art and technology, formally, the concept of "Dance and Technology" only appeared since the age of computerization. By now, computer wizards have realized that rather than represent human movement via film, they could capture it in real time. Called motion-capture or cyberdance, there are already great examples of it.

Visual artists Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar are veteran collaborators in two of those examples: Cunningham's 1999 success, BiPed, and Bill T. Jones' compelling website Ghostcatching. With Arizona State University's Arts, Media and Engineering Program, they have entered into a new collaboration with Jones and another premier American choreographers, Trisha Brown.

In its world premiere, motion (e), each choreographer revealed a different 30-minute work at ASU's Galvin Playhouse in Tempe, AZ last Saturday evening.

America's dance notables sprinkled the audience, including Shawn Curran and the Valley's own Prince of Dance, Daniel Nagrin. At the beginning his solo, 22, Jones addressed and bowed to Nagrin directly, as from one prince to another. In 1983, Jones created a work called 21, a whimsical talking solo with 21 discrete gestures. For this collaboration, he added a 22nd movement, and went on to illustrate all of the gestures so the audience would recognize them as they appeared.

Another collaborator, Pulitzer Prize composer Roger Reynolds, provided a precise, echoing electronic score. As it became audible, we began to understand that Jones' forefinger to his forehead was "remember," and that the 22nd gesture "Stop" was Jones with his back to the audience, palms splayed upwards. Remnants of his disembodied movements appeared as spectral traces on the scrims up and down stage. Neither the beauty of the manifested computer imagery, nor the chilling collision of his story of genocide in Rwanda with a tale of American infanticide, could match Jones' majestically expressive dancing.

Brown's piece integrated more coherently with Kaiser's, Eshkar's and a third collaborator, Marc Downie's vision and experimentation. In what they call a "real-time posture recognition engine", they abstracted isolated gestures and reconstructed them in wavy green and blue lines and geometric shapes, just as the etchings movements might leave on the atmosphere. In one sequence, Brown's cadre of seven rise and fall forward tsunami-like and waves of lines followed on the scrim soon after. After a trio of lifts, bends and pulls, organic figures, like the drawings of a faux internal anatomy, coalesce on the scrims.

For Brown's work, Curtis Bahn, an associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, created a "sound world" pulled from unaltered recordings of the sound of piano strings plucked or tapped by soft mallets.

Brown named her piece how long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume…, a question she overheard from a technician. Translated, it means "When will the dancer leave the stage?" Watching these large scale collaborative works where stories of human suffering and bodies in rich dancerly motion play out against advanced technology raises questions about how the dance with technology will take shape in the future.

Brown will show the work again on a program this weekend at Jazz at Lincoln Center's new Rose Theater. Jones is touring and brings 22 to New York's Aaron Davis Hall, June 16-18.

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