Posted on June 7, 2017
I’m plundering conversations I’ve had this month to reflect on technology; I want to begin a dialogue about its potential within dance. The application of new technology within dance medicine is increasingly documented, and progress in more sophisticated lighting and stage techniques affords creative teams a broader palette to paint from, but is technology transforming the dancer’s daily life? Are we using technology to its fullest potential? I’m not arguing that ballet is stuck in a bygone era in need of its newest Windows Update, but is time ripe for some innovative thinking?
I want to call myself pre millennial – of the generation that remembers when chalk boards were replaced with white boards in school. I remember the alien landing of our own home PC in the late 1990s, and only by the time I left secondary school were interactive smartboards becoming the thing. Today the world is exponentially different: school intranets, iPads in playgrounds, and schools using online payment applications to become virtually cashless. Technology has made every area of our lives easier, and the leap in development from my childhood is Olympian. Yet we have all experienced the frustration of frozen laptops, and more sinisterly, the emergence of cybercrime points to new considerations for the future. Not quite a barometer of popular opinion, I found an interesting article in June 2017’s BBC Good Food Magazine entitled “Tech is destroying the joy of food.” The writer explored how Apps like Instagram were altering how we use food in our lives, not necessarily all to our benefit. These ideas translate across in to dance and our enjoyment of it. People talk about how YouTube is changing attitudes to training within dance, how it is transforming the “look” of ballet. Dancers, of course, use social media to create and sustain their own particular brands – we know more about the lives of current performers away from the stage than at any previous time thanks to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
However, no one can deny the powerful partnership of dance and technology for augmenting accessibility within an art form that appears esoteric. Live streamed performances, rehearsals and cinema relays all form a large chunk of how audiences are digesting dance today. It’s fascinating to look back at videos posted on the Royal Opera House’s websites from 2011 and compare them to media uploaded in the last few months, where quality of sound and image is markedly more sophisticated. Such commitment to additional content to support and encourage uptake of the live artform is noteworthy, but are people looking at everything that is out there? More food for thought: are the ways we are future-proofing this treasure chest of new material emerging from dance institutions. How are we to keep what will inevitably become relics of a lost age, usable, and relevant?
Can technology make dancers more musical? We can immerse ourselves in music at all times through on-the-go MP3 players (this expression alone seems horrifyingly passé), iPods and iPhones, so is this development changing our dancing? Is it possible to qualify this idea? That would be challenging, though I believe the increased use of video recording as a teaching tool is improving physical standards. Talk to any performer and they will tell you how hard it is to watch themselves – akin to hearing your voice back over an answerphone. In an interview with Zoë Anderson in January 2016’s Dancing Times, Marianela Nuñez shared this feeling, but continued: “I look at to perfect myself. I face it, and I can take it. It’s like medicine: it doesn’t taste good, but you know it’s good for you.” Corrections a coach gives are gratefully received in the moment, but seeing your own body perform an ill co-ordinated pirouette on camera really hits you in the stomach. I’m astounded to see how adept colleagues are at editing together video for auditions, not to mention the knack for ripping sound from YouTube videos, or splicing music together to get the perfect tempo for a variation. These are things not taught to me at school, but today they seem necessary to gain employment. How did people audition in the pre-digital age? Answers on a – wittily antiquated – postcard please.
Technology improves collaboration of all sorts, not only between choreographer, designer and composer, but between dancer and staff. I’ve witnessed stagers pulling up archival footage through Wi-Fi to assist their teaching of a ballet, and larger companies such as Houston Ballet have their own Vimeo channel. Each employee has an individual password to access a video archive of the works currently in repertoire. Dancers are able to prepare for rehearsals ahead of time spent with a ballet master. Though it may alleviate time constraints within jam-packed schedules, does it make for higher efficiency once you’re in a studio?
Tate Britain’s comprehensive exhibition of David Hockney’s work has just closed. Here is a visual artist who embraced the iPad to produce images that belie our expectations of the Apple device. Hockney, however, asserts the superiority of the physical act of drawing with pencil and paper. Similarly, you’ll never replace the flesh and blood of the body in dance. Wayne McGregor and Kim Brandstrup’s 2012 collaboration with artist Conrad Shawross, Machina, a response to paintings by Titian, offer an important perspective. The ideas about mapping people’s physical signatures contained within this work (the allusion to a visual artist’s way with a paintbrush is cogent) are in the vanguard of dance and technology’s developing relationship. This isn’t completely new – in 1994, William Forsythe developed his Improvisation Technologies: A Tool for the Analytical Dance Eye, and today we have Forsythe’s Motion Bank. I will hold my hands up and say I did not know anything about these systems before starting to write this blog, so in the spirit of collaboration and the digital age, I want to hear from you. Tell me the ways in which technology has helped your daily dancing life, or how you can see it changing our future. Tweet me @danpratt91