In this essay I will be examining the working practices and creative decisions employed in the making of the dance piece Motion Studies (2003). As this piece has been created specifically to be shown online, I will be discussing whether it is currently possible to arrive at a definition of what constitutes online dance work, and, if so, identifying where barriers exist within the process of its creation. In order to arrive at a fuller understanding of the highly specific nature of this work, I will be locating the piece within a historical and cultural framework as well as within the current field of contemporary practice. I will also be locating the work within the theoretical context of Donna Haraway's writings in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women(1991).
Interviewed in 2000, Ghislaine Boddington, Artistic Director of shinkansen sound and movement research, stated that,
(Boddington, 2000, p.17)
This state of revolutionary technological change, straddling the late 20th and early 21st centuries, has brought into being various new forms of artistic expression. In the opening section of this essay, I will begin by tracing the development of two of these forms, which have both influenced and enabled the creation of Motion Studies. I will also explore how some of the most significant developments in screendance and digital arts practice have fed into the emergence of Internet-based dance as a potentially distinct category of work.
My research process began with Rebecca Solnit's book Motion Studies (2003). Solnit's writings explore the mesh of cultural connections centred within a particular historical convergence point in1872 in Palo Alto, California. Against a backdrop of rapid industrial development introducing railways and telegraphic communication to the American west, English-born photographer Eadweard Muybridge produced a series of photographs revealing the stride action of a race-horse. Without Muybridge's technological innovations in relation to the mechanics of shutter-release, the precise details of high-speed motion had previously been imperceptible to the human eye. Solnit writes that with this series of photographs, Muybridge, 'had begun transforming photography into a scientific instrument revealing the secret world of motion' (Solnit, p2003, p.83). This work continued over a span of several years with many series of photographic motion studies dissecting human and animal movement. Solnit writes that,
(Solnit, 2003, p.211)
As the nascent cinema industry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries owed a great and obvious debt to Muybridge's photographic innovations, the technological revolution of the late 20th century can also trace a strong lineage back to Stanford University, which was founded in Palo Alto by Muybridge's early business patron. These historically linked heritages of cinema and digital art have functioned as strong presences informing the creation of Motion Studies. While the title acknowledges a direct link to Muybridge's series of photographic experiments, it also serves to draw attention to the ability of lens-based work to reveal otherwise hidden aspects of movement. My intention was to bring a distinctive and screen-specific viewing perspective to bear in the creation of the piece. Motion Studies does not seek to realise a literal re-staging of Muybridge's photographs, but has been created in a similar spirit of artistic and scientific exploration. It has also been made within the historical context of the early 21st century, where it is now possible to domestically create and distribute an artistic work utilising many of the previous century's most significant developments both in screen-based dance and digital technology.
Charting some of these developments in relation to the early cinema industry, Larry Billman writes that,' The battle to capture and harness dance began the moment the motion picture camera was invented' (Billman in Mitoma, 2002, p.12). Early film footage includes examples of dance work performed by Ruth St Denis in 1894; Loie Fuller in 1906, and the Royal Danish Ballet in 1902 (Mitoma, 2002, p.xix). While these examples provide an invaluable historical record of live dance performance, Hollywood's substantial output of musicals from the 1930s to the 1960s encouraged the development of a new kind of dance work specific to its screen context. Film historian John Kobal states that artists such as dance director Busby Berkley, who popularised the use of overhead camera shots, allowing the audience a previously unseen perspective on the movement of a chorus line, 'freed the camera from its conventional positions' (Kobal, 1983,p.95). This genre of screen-specific dance work is characterised by Sherril Dodds as deriving, '...from the triadic relationship between the motion of the physical body, the camera and the cut' (Dodds, 2001, p.170/171) and developed an early expression in contemporary or modern dance when Maya Deren directed A Study in Choreography for the Camera (1945). This places solo dancer Talley Beatty in a number of locations, such as a forest and an interior domestic setting. Deren uses a variety of technical devices to ensure that the movement functions as a constant, linking the elements of time and space between otherwise disparate settings. Amy Greenfield writes that the piece,
(Greenfield in Mitoma, 2002, p.23)
Although Motion Studies was developed as an online work, it has also inevitably been influenced by a strong screendance sensibility, informed by my own lifelong cultural exposure to film and television. Put simply, I have grown up watching movement framed by a television screen, and this experience has fed into my choreographic development at a very deep level. As an adult, I find myself restricted, for a variety of financial and geographical reasons, from attending live dance and theatre performances on a regular basis. Conversely, access to home-based entertainment in the form of television, video, and DVD is readily available to me, and this inevitably forms a strong cultural reference point in my work. The process of selecting and preparing footage for inclusion in the piece utilised the same range of skills required in editing a purely linear, screendance work. Therefore, Motion Studies is indelibly inscribed by the history and heritage of dance on film and video as well as by the historical legacy and distinctive identity of digital arts practice.
Frank Popper, writing in Art of the Electronic Age (1993), charts this legacy, tracing it back through several of the art movements current in the early part of the 20th century. He states that Futurism, in its quest to fuse art with science, and Dadaism, with its fascination for using instructions as a conceptual element within a work, foreshadow many aspects of current digital art practice. The category of digital art, as an aspect of new media practice, can trace its development from the 1960s to the 1990s through the experimental works created and categorised under the terms Computer and Video art. Christiane Paul states that digital art can be characterised as
(Paul, 2003, p8)
Motion Studies could certainly be categorized as a digital artwork when examined in relation to this definition. The strong reliance on viewer participation, guided by a series of instructions, shares resonances with the Dadaist and conceptual art movements, as well as with the format and conventions of many contemporary video and computer games. Another key element of digital arts practice, which Paul describes as, '...the concept of random access as a basis for processing and assembling information' (Paul, 2003, p.15) is also apparent in Motion Studies, as the viewer must select a playing order so that various sequences and movement configurations may be seen and experienced. The concept of random access is also central to the piece's identity as an online work. Writing in Digital Art (2003), Paul traces the conceptual origins of the Internet, identifying a through-line to an article entitled As We May Think, written by Vannevar Bush in 1945. In this article, Bush envisioned a database called the Memex, allowing users to, 'create their own trail through a body of documentation' (Paul, 2003, p.8). This device was never constructed, but in 1961, Theodore Nelson significantly furthered the conceptual development of the Internet by creating,
(Paul, 2003, p.10)
This concept of a non-linear network, which found practical expression in the cybernetic mesh of the Internet, is also described in the writings of Post-structuralist theorists Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes. Foucault states that, 'The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut... it is caught up in a system of references to other books....it is a node within a network' (Foucault, 1969, p.25/26). This last image is central to Motion Studies, in that each of the pieces' six sections of dance represent nodes in the networked structure of the piece, while the piece itself becomes a node within the larger network of the Internet. A further visual representation of this image within the piece shows an interlinked network of quotations, which have in some way informed the making of the work. The potential to access each of Motion Studies' six sections of dance is presented simultaneously to the viewer, who must then determine the order in which the sections are seen. This concept is found in Barthes' writings, where he states,
(Barthes, 1974, p.5/6)
Although a prototype of the Internet, known as ARPANET, was operational as early as 1969, the network remained inaccessible to the vast majority of people until the popularisation of the World Wide Web in the mid 1990s. At this point, dance artists and companies such as Richard Lord in Britain and Troika Ranch in the United States began to experiment with making work for the new medium. As no standard term currently exists to define or describe dance work created for a web context, for the remainder of this essay I will use either the terms online dance work, or web dance. In the following section, I will begin to examine methods of identifying online dance work. I will also be conducting an analysis of five different dance works created for online presentation, beginning the process of investigation into trends and patterns discernible within this body of work. I will also set out the artistic, practical and technical considerations involved in the development of Motion Studies.
Writing in 2000, Richard Lord states that online dance work is, '...a category which currently has too few elements within it for us to establish the qualities of a typical web dance' (Lord, 2000, p.4 Internet 9). Despite this, Lord does set out a series of attributes pertinent, in his view, to determining the nature of web-based dance work. He states unequivocally that the work must have been envisioned by a human being, and goes on to specify that it has been created for presentation within a web context rather than adapted from a different medium; that it must be accessible online; that the constituent parts of the work may be virtual or real, and finally that, 'the person who created the work thinks it is a web dance' (Lord, 2000, p.4 Internet 9). Lord makes clear that he is setting out a very partial overview, but his criteria can serve as a useful starting point in attempting to determine the characteristics of online dance work. However, when these criteria are applied to a sample of dance-related content available for online viewing, it is clear that the vast majority of work does not fall within Lord's specifications.
It is currently possible to find a variety of sites showing excerpts from work intended for live performance or video screening. An example of this model can be seen on the Video Database section of the Impulstanz website (unattributed, undated, Internet 8), which is an off-shoot of the Vienna-based Impulstanz Festival. Examples of the work of a wide range of European artists and companies, including British-based Wendy Houston and Akram Khan, are presented on the site. However, this form of online dance work serves solely as a promotional tool for the stage-based or screendance work of the organisation or artists involved. Writing on Internet-based dance content, Sherril Dodds refers only to this category of work when she states that,' those with greater financial and technical support can create complex sites that include video clips of repertoire' (Dodds, 2001, p.14/15). This statement pre-supposes that the only function of online work is to act as an advertisement for a product delivered primarily within a different medium.
Visual artist Paul Kaiser's Ghostcatching (1999) and Hand-drawn Spaces (1998) are also good examples of web presences intended to function as adjuncts to larger-scale projects. In the case of Ghostcatching (unattributed, undated, Internet 4), web pages provide information on the background to, and the processes involved in, creating a motion capture-based installation. Text, still images, and one short example of animated movement create a database illuminating the making of the work. Hand-drawn Spaces is able to offer glimpses into the working processes of Merce Cunningham, as the viewer is able to access written notation used as the starting point of Cunningham's choreographic process. This process continues through the use of motion capture technology and on into the creation of an installation-based performance piece. While these web pages offer valuable insights into the creation of innovative artworks, they do not allow the online viewer to fully experience these artworks for themselves.
Many companies with an engagement in dance and technology, such as Random in the United Kingdom, have experimented with online broadcasts of live performance work. These webcasts undoubtedly exploit the potential presented by the Internet to maximise viewer access, but are designed to be strictly time-specific and to retain the ephemeral properties of live dance. The Internet becomes an incidental means of disseminating live work, and, when examined in relation to Richard Lord's criteria, the work itself cannot be considered as being web-specific. Applying these criteria in the course of my research into current online dance practice, only a handful of examples would appear to fall within their remit. Pieces by Lord himself; Andy Clarke and Grethe Mitchell; Troika Ranch; Igloo and Simon Fildes and Katrina McPherson comply with the assertion that work intended by its creators for Internet-specific delivery can be categorised as web dance. A selection of work by this small sample group of artists therefore requires closer examination and analysis.
Michael Rush, outlining the development of new media practices within contemporary art, notes the continuing importance of the role that animation has played in computer art (Rush, 1999, p.177). This tendency can also clearly be seen in relation to work created by the sample group of artists listed above. Three out of four of the pieces on Richard Lord's Web Dances project (Lord, 2001, Internet 9) are animation-based, while another clear instance can be found in Playground One (undated), housed on the website of British-based artists and academics, Andy Clarke and Grethe Mitchell. The piece is described as, 'an interactive environment exploring ideas around dance' (Clarke and Mitchell, undated, Internet A).The viewer is presented with a variety of immobile graphics inhabiting a single screenspace. The screen background is white, while the graphics are predominantly grey-scale. Some have an inky, insubstantial look, reminiscent of Victorian-era line-drawings, contrasting with other more recognizably computer-generated imagery. A soundtrack of calliope-style music plays continuously. Experimentation with the graphic content results in a number of different opportunities for on-screen movement. A crudely humanoid figure, constructed from serially linked orbs, rotates around a variety of axes. A flock of constantly moving circles appear and reconfigure, replacing the path of the cursor, and five grey spheres, suggestive of canon balls, explode into continuous flickering action. A small, rectangular shape at the bottom left hand corner expands to replicate itself along the length of the screen. This reveals serial images of a green, jumping figure, which can be activated into repeated movement. On the left of the screen, the figure of a girl or young woman in flowing, pink-tinged draperies, turns around on herself. These last two graphic elements have obviously identifiable similarities with images from Muybridge's motion studies. The overall impression is of a potentially chaotic clash of historical and contemporary references and elements.
A strikingly different interpretation of the possibilities presented by the combination of dance, animation and the web can be seen in Yearbody for Solo Dancer and Internet (1996/7) (subsequently referred to as Yearbody). Mark Coniglio and Dawn Stopiello founded Troika Ranch in New York in 1993. The company's work is rooted in live performance, although concerned primarily with the combination of dance and technology. Yearbody was created by Coniglio and Stopiello specifically for online viewing, and housed in a Web Salon area of the company's site. In an introduction to the piece, the creators state that they wanted to use, 'the "fast" medium of the Internet present(ing) a very, very slow dance.' (Coniglio and Stopiello, 1996/7, Internet B). This was achieved by posting a different snapshot-style image of Stopiello's movement online each day over a period of twelve months. A thirty-six second animated version of the entire sequence of stills was also subsequently made available for viewing. Neither version of the piece has a sound track. Presented starkly against a plain grey background, and costumed in close fitting black practice clothes, Stopiello's arrested fragments of movement are at times suggestive of martial arts practice or yoga postures. The animated montage does not seek to connect into a single, continuous sequence. Leaps and crouches are therefore incongruously mixed with frozen moments of low-key, pedestrian movement. All are unsettlingly distorted and transformed by the extremes of stillness and speed imposed upon them in each of the two versions of the piece. The original stills-based work allows the viewer to activate a change in image by clicking on a control panel and on a series of reactive buttons, while the animation plays continuously on a loop without any opportunity for viewer modification.
I also chose to incorporate an element of animation into one of the dance based sections of Motion Studies. In common with Yearbody, this section uses movement stills as its basis, but I chose to develop these into a single, continuous sequence, consciously echoing Muybridge's work. Two other introductory sections of the piece are based around specific graphic images, namely those of the interlinking network and the electrical circuit. These images lent themselves particularly well to visual representation, and were encountered in the writings of Michel Foucault and Donna Haraway respectively. The clearest digital arts based influence on the piece takes the form of a game, linking each of the six movement-based sections of work. The viewer is required to click on a coloured chip in order to activate each section in turn, while the chips are programmed to move in response to the cursor as it appears on screen. Versions of this programming device can be seen both in Richard Lord's Web Dances homepage as well as in Playground One. Animation is also a strong feature of the work of British-based artists Ruth Gibson and Bruno Martelli, who create work together under the title Igloo. In dotdotdot (Gibson and Martelli, 2003, Internet D), the artists have utilised the process of motion capture to create a series of five short, soundless movement sketches. Each sketch uses a different graphic device to transform a solo dancing body into a variety of new forms, including a heavy limbed blue crystalline creature; an amalgam constructed from a jumble of numbers and letters of the alphabet, and an inhumanly pliable green stick-figure. At the time of writing, this work is available to view online only as a test exercise, and it is therefore not yet possible to fully determine the nature of the finished project.
The web dances which have had the greatest influence on my own work are Richard Lord's Progressive 2 (1996) and Simon Fildes and Katrina McPherson's Big (2003). Lord describes Progressive 2 as 'a video wall dance where context matters' (Lord, 1996, Internet E). He also writes that the technical challenge of sufficiently compressing video footage for online presentation, as well as the parallels this suggested with the use of sound-bites in news reporting, were important factors in the piece's creation. (Lord, 2000, p.5, Internet 9). An uncredited young woman, wearing a close-fitting grey and purple outfit, executes the piece's movement content. This flame-haired dancer at times appears to be wearing a differently-coloured version of the same costume, suggestive of cycle couriers or rock climbers as cultural reference points. The piece has no soundtrack, and filming appears to have taken place in a theatre space. Little of this environment is visible, but the dancer travels past stage lighting stands, set within an otherwise darkened area. A grey or black dance floor can also sometimes be seen. The screenspace is divided up into nine evenly spaced rectangles, arranged in three rows of three. Each of the rectangles can be seen loading content, with the first sequence appearing in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. This appears to be the anchor footage, and plays continuously. The dancer moves through a walking-based pattern, ending with her disappearance from shot as she moves downwards towards the floor, only to reappear as the sequence begins again. Each of the other eight rectangles contains a variety of material using only some of this original footage. Shots of disembodied feet, hands and face also appear, mixed with a more traditional contemporary dance vocabulary of turns and rolls. Snatches of movement fleetingly repeat and echo across the screenspace. The top left hand rectangle appears to contain more material than any of the others, with an extraordinarily rapid rate of cutting between shots. An image of the dancers' face, engaged in a silent screaming action, also appears. The image introduces an emotionally charged element absent from the rest of the movement material, and serves as a significant visual reference point. Control buttons allow the viewer to start and to stop all of the sequences simultaneously, and also to synchronise or randomise the material. Lord writes that each of the rectangles play sequences lasting nine seconds. These range from the original nine-second long walking-pattern, to thirty-one video clips shown within a nine second time frame (Lord, 200, p.5 Internet 9). My own experience of viewing Progressive 2 is that the piece functions as an exhilarating challenge to the eye in respect of how much visual information it is possible to perceive and process in a short space of time. The variations in speed between the sequences is an important factor in the piece's watchability, as the viewer's eye is able to rest on the baseline of longer sections of movement as well as absorbing information through a rapid cutting rate. The clearly defined structure of the piece creates its own context for each of the movement sequences. The overwhelming multiplicity of patterns, repetitions and connections made possible within its limited time parameters represent a virtuoso feat of programming as choreography. Motion Studies has been influenced by Progressive 2 most obviously in a section where three sequences of movement material are structured into grid-based configurations of three, nine and sixteen rectangles. The three sections of source material are not of equal length, but all play continuously when selected by the viewer, ensuring that different combinations of visual material are constantly being generated. In this section, as in Progressive 2, the pathway of the viewer's eye is a vital element within the work.
Big, directed by Katrina McPherson, uses footage developed during a two-week residency at Snape Maltings in Suffolk, in November 2001. McPherson worked with choreographer Crystal Pite and performers from Ricochet Dance Company to develop movement work on video. The web piece was subsequently created together with McPherson's regular collaborator, editor and designer Simon Fildes. The piece itself is housed within a web page of the Hyperchoreography project. Information on the project states that this aims to act as a showcase for non-linear dance work, offering the chance to experiment with the wide range of options for viewer modification available within the hypermedia format. Echoing this, a written introduction to the piece states that, 'The elements are put in place by the creators, but the shape of the work is decided by the user at the moment of interaction' (Fildes and McPherson, 2003, Internet C). A hyperlink from the introduction connects to a short essay, elaborating on the piece's historical and theoretical underpinnings. This cites Theodore Nelson's concepts of Hypertext and Hypermedia, and the writings of Foucault and Barthes on the subject of non-linear networks (unattributed, undated, Internet 7). In this conscious intention to engage fully with the medium and with its associated theoretical underpinnings, Motion Studies has clear and obvious parallels with Big, although the pieces differ substantially in their content and style of presentation.
Big appears as a row of four small rectangular screens, situated above four corresponding rows of dots. There are twenty dots in each row, and each dot represents a sequence of footage. The sequences last for around two to four seconds, although some are slightly longer or shorter than others. Once activated, a sequence loops, playing continuously until replaced or deactivated by the viewer, who must do so by clicking on to a bar situated underneath each of the four rows of dots. One male and three female dancers are shown in differing combinations of solos, duets, trios and quartets. The dancers are dressed informally in dark coloured practice clothes, and a golden-coloured wooden floor and bare brick wall are at times visible as surroundings. Movements are framed in a variety of different ways, including a single figure dwarfed by the surrounding space; a close-up on the interlinked hand and arm work of a duet, and a figure framed by surrounding bodies. Each sequence has an accompanying soundtrack of ambient movement noise. It is possible for the viewer to watch each sequence individually, or to choose to replicate each one on up to a maximum of four screens simultaneously. Differing combinations of sequences can also be selected. My own impression of the piece was coloured by the brevity of timespan imposed upon the movement. Rhythms set into a quickly recurring cycle, becoming difficult to assimilate visually, as variations in dynamic quality appeared to even out. In Motion Studies, the technical challenges presented by the necessity of compressing video footage also had to be dealt with. I was keen to respond to these technical challenges in a way that would allow for as much variety as possible within the format of the work. Creating a piece with six different movement-based sections allowed for widely differing approaches in relation to issues such as framing, scale, colour and sound.
I knew that Motion Studies would have to function as a self-performed solo dance piece, as, for a variety of financial, geographical and scheduling reasons, I did not have access to the resource-base of other performers. I have a strong preference for filming improvised dance work, and this preference has developed for a number of reasons. My own execution of set choreographic material has often appeared to lack energy and vitality when transferred to a screen context. This screen-specific loss of pace has been well observed as a phenomenon within the dance world. Sherril Dodds states that,' the camera tends to 'dull' or 'flatten' the sense of dynamic quality that a movement employs' (Dodds, 2001, p.33). In my own work, the strategy of using improvisation as a means of countering this tendency has delivered a number of interesting by-products. I have found that improvised movement can achieve a level of dynamic complexity which would be impossible to pre-plan, but which can be successfully captured on camera. Improvised work also refutes the claim, made in relation to screendance work, that,'...the dancers body tires of doing repeated takes....the spontaneity of the single performance is lost' (Dodds, 2001, p.79), as each improvised take is designed to function as a unique and unrepeatable event. This way of generating material seemed particularly appropriate for the piece, as, in common with the concept of hypertext and the Internet itself, improvisation is non-linear. In their writings on this theme, Lynne Anne Blom and L. Tarin Chaplin state that improvisation is, '...analogous to free association in thought' (Blom and Chaplin, 1988, p.x), and there are parallels to be found between the process of making continuous improvised movement choices as a performer, and that of the navigational choices made by the viewer. William Forsythe has stated that, 'The purpose of improvisation is to defeat choreography, to get back to what is primarily dancing.' (Forsythe, 1999, p.24). In Motion Studies, I wanted to explore this improvised movement state, using digital technology to make visible aspects of dancing not otherwise apparent to the naked eye. Forsythe's statement has relevance to the role of the choreographer within a digital context, and also within the context of current contemporary practice. On this subject, Victoria Marks writes,
(Marks, 2002, p.210)
This view is echoed by dance artist Gill Clarke, who clearly outlines the fluid and evolving expression of the choreographic role within current practice, as she states that choreographers are,
(Clarke, 2003, p.6)
This description is certainly applicable to my own role as choreographer of Motion Studies. This role purposely did not include creating any set dance steps, but did encompass the frequently overlapping activities of dancing; directing; editing and designing. Over the course of the last two years, my work with dance and digital media has been created in partnership with Jake Messenger. During this working process, Messenger has taken on the functions of camera operator and computer programmer, as well as fulfilling the roles of technical adviser and digital technician as required. We have created a number of online and screendance pieces by working together in this way. However, it has proved difficult to assign traditional job titles, many of which have migrated from the film and television industries into current screendance practice, to our very particular working partnership. For Motion Studies, I would define my role as lead artist in the creative process. Within this role, I was responsible for the piece's initial concept and subsequent artistic direction, but would ultimately have been unable to explore the possibilities afforded by digital technology without a technically able and artistically supportive working partner. When examined in relation to the examples of current practice created by Clarke and Mitchell; Coniglio and Stopiello; Fildes and McPherson and Gibson and Martelli, the context of online dance work would seem to lend itself particularly well to experimentation by partnerships and small-scale creative teams.
Although able to supply most of the elements needed to create the piece from my own technical resources, space for filming was, however, required in order to develop Motion Studies. Footage from a filming session which had taken place in Cambridge in November 2001 was used, and space was also supplied free of charge during 2003 by DanceEast in Ipswich and Dance Base in Edinburgh. The Cambridge footage showed a single continuous movement sequence, subsequently used in two sections of the piece. In these sections, the whole body was visible within the screenspace, and I therefore wanted to use differing framing techniques for other sections of work. Performing in the piece myself presented particular problems, as I was unable to watch the camera screen as movement was filmed. Instead, I had to pre-plan and sketch out on paper my interpretation of a shot, replaying footage immediately after filming to see whether the idea had successfully translated to a screen-based context. After three days of shooting in the Wolsey Studio in Ipswich, this system produced material concentrating on close-up, isolated fragments of movement. In two days of filming at Dance Base in Edinburgh, material was generated which showed the body only from the neck downwards, and this was done for two reasons. Firstly, it concealed the fact that I was directing my movements by looking in a mirror positioned behind the camera. Secondly, it functioned as an alternative framing option, positioned between the full range of visibility from the Cambridge footage, and the fragmented imagery shot in Ipswich. For all of the filming sessions, the amount of equipment deployed was minimal. Only one video camera was used, with a reliance on natural light where possible. A distinct benefit arising from such a small-scale technical operation is that the process of filming can remain fluid and responsive to new ideas or changes of circumstances as they arise. This extremely self-contained method of working was initially dictated by financial necessity, but has now become a positive operational choice. It also sidesteps the charge outlined by Sherril Dodds that dancers feel, '...a sense of frustration that video dance is so reliant on extraneous technological factors' (Dodds, 2001, p.150), as the experience of dancing is always able to be placed at the heart of the filming process.
My working practice with film and video has always involved a conscious decision not to pre-plan any particular outcome, but to assemble work organically from the footage available. This ensures that I am able to exercise a choreographic sensibility during the editing and making process, and can respond flexibly rather than working towards the realisation of a pre-determined scheme. In creating Motion Studies, constructing material for non-linear presentation also confronted me with new ways of thinking about the many different options and outcomes available within the format. As with all of my work created using digital media, my priority was to use the tools available to me in the service of the movement material, rather than being led or dominated by a technology-driven agenda. The lengthy process of viewing footage and selecting material followed the same path as the development of a screendance work. The material then had to be prepared for Internet delivery, and decisions had to be taken regarding the structure of the piece. Ideas for six sections of movement-based material had emerged, and I wanted to ensure that each had a distinct character of its own. One of my main aims for the piece was to include differing levels and means of viewer engagement with the material. An overarching linear structure guides viewers through the work, from beginning to end. Within this structure, however, the viewer has a number of opportunities to determine their own pathways and preferences within the piece. A great deal has been written from the perspective of the dance and technology and digital arts communities regarding use of the term interactivity. While acknowledging this ongoing debate, a full discussion of the issues involved does not lie within the scope of this essay. An outline of the piece's dance content in relation to the terms linear and non-linear provides a more immediate means of establishing the varying levels of viewer engagement.
The title sequence of Motion Studies comes closest to being constructed in a conventional, linear way. Nine short fragments of movement are interspersed with written information concerning the piece. The sequence begins with viewer activation by means of a mouse click. Once the sequence has played through to its end, the viewer can then choose to move the material backwards before repeating. This rewind function is entirely superfluous within the context of digital technology, but relates to what Mary Ann Doane in her writings on the relationship between cinema and time, refers to as, '...a curiosity about the limits of the machine' (Doane, 2002, p.108). Doane also relates that in the early stages of cinema's development, a common device was to play a film in reverse so that audiences could witness, '...time apparently flow backward' (Doane, 2002, p.108). The rewind function in the title section of Motion Studies allows viewers the option to explore this source of fascination.
I also wanted to further explore the issues of time and speed in relation to viewer control. One section of material begins with a single still image, initially shown without any means of viewer modification. This gradually develops from a further series of stills into a sequence of continuous movement, animated by the viewer's series of mouse clicks. The still images at the start of the section are designed to present a contrasting option to the trend for instant accessibility and rapid turnover of imagery prevalent within many aspects of contemporary culture. Sherril Dodds writes of Lea Anderson's use of freeze frame in her screendance piece Perfect Moment (1992) that, 'Anderson is allowing the reader to contemplate a single image in the way that a spectator regards a painting' (Dodds,1995, p.99). The use of stills in this particular section of Motion Studies is designed to suggest that the rate of engagement with digital imagery need not always be conducted at high speed and can potentially include a more contemplative element. Once the idea for this section had been formalised, I encountered Mary Ann Doane's writings, where she relates that,
(Doane, 2002, p.24).
As a choreographer working with digital media at the beginning of the 21st century, I found that my artistic concerns had inadvertently echoed a preoccupation current during the earliest days of cinema history.
The principle of random access, central to much digital art work, purposely lies at the heart of one section of Motion Studies, where viewers must select the playing order and positioning of up to eight movement clips. These clips play on three small rectangles within the screenspace, where viewers can determine not only the sequence of the clips, but also have the ability to replicate material by clicking two or three times on the same sequence. This section allows for the greatest amount of viewer-controlled choreographic exploration within the piece. Its design was suggested by the bold graphic style of cover art work from the Blue Note record label (Marsh, Callingham, Cromey, 1991, p.18), and it's colour scheme of red, orange and black by the wild poppies visible each summer throughout the countryside in the south of England. The principle of random access was also central to another of the piece's sections in which a single, continuous sequence of movement was divided into six parts. Each part was represented by a photographic still, and displayed in a line of six small rectangles arranged across the screenspace. The viewer is able to activate the whole sequence by clicking on any one of the still images. Each part of the sequence plays in turn, and the viewer is able to reactivate by choosing a different starting point for the movement. This section allowed me to explore, using a digital format, a long-held choreographic preoccupation concerning the division and allocation of continuous movement material.
In another of the piece's sections, material is shown in both a linear and non-linear form. In the linear version, two different movement sequences, costumed entirely in black or in white, play through when selected by the viewer. Within this format, the smooth and continuous quality of the movement is deliberately broken up by a series of jump cuts, which are programmed to alternately speed up and slow down as the sequence progresses. These jump cuts purposely heighten a sense of dislocation and create new and unplanned movement configurations within the material. In the section's non-linear version, both sequences are available to view within a single screenspace, although only one is visible at any given time. Viewers are then able to switch between the two by moving their cursor across a central control panel.
In developing Motion Studies, I was influenced by the use of sound in the works Forty Part Motet (2001) and Muriel Lake Incident (1999), created by Canadian artist Janet Cardiff, and exhibited during 2003 at the Tate Gallery in Liverpool. In these works, sound is used as a means of suggesting physical presence, and this was something I wanted to develop as an integral part of Motion Studies. My priorities were to highlight both the human involvement within the piece and, conversely, to reflect the electronically-generated elements of the work. Ambient movement sounds were recorded during the filming sessions in Ipswich and Edinburgh, and these were used as raw material for the soundtrack for three sections of the piece. Sound recorded in Edinburgh was added to movement filmed in Ipswich in the section of work structured as differing configurations of three, nine and sixteen rectangles. In this section, the sound track plays continuously as a means of suggesting a larger aural context, even when the movement material is not visible. Sound was also edited and pieced together in the same way that video footage would be, in order to develop distinctive sonic accompaniment for the black and white movement sequences. The sound component for the black material is constructed from a series of sharp and explosive noises, while the white movement material has a softer soundtrack generated by a series of swishing actions. The piece's title section incorporates the end of a sound recording, filmed as part of a four minute long movement sequence. As the movement was filmed in a single continuous take, breath from the final minute can clearly be heard in addition to movement sounds. I was particularly keen to include the element of breath in order to exploit the inescapable smallness of scale and intimate nature of the online viewing experience. The use of breath within this context also serves to emphasise the humanity and physicality inherent within the making of the work. In this section of the piece, a continuous soundtrack is again used to counterpoint fragmented visual imagery. Specific sound effects of a camera shutter and a film projector are used to reinforce historical context in the section using still images together with animation, and drawing most clearly on the influence of Muybridge. The projector sound effect was also modified and developed for use in another section of the piece. Six different sound sequences, suggestive of the hum of electricity, were developed for potential accompaniment in another movement section. Here, the soundtrack accumulates an additional layer of syncopated electrical hum each time the sequence is activated.
The journey of the viewer through Motion Studies has clear parallels with many of the structural devices and conventions used in computer games. Although not a user of such games, as a choreographer I cannot help but be influenced to some extent by their current level of cultural ubiquity. Despite the fact that many manufacturers are increasingly interested in developing non-violent and co-operatively based scenarios, most traditional games have developed from a culture characterised by Donna Haraway as, '... heavily oriented to individual competition and extraterrestrial warfare' (Haraway, 1991, p.168). Motion Studies, however, has been designed to present an alternative participatory and aesthetic experience to that of the majority of traditional video games. The design and wording of the viewer controls and instructions played an enormously important part in the development of the piece, as I wanted to ensure that the viewing experience would not exclude anyone lacking prior knowledge of gaming or of computer use. This issue is also extremely relevant in locating Motion Studies within a theoretical context, as are the wider ideological implications bound up within the creation of technologically-mediated work. In the next section of the essay I will be examining the issues regarding feminism, social engagement and the applications of advanced technologies as outlined in the writings of Donna Haraway. I will be examining Haraway's concept of cyborg imagery in relation to Motion Studies, and I will also be examining some of the wider issues relating to the current debate on dance and technology, as put forward by Don Ihde, Susan Kozel and Sherril Dodds.
Writing on the historical development of digital art, Michael Rush states that the roots of the art form lie,
(Rush, 1999, p.171)
Christiane Paul is equally clear on the same point, stating that, 'The technological history of digital art is inextricably linked to the military-industrial complex...' (Paul, 2003, p.8). Biologist and feminist theorist Donna Haraway uses this inescapable historical legacy to contextualise her own educational development, writing that, '...a PhD in biology for an Irish Catholic girl was made possible by Sputnik's impact on US national science-education policy' (Haraway, 1991, p.173). Within a contemporary context, the widespread application of advanced technologies within many politically contentious arenas can also function as a source of disquiet for many people. Haraway proposes, however, that feminists and socialists need not refuse to engage with technology on ideological grounds. She contends that dissenting voices and the potential means for radical political change have also inadvertently been produced by technology-driven governmental agendas. Haraway's views contrast strongly with the anti-technical stance taken by many contemporary feminists and socialists. She makes the case for an informed, conscious and conscientious blurring of distinctions between human and non-human relations in the realms of art and science, calling for, '... pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction' (Haraway, 1991, p.150). In an area of great relevance to dance and technology practitioners, she encourages artists to explore, '...what it means to be embodied in high-tech worlds' (Haraway, 1991, p.173). Haraway also sets out the level of importance she attaches to this process of technological engagement by stating,
(Haraway, 1991, p.163)
Haraway's writings provide a theoretical environment in which the contradictory aspects of Motion Studies' development and lineage can comfortably be situated. My own background as a choreographer draws on many years of experience working within the education and community dance sectors, rather than from direct experience of computing or digital arts. Inevitably, this perspective has fed into the creation of Motion Studies on many different levels. Therefore, Haraway's call for a conscious engagement with the social implications of technological advancement resonates strongly with many aspects of my working practices. In addition, Haraway's description of her idealised model of political activity has many affinities with the structure, images and concepts used in hypertext and in Motion Studies itself, as she writes that,
(Haraway, 1991, p.170).
The image of the cyborg has particular relevance for dance practitioners engaged in an exploration of the uses of new technologies. Haraway defines the term as '...a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as fiction' (Haraway, 1991, p.149), and further develops this image by stating, 'Modern medicine is also full of cyborgs, of couplings between organism and machine' (Haraway, 1991, p.150). My role as choreographer of Motion Studies presented me with the opportunity to realise my artistic vision by technological means. I was therefore able to identify with the construct of the cyborg through this active engagement with a strongly technologically-mediated creative process. It can also be argued that viewers engaging with Motion Studies must do so by entering into a cyborgian synthesis of human and machine in order to navigate their way through the work, and that this dynamic partnership embodies the concepts set out in Haraway's writings on cyborg imagery.
In a further examination of the social and practical applications of the cyborg construct, the integration of organic and inorganic has the potential to open up new avenues of artistic expression to those otherwise denied a voice. Technology-based alternatives to live performance have the potential to provide creative and participatory opportunities for a wide range of people who would otherwise be excluded from dance. This applies equally to artists with physical disabilities, such as Ju Gosling (Gosling, undated, Internet 5), as well as to those denied access to traditional sources of funding and financial support. The current pace of technological advancement means that the possibilities for creating and distributing self-funded work, such as Motion Studies, continue to grow. Haraway writes that, '...in imagination and in other practices, machines can be prosthetic devices, intimate components, friendly selves' (Haraway. 1991, p.178). Increasingly, in the field of dance, machines in the form of video cameras, computers and editing software, can also provide a means of autonomous artistic expression to those with few other creative options. This enabling potential of technology is not only confined to the issues of creation and participation. Much has been written on the issue of increasing privatization of personal consumption in relation to the arts. Sherril Dodds states that, '...this privatization has extended into the area of dance performance' (Dodds, 2001, p.161). While the emergence of computer-based work reinforces this conclusion, grounds for optimism can also be found, at least in relation to the issue of opportunities for viewing online work. In Britain, the practice of free Internet use which has been established through the public education and library systems, means that viewers need not be dependent on domestic computer ownership in order to access web dance. Drawing on my own personal experience, I first watched online dance work, including Richard Lord's Progressive 2, at my local public library. In this matter, my approach to the issue of access resonates strongly with Haraway's views that,
(Haraway, 1991, p.181).
This deeply rooted aversion to technology can be found in many guises, particularly when viewed in relation to dance. Susan Kozel writes that, 'Technology in dance is regarded with a mixture of fascination and horror' (Kozel, 1995, p.219), which she ascribes to the perception that the corporeal may somehow become lost or negated by translation from its live source. Sherril Dodds, commenting on a particularly negative review of televised screendance work, suspects that technologically-mediated bodies could be regarded as being suspiciously unnatural. She writes that, 'There is an almost technophobic sentiment echoed in these fears and concerns, as if the live body were somehow defiled or ruined by technology' (Dodds, 2001, p.147). Further perspective on this issue is provided in the writings of Don Idhe, who characterises human and technological conjunctions as 'embodiment relations' (Ihde, 2002, p.xvi). Ihde states that the fears and prejudices experienced by many people in coming to terms with new developments, such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, are merely extensions of age-old preoccupations that surround human-technological interrelations. He states that these,
(Ihde, 2002, p.xi)
One of Motion Studies' opening sections explicitly makes use of this concept of embodiment relation. The viewer must use their mouse to guide the on-screen cursor through the maze-like pathway of an electrical circuit, and they must try to do this without touching the circuit's edges while progressing to the centre of the screen.
Susan Kozel puts forward the theory that new models of thinking about dance and technology, which move beyond the traditional dualisms of mechanical versus organic, could provide a more positive basis for discussion. She writes that, '...if both technology and bodies are seen additionally in terms of flows of energy, or intensities then there is a ground for collaboration' (Kozel, 1995, p.223). This image of a dual flow of energy, both human and technological, is a particularly appropriate one for online dance work. Donna Haraway points out that the ultimate responsibility for our interactions with technology lies within ourselves, stating that, 'The machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment. We can be responsible for machines; they do not dominate or threaten us' (Haraway, 1991, p.180). Ihde, Haraway and Kozel's views are echoed in the creation of Motion Studies, finding strong practical expression within the viewing partnership, which requires an active synthesis of human and machine. However, the prevailing social attitudes and prejudices surrounding dance and technology work could provide a partial explanation as to why so little online dance work is currently available to view. In the final section of this essay, I will explore some of the issues surrounding the barriers to the creation of web dance. I will also return to the issue of categorisation, and conclude with an evaluation of the processes involved in creating Motion Studies.
In the mid 1990s, the popularisation of the World Wide Web appeared to offer unprecedented scope for the global delivery of dance work. Writing in 1995, independent producer and digital arts practitioner Terry Braun stated that,
(Braun, 1995, p.2 Internet 1)
Eight years on, my research has revealed only a handful of examples of online dance work available for viewing, and further investigation is required in order to determine why this new medium has achieved such infrequent take-up. An undoubted handicap is the lack of specialist technical knowledge within the dance community. While many dance artists are increasing their artistic and technical skills within the burgeoning field of screendance practice, online work requires an additional and highly specialised level of technical proficiency.
Despite the fact that many companies and artists currently have websites for promotional purposes, the particular demands involved in working with hypertext mark-up language (HTML), of computer programming and coding, mean that website design is likely to be contracted out to specialist practitioners, rather than created by the artists themselves. Dance education and training is also beginning to address the growing need for rising levels of engagement with technology, but dance artists in the main still appear to require some level of technical support when developing online work. The anomalous example set by Mathematics graduate, programmer and dance artist Richard Lord, would also seem to suggest that it is currently easier to make the journey from technician to choreographer than from choreographer to technician.
Another problematic area is that of audience engagement. Online work is curiously placed, in that it has the potential to be seen worldwide by huge numbers of viewers, many new to dance. However, this vast potential for access has to be set against the precarious nature of the online viewing experience. Richard Lord has examined this issue, and, referring to his own website, states that,
(Lord, 2000, p.8/9 Internet 9)
Lord elaborates on the difficulties of retaining viewers through the potential discouragements of long download times or low boredom thresholds. He concludes that, 'If they think the site is boring they'll leave. And there's none of the guilt and embarrassment that many feel when walking out of a theatre production' (Lord, 2000, p.9 Internet 9). To set against these difficulties, however, online dance works do have the potential to attract significant viewing figures by virtue of their potential for longevity. When considered within the context of visual arts practice, the Internet is generally regarded as being inherently ephemeral or unstable as a viewing medium. However, a small but relatively constant stream of viewers to a website over the course of a year or longer can equal or surpass audience figures attending a strictly time-limited tour of a live dance production. Cultural differences can also play an important part in determining viewing preferences, as can the geographical spread of audiences. Australian artists James Cunningham and Suzon Fuks state that within their homeland,
(Cunningham and Fuks, 2003, p.29).
Opportunities to show online work outside of the domestic or educational arenas can also prove difficult to access. The current international network of screendance festivals provides a forum for screenbased work with obvious parallels to product-centred and time-specific live dance performance. However, computer-based and non-linear work can be harder to place outside of specialist academic conferences or symposia. There are also particular considerations and difficulties in showing Internet-based work within a gallery or institution. Christiane Paul, outlines these issues, stating that,
(Paul, 2003, p.24)
These issues relating to the presentation of Internet-based work have been taken into account when planning how Motion Studies should ideally be viewed. Although it is not possible to determine how, or in what circumstances, a viewer will engage with a work accessed online, it did prove possible to ensure that, for assessment purposes at least, Motion Studies was experienced under controlled circumstances. Watched by a single viewer, and with a minimum of visual distractions, the piece, in this instance, benefited from being presented in isolation rather than suffering from any perceived issues of marginalisation.
Online dance suffers from a further handicap in the popular privileging of live performance work over recorded material. In addition to this, a further level of prejudice exists within the field of screenbased product, as outlined by Michael Rush. Rush states that,
(Rush, 1999, p.80)
Part of this problem relates to the lack of a tangible and therefore saleable commodity. Although live dance is by its nature ephemeral, the convention of staged public performances provides a product around which a promotional strategy can be devised. Online work which functions as an advertisement for a product-based event or object, such as a performance, installation or CD-Rom, is fulfilling an important role within a marketing-driven agenda. Work existing solely to be viewed free-of-charge online, however, is much harder to justify within a market-led consumer culture. Gill Clarke clearly identifies this problem when she states that, 'In the UK, the support structures for dance are still largely focused around the idea of 'product' and the touring of that 'product' to as many people as possible' (Clarke, 2003, p.7). A variety of initiatives are currently underway designed to introduce financial charges for access to Internet-based work. These initiatives have appeared in many different forms, such as subscriptions schemes for crossword puzzle sections of online daily newspapers, or charging viewers via their mobile phone bills to access feature films (Clapperton, 2003, Internet 3). Jeremy Rifkin writes that,
(Rifkin, 2000, p.170)
Although it is debatable whether web-based dance work could or should join this trend towards the commercialism of web-delivered content, the increasing exploitation of revenue-generation from online product will inevitably impact at some level on the way that computer-based work as a whole is valued and experienced. While many barriers to the creation of online dance work do undoubtedly exist, the case for the benefits to artists also stands. One of the most appealing features of online work for the independently-minded is set out by Michael Rush, who asks,
(Rush, 1999, p.216)
It seems likely, however, that despite the many obstacles currently in place, artists will seek to find ways of engaging in further exploration of online dance work. Returning to the issue of categorisation, and moving beyond the starting point of Richard Lord's criteria, my research has led to a number of conclusions. It would appear that there are certain frequently recurring issues and characteristics appearing in relation to online dance. Use of a range of animation techniques is common, and is a legacy of the form's digital art heritage. Use of animation is not universal, however. A parallel trend, involving work with video footage, has emerged, and this draws upon elements of screendance practice. New technological developments, such as the increasing take-up of high speed Internet access, and the introduction of software packages enabling significant manipulation of video footage for use online, are likely to encourage further developments of this kind. Much, although not all, of the work has been created by apparently self-sufficient partnerships in which each artist contributes skills from the separate disciplines of dance and digital art. There is also a very pronounced issue of gender differentiation within many of these partnerships. This differentiation appears to uphold a traditional gender bias, casting a female dance artist in collaboration with a male technician. Deviation or development from these fixed gender roles is still uncommon enough to appear noteworthy. Something of the scale and intimacy of the online viewing experience also seems to have been translated into a bias towards solo based dance work, utilising modest production values. The experimental nature of the medium as well as, perhaps, an absence of external funding, has no doubt also played a large part in determining these particular characteristics. I would also conclude that while it is possible to encounter trends and to notice certain similarities of approach, it is not necessarily useful at this stage of the artforms' development to impose a potentially limiting set definition on web dance. The possibilities for experimentation have barely begun to be explored, and the body of online work is also currently very limited. To insist on too rigid a process of categorization is also to fundamentally misunderstand the potential for innovation presented by the online medium. Another important point to note is the mix of artistic experience and range of practice brought to bear in the development of web dance. As so little work currently exists, it is likely that none of the practitioners involved in creating online dance work do so exclusively. This means that when an online work is developed, there are enormous possibilities for inclusion of new influences and cross-fertilisation of practices within the genre. Richard Lord states that,
(Lord, 2000, p.9 Internet 9)
I share the view that the current priority should be the encouragement of experimentation, rather than focusing the debate too narrowly or prematurely on potentially limiting or divisive categorisations.
In the development and creation of the piece Motion Studies, my aim was to integrate a range of ideas, images and information suggested by my research process into my practical work. The legacy of Muybridge's photographic studies, historical references to screendance development and elements of digital arts practice were all included, to a greater or lesser extent, as ingredients within the piece. I also wanted to explore differing levels of viewer engagement within a non-linear format, and this was achieved in a variety of different ways throughout the work. Filming, editing, selecting, modifying, and shaping video footage undoubtedly represented the most obvious use of choreographic input within the piece. However, I feel that I was able to successfully exercise a choreographic sensibility throughout the whole of the making process, and this was one of my most important priorities within the project overall. Planning and guiding the journey of the viewer also developed into a fascinating virtual extension of my teaching persona. Motion Studies' modular structure is highly complex, and presented enormous and time-consuming technical challenges. Several sections of the piece suffer from ongoing technical problems, which have the potential to radically affect viewers' experience of the work. As a choreographic concern, this ultimate lack of viewing control provides a significant level of deterrent to the creation of further online work on a similar scale. I am, however, particularly pleased with the results of the ideas for the integration of sound within the piece, and also with the use of more abstract and disembodied movement footage. I plan to develop these themes towards new areas of practice, such as gallery-based, non-linear installations. The highly intensive four month research and development period for Motion Studies presented me with a range of challenges and opportunities, alerting me to a variety of new avenues of artistic and cultural exploration. In this respect, the process of developing the piece has proved to be an extremely valuable experience. It has allowed me to make extensive use of a range of digital technologies as aspects of my creative practice, and to use them to conduct my own personal exploration of the artistic terrain opened up by Muybridge in 1872. This high level of technological engagement also allowed me to explore my continuing preoccupation with what William Forsythe refers to as the '... inner things hidden within dancing' (Forsythe, 1999, p.22), and Rebecca Solnit as, '...the secret world of motion' (Solnit, 2003, p.83).