Performance artists feel the fear (of technology) and do it anyway

A dedicated group of choreography and dance students at University College Falmouth in Dartington gave thought-provoking performances illustrating their take on technology and learning futures earlier this week, as part of the CALF project. It was a pleasure to watch them in action, and to join in the discussion afterwards.

The world of performance arts does not, at first sight, appear to have much to do with the world of technology. The dancers confirmed that they were ‘wary of technology’ and ‘scared of technology taking over’. These themes were palpable in the dance by Jessie and Ruth, who literally wrestled with heavy typewriters and film projectors, and led their curious audience down a beautiful grassy pathway through a row of magnificent Dartington Estate trees, to end their dance surrounded by nature. They commented that technology was like a ‘third collaborator’ in their dance, and they felt they had to play by its ‘rules’, such as not using the projector outside.

Kuldip, on the other hand, did a one-man performance in which he interacted with an electronic image of himself that responded to his movements, with the help of a sensor. His jerky, mechanistic dance actions illustrated ‘bodily malfunction’, perhaps prompted by his interactions with the software.

Both performances appeared to reflect rather darkly on the dancers’ views of technology; however, the discussion between performers and their audience afterwards showed a much more optimistic spirit. There was a realisation that as performance artists, the group as a whole did not know enough about emerging technologies to know what was possible, and that a space for playing with technology was needed, as was dialogue with ‘techie’ people.

The conversation was littered with weird words like ‘haptic’ and ‘somatic’, as well as frequent references to plain old ‘bodies’, with lashings of ‘feelings’ and ‘art’, and healthy doses of ‘interaction’ and ‘conversation’. The mood lightened every time someone saw a little window of opportunity for technology of any kind to enhance these valued qualities. I suspect they were speaking for all of us, not just for performance artists.

By Gabi Witthaus

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