Feature: Debate 1:

Friday 7 April 2006

Motion-captured dance and the death of the choreographer?

In fact, Eshkar and Kaiser’s relationship to dance as digital artists was interesting. “We take the motions of others and restitch them together”, they explained. “We lay down a kind of motion alphabet and combine it in a way that is visually and emotionally arresting”.
Did that make them akin to choreographers? And does their practice make choreography redundant?
The afternoon’s debate heated up on just this subject. Ghislaine Boddington launched it with the suggestion that new technology has the potential to democratise dance and empower the public. Now the untrained, “pedestrian” movement of ordinary bodies can be recorded and made into a work of art.

Indeed, declared Kaiser: “Pedestrian motion like that of a toddler trying to walk is far more complex and interesting than choreographed movement. Dance is a simplified form of human movement”. The gauntlet was laid down. Choreographers came to the defence.

Choreographed and pedestrian movement are not opposed in contemporary dance: choreography often evolves out of pedestrian movement and it can be simple or very complex, was Jeyasingh’s remark. Poulin agreed, adding, “The difference lies in consciousness of what you’re doing as a dancer”.
True, they replied. But, as Jeyasingh neatly pointed out, despite recent efforts to move beyond a set vocabulary “choreographed movement is movement which can be reproduced. It involves a consensus of grammar between the choreographer and the dancer”. And the beauty of a toddler trying to walk, they said, lies in all the little involuntary jerks of effort and determination, things that just can’t be codified and repeated. The only way to reproduce this kind of movement, this one-time event, is through motion-capture.

“Ah, but then you’ve made it into an abstract formula and it’s no longer strictly pedestrian”, remarked Jeyasingh. Kusch added:
“I think the idea that we can archive movement – pedestrian or not – in all its complexity is a myth. The live aspect of movement is what makes it special. Once it’s digitalised you lose something”.
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