April 2009 Archive

Lillian Skove on re-thinking choreography

I have invited collaborators on the project to periodically contribute to the blog describing their roles and interests in relation to Sync/O. This post is written by one of our graduate students in dance and tech, Lillian Skove:

“Engaging with Synchronous Objects as a choreographer, I was very interested in how choreographic thinking is a way of knowing that offers new insight into other fields from geography, to computer programming, to architecture. I was also interested in the ways that other fields shed light on my own choreographic practices and turn my understanding of choreography inside out. In the process of creating I seek to undo what I think I know choreography is so that I can be open to inventive ways of working. Interacting with the Synchronous Objects website is a chance to re-think what choreography is, from a series of actions, to an example of counterpoint, to a study of the responsibilities and dependencies among a group—and the list goes on.

Up-ending my assumptions of what choreography is has several practical consequences that are evident as I create in the studio. Continue Reading


Using and Sharing Sync/o

After being in Europe for a week and sharing the project at Spring Dance and in the Sadler’s Wells “Focus on Forsythe” festival of events, our interest in sustained dialog about the project continues. What happens after the initial introduction? Which objects draw different people in which ways? We hear often from choreographers that the counterpoint tool captures their interest. It was great to hear in london from people in the audience who already knew the project, like professor Sarah Rubidge who shared her interest in the generative drawing tool (one of our favorites). It was also nice to share the video abstraction tool with a young dance / tech presenter from Norway who wanted to explore patterns in her own work. We’d love to know more. Be in touch here on the (blog) or on twitter, we tweet collectively as https://twitter.com/SyncObjects and I tweet as nzshaw.


Sync/O at Spring Dance Utrecht


This week I’m in Amsterdam sharing Sync/O with a community of dance researchers called the Inside Movement Knowledge network here at Spring Dance in the Netherlands. This very interesting group of embodied thinkers is involved in a large project focusing on new ways of transmitting dance knowledge. They are dance educators, conservationists working in the visual arts on the preservation of installation and performance art works, choreographers, and academics concerned with understanding the nature of “corporeal literacy.” While here at Spring Dance I also had the opportunity to see Brazilian choreographer Bruno Belatrao’s new work “H3″ (he’ll be in London at Sadler’s Wells in May). It is a incredible work of choreographic counterpoint in a very different movement vocabulary than the one you see in “One Flat Thing, reproduced.” Watching the piece I was grateful to have had the training that this project has given my eye, I could see intricate patterns and structural forms in the piece in an entirely different way because of how Forsythe and our work with him has taught me to see alignments. I’m hoping our objects do this for others who explore Sync/O in a shorter time frame than the four years it took us to make the project. I’d be interested to know if anyone out there is noticing the ways that counterpoint and alignments can come into focus in other works and even other phenomena.
—Norah Zuniga Shaw, Amsterdam, NL


Details on the Data

Since they are not easy to print at the moment, we’ll fix this, I’m adding the introductory essays—THE DANCE, THE DATA, THE OBJECTS—to the blog. They are important ways in to understanding what we’re up to with the project. -Norah

The Data:
We now understand the structure of One Flat Thing, reproduced (OFTr) as a form of counterpoint that is created through the interaction of its three systems of organization: movement material, cueing, and alignments. At the beginning of this project those systems had a variety of names, the precise characteristics of which were hard to articulate. It took a collective effort to catalog and interpret the work as a totality. At the center of that effort and understanding is the data of Synchronous Objects.

The process of decoding OFTr was a creative dialog Continue Reading


Details on the Dance

Since they are not easy to print at the moment, we’ll fix this, I’m adding the introductory essays—THE DANCE, THE DATA, THE OBJECTS—to the blog. They are important ways in to understanding what we’re up to with the project. -Norah

The Dance
One Flat Thing, reproduced (OFTr) is an ensemble dance that examines and reconfigures classical choreographic principles of counterpoint. In OFTr counterpoint is defined as “a field of action in which the intermittent and irregular coincidence of attributes between organizational elements produces an ordered interplay” (Forsythe). Three structural systems interact to create the counterpoint of the dance: movement material, cueing, and alignments.

Movement Material
This contrapuntal dance is composed of fixed movement material with some instances of structured improvisation. While there is no set terminology, members of the company most often refer to the different segments of fixed movement as themes. The 25 main themes are repeated and recombined over the course of the dance in their full and partial forms. In addition to the themes and their interpretation, there is a set of improvisation tasks in OFTr that ask dancers to translate specific properties of other performers’ motions into their own. The dancers observe each other and make these translations in real time, producing different results in each performance of the work.

The sequence of OFTr is organized by an elaborate cueing system that acts as an internal clock. Rather than following an external musical structure, the dancers collectively determine the flow of the dance as they give and receive cues (aural or visual signals that trigger events). With more than 200 cues in the dance, responsibility for cueing is distributed among all the dancers

Essential to the counterpoint of the dance is a system of relationships that the company refers to as alignments. Alignments are short instances of synchronization between dancers in which their actions share some, but not necessarily all, attributes. Manifested as analogous shapes, related timings, or corresponding directional flows, alignments occur in every moment of the dance and are constantly shifting throughout the group. The term alignment emerges from the working practices of the Forsythe Company. Other words the company uses to describe this phenomenon include hook-ups, agreements, and isometries. Within the thousands of alignments in the choreography, approximately 200 can be understood as a subset called sync-ups. These are moments in the choreography when a dancer’s task is to briefly join with another individual or group.

—William Forsythe and Norah Zuniga Shaw, Columbus, Ohio, January 2009

One Flat Thing, reproduced
Stage premiere: 2000, Bockenheimer Depot, Frankfurt, Germany
Choreography: William Forsythe
Music: Thom Willems
Source video: 2005, Bockenheimer Depot, Frankfurt, Germany (15 minutes 30 seconds)
Dancers (17): Yoko Ando, Cyril Baldy, Francesca Caroti, Dana Caspersen,
Amancio Gonzalez, Sang Jijia, David Kern, Marthe Krummenacher, Prue Lang,
Ioannis Mantafounis, Fabrice Mazliah, Roberta Mosca, Georg Reischl,
Jone San Martin, Christopher Roman, Elizabeth Waterhouse, Ander Zabala

(c) 2009 Synchronous Objects


Interdisciplinary Voices 1

Image from springy thingy by Mark Goulthorpe et al.

Image from springy thingy by Mark Goulthorpe et al.

During our symposium to launch the project we featured the voices of the makers of Synchronous Objects including faculty from several disciplines as well as graduate student and staff researchers. We also invited two special outside guests who are familiar with Forsythe’s work to discuss how they think Synchronous Objects is relevant in their domains and perhaps more broadly. Each of them wrote posts for the e-symposium that you can read in full (see tags or categories to the right). But for this week, I will compile excerpts in shorter posts starting with Mark Goulthorpe. Mark is an architect at MIT who has collaborated with Forsythe in the past. For me, he represents some of the most interesting current trends in architecture including a well-established appreciation for process and performance, interest in surface and event, and a creative approach to the products of the trade. For more ways into these ways of thinking about architecture check out this beautiful blog Interactive Architecture. Many of these projects could be described as choreographic objects.

Mark is a fan of Forsythe’s work and describes dance as relevant to “all areas of cultural production.” He points to Forsythe’s use of “rule-based generative processes” that can be considered “within an historical lineage of similar intellectual projects in different cultural domains (Raymond Roussel/literature, James Joyce/literature, Antoni Gaudi/architecture, Jacques Derrida/philosophy, Paul Steenhuisen/music).” He also suggests that “emergent technologies nurture a new relational aptitude that Forsythe’s work seemingly instantiates.” And he asks us to consider the “expansion of creative praxis from an essentially deterministic and individual mode, that has dominated most established cultural fields for millennia, to one that prioritizes collective creative endeavor.” He finishes by saying “I regard Forsythe as an architect, albeit of the possibility of ballet at the threshold of a new technological paradigm…” This is one of the best things about working on this project with Bill, the way in which other disciplines can recognize themselves in dance/choreography.

For links to more on Mark’s work I like the Floating Points series here. And his more recent project Springy Thingy can be seen here.
—Norah Zuniga Shaw


Teaching with Sync Objects

As a choreographer and dance educator (specializing in technologies for dance), I’m working on ways that Synchronous Objects can now come back into the dance studio. During our prototype phase in January 2009, I conducted a workshop in the dance department for 25 students with guest artist Nik Haffner (formerly of the Ballet Frankfurt). Nik and I are interested in working on connections between Bill’s previous project, Improvisation Technologies and Synchronous Objects. Where Improv Tech focuses on one body and the movement generation stage in the choreographic process, Sync Objects focuses on group structures and the process of connecting and crafting relationships between sequences of motion. We think they are a nice compliment to each other. We’ll also have a couple of classes this spring at Ohio State in architecture and in dance focusing on the project as a research resource and a model for thinking about relationships between theory and practice. We’ll share some of the results of those courses on the blog. I’m very interested to know if other educators find our objects useful in their teaching and would be delighted to see an exchange unfold on this subject.
—Norah Zuniga Shaw


Benjamin Schroeder on the counterpoint tool

“One Flat Thing, reproduced” is contrapuntal, both in its effect – there are many kinds of alignment in time over the course of the piece – and in its construction, in that there are several themes and kinds of movement material that are repeated and re-combined throughout the dance. The result is a complex, beautiful dance. There is something mathematically interesting about this, in the same way that there is in a Bach fugue; both have complexity (but not disorder) built up from individually simple things. This is worthy of study on its own, but also has practical application: in procedural graphics systems, we are often interested in creating complexity out of simple building blocks, as we see with Reynolds flocking or Perlin noise.

I did not know much about dance before starting to work on this project. I have gained a great appreciation for what one might call the formal beauty of dance – the mathematical structures behind the interplay of dancers, and the geometry of motion. This in turn has helped my more visceral appreciation of dance as well as my understanding of related fields.
In the course of the project, I have had a chance to work with people from many different backgrounds, including dance, animation, computer science, geography, and architecture. Having such an interdisciplinary team has made for a very rich research environment.

When we were developing the interactive counterpoint tool, we tried several different systems in an effort to understand what visual counterpoint was, how it arose, and how best to explain it to others. (We had many discussions around this subject – trying to understand counterpoint from the perspectives of dance, animation and design, and computer science. These early conversations and experiments would be a good subject for another post.) I think the system we have today works well because it is based on simple rules, but has a structure with many opportunities for different kinds of alignments and symmetries. At the same time it is not too regular – the pattern of alignments is unpredictable.

The widget shapes in the tool are based on twelve “clock face” positions. The position for each widget arm is selected randomly from among the twelve. Widgets move from shape to shape within a set timing structure, with times for movement chosen from four different speeds, similar to musical quarter, half, dotted quarter, and whole notes.

Leaving aside movement around the “stage” for the moment, we can see many possibilities for interesting motion and alignments within this structure. Widgets might of course take on matching or symmetric shapes, or move in exactly the same direction at exactly the same speed, and this will happen irregularly due to the random choice involved in the process.

More interestingly, we might see widgets take on similar shapes which are not the same, or follow one another’s shapes with a slight delay, or take on shapes which are related but do not have strict symmetry. (I believe that the choice of twelve positions is a fortunate one – there are many pleasing symmetries within the clock face.) The timing system plays a big role here as we can see layers of shape alignment and speed alignment weave into and around each other.

Even within one creature we can see some small counterpoint. Perhaps two arms move together in one direction at the same speed, while the other arm moves in the other direction, twice as fast – then everything reverses and the arms take new roles. Perhaps two arms form a right angle and are still while the third moves slowly from an acute angle to form a “T”.

Motion about the stage is determined in a similar way, with positions and speeds chosen freely from a structured set. At this level we can work with larger groups of objects and watch for alignments in the way they move together.

The structure of the performing widget system lends itself well to contrapuntal motion. The sliders let us give broad choreographic direction to the widgets, encouraging more or less unison in shape, speed, or movement, or calling for more or less stillness. This gives the user a way to explore and traverse the space of motion, using it to learn and to construct beautiful counterpoint.