choreographic objects Tag

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


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


Matthew Lewis on Dance and Computer Science

NORAH: For this e-symposium, could you talk a little about your involvement in the project and your interests as a generative designer and computer scientist?


MATT: Sure. As is often the case at ACCAD, many of us served in several roles during different stages of this very interdisciplinary project. Earlier in our process I provided both computer science and generative art and design perspectives as our multidisciplinary team worked to synthesize an understanding of the complex concepts used in Bill’s choreographic approaches in “One Flat Thing, reproduced”. Throughout, I have been able to advise on aspects of our technical development, with respect to both “what is possible and practical” and the inevitable problem solving.

In order to understand and communicate Bill’s concepts and processes (and consider how these could be applied in other fields) we worked to produce qualitative and quantitative data as a step toward investigating Bill’s question, “what else does this look like?” Given the opportunity to explore different ways of visually presenting several aspects of rich source material, I first made use of overhead video of the dance, and then later from the emerging database being constructed to catalog the choreographic events.  I tried to reduce complexity by extracting and displaying individual qualities like gestures, paths, and interactions, and then ultimately applied concepts learned from the project to my own generative systems.

I made use of image processing, computer vision, 3D computer graphics, and interactive online algorithms as different ways of exploring the data. My computer science background was also helpful as we tried to systematically formalize the components and parameters of the abstract systems we are representing. I particularly enjoyed participating in discussions between representatives from different disciplines analyzing shifts from centralized control, to bottom-up complex distributed systems. It has also been fascinating for me to consider Bill’s iterative choreographic processes through a lens of optimization concepts like genetic algorithms and fitness landscapes.

In addition to making choreographic concepts more comprehensible to other disciplines, we are very interested in ways in which choreographic knowledge is useful in other contexts. Exposure to such ideas should provide new ways of seeing, communicating, and evaluating relationships among elements in complex dynamic systems. Having not had much exposure previously to contemporary dance, I now have a much greater awareness of its complexity and breadth of conceptual material.  It’s intriguing to me that I see much richer relationships between dancers and their movements than I had before being introduced to these concepts.

Our design process made me consider that the choreography of attention, combined with disciplinary knowledge, can control what a viewer perceives. More specifically, it seems that new visual relationship concepts might change what can be seen. I’m still contemplating the relationship between what I think of as more “horizontal” alignments, and the more “vertical” processes of reduction and synthesis. As one might hope for in an academic environment, the project’s framework has emphasized this continuous inquiry, instead of seeking a single correct solution. It also has provided a unique model for collaboration between designers, artists, and scientists that should serve as a valuable benchmark for our projects in the future.

—Matthew Lewis, Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD)


Scott deLahunta on Dance as a Site of Knowledge

The concept of dance as a ’site of knowledge’ suggests a number of questions such as what is known, how is it acquired, when is expertise recognised, etc. On this basis, it is also apparent that dance IS a site of knowledge, as evidenced by the existence of a community that has agreed to learn about it and advance this knowledge largely through the production of art-making processes and performances. But dance’s status as a form of knowledge is largely evaluated on the strength of its contribution as ‘art’ to the public sphere. This evaluation is not always useful for understanding the full nature of what dancing contains; and here is where exchanges with other non-art disciplines and practices can be productive. Another way of framing this is around the issue of status: in that the knowledge contained in dancing and dance making is not always seen to be equivalent to that of other domains. This is implied in the vision that still motivates areas of this project (and the related Motion Bank): “to position dance to take part in the expansion of knowledge in the 21st Century” (as if it has not already taken part, which one could of course argue that it has).

What is important to Synchronous Objects, and a number of other choreographer-initiated projects (also asking questions about ‘the knowledge that is dance’: see Choreographic Objects Workshops and deLahunta and Shaw 2007/ 2008), is the possibility of this dance knowledge being shareable with other knowledge domains. The idea of expertise seems critical here. In the early days of the OSU project, Forsythe and his collaborators spoke of “leading the non-dance expert in and the dance expert out” of the interactive score of the dance ONE FLAT THING, REPRODUCED. At various junctures during the projects, experts from other disciplines (architects, cognitive and neuroscientists, engineers, philosophers) have been consulted and some have developed their own research projects on the basis of the ‘resources’ that the project has made available (see the blog entry of Patrick Haggard for an example).

Synchronous Objects and these other projects are committed to making “choreographic ideas accessible to other domains” (Norah Zuniga Shaw quote in the NYT preview article dated 29 March 2009); and to the concept that “choreography can become a lens that enables us to bring whole intellectual landscapes into focus” (from communication with Alva Noe).

But this is not just abstract thinking. Firstly, an important precedent exists in Forsythe’s first interactive multimedia publication, the CD-ROM IMPROVISATION TECHNOLOGIES. The innovative visualisations and systematic organisation of the materials presents in Forsythe’s own words, “just some of the ways of thinking about analysing motion”, but it is done in such a way that it enables researchers in other fields to apply this thinking to their own areas (e.g. cognitive psychology and architecture). In a term drawn from anthropological practice, the CD-ROM provides one of the first clear “boundary objects” produced within the dance field to invigorate exchanges with other communities of practice.

What these traces and artefacts of dance and dance making make possible, through the setting of certain standards and measurements, may be akin to when maps were created before aerial views. In an essay on music visualisation, long-time Forsythe collaborator, composer and programmer Joel Ryan calls this “working without an overview” when the map had to be built up from what was known on the ground (Ryan 2003). After enough real measurements from the available information were made, the mapmaker would eventually start to infer new connections from what had been visualised on the page. Synchronous Objects, and what IMPROVISATION TECHNOLOGIES did before it, is providing clear examples of just such a map-making endeavour – models that reveal dance to be a site of shareable knowledge. These models make a new layer of information, about thinking, about moving, about space and time, explicit; and importantly someone doesn’t have to be a dancer, dance maker or even a dance spectator to find these resources stimulating and meaningful.

Scott deLahunta. Columbus, OH. 30 March 2009.


Choreographic Objects Workshops (UK based) here.

deLahunta, Scott and Shaw, Norah Zuniga (2008)’Choreographic Resources Agents, Archives, Scores and Installations’, Performance Research, 13:1,131 — 133.

deLahunta, Scott and Shaw, Norah Zuniga (2007) ‘Constructing Memory: creation of the choreographic resource’, Performance Research, 11:4, 53-62.

Ryan, Joel, (2003) ‘Master Class: Music Visualization’, Making Art of Databases. V2/ Nai Publishers: Rotterdam, 62.

This text is based on an excerpt from “Talking About Scores: William Forsythe’s vision for a new form of dance ‘literature’”. By Scott deLahunta, Rebecca Groves and Norah Zuniga Shaw. in: Knowledge in Motion. Eds: Sabine Gehm, Pirkko Husemann and Katharina von Wilcke. Bielefeld: transcript. 2007. pp. 91-100.


Choreographic Objects e-Symposium


As we go live with our Beta version of the site we’re also kicking off the blog with contributions from the participants in our symposium held here in Columbus, OH at the Wexner Center for the Arts from 3-5pm on April 1. We’re thinking of these posts as our “e-symposium” for audiences outside of Ohio and we invite your comments and questions.

You can also view the live web-cast of the event at by clicking here.

Here is some more info about the symposium:
As an American working internationally for the last thirty years, William Forsythe is recognized as one of the world’s foremost choreographers. His work is celebrated for reorienting the practice of ballet from its identification with classical repertoire into a dynamic 21st-century art form. In recent years and with the establishment of The Forsythe Company, he has extended his choreographic thinking into new forms such as digital media productions, installations for gallery and public spaces, video, and publications. For Forsythe, these projects are part of a larger sphere of interest he terms “choreographic objects.” The idea of a choreographic object allows for the transformation of a dance from one manifestation (the performance on stage) into an array of other possibilities (such as information, animation or installation). This transformation requires cross-disciplinary collaboration and makes space for new connections between art and science, practice and theory.

In this symposium, Forsythe and his collaborators will discuss how the idea of “choreographic objects” took form in Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced, a new interactive web project created collaboratively by Forsythe with Ohio State’s Maria Palazzi (Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design) and Norah Zuniga Shaw (Department of Dance) and an interdisciplinary team of collaborators from across the arts and sciences. To celebrate the launch of the project, invited outside experts will contextualize the project in terms of its relevance to current trends in the philosophy of cognition and architecture. Participants will respond to posts and comments on the blog.

We look forward to hearing from you!
—Norah Zuniga Shaw


Patrick Haggard on Dance and Cognitive Neuroscience

My main research work focuses on bodily sensation and the control of voluntary action.  I investigate these topics from the perspective cognitive neuroscience: that means studying psychological questions about perception and action through understanding the processes and representations in the brain that underlie perception and action.

I became interested in dance several years ago when I was asked to contribute to a TV programme called “The Dancer’s Brain.”  Dance offers the possibility to study sensorimotor systems at optimal calibration.  However, most of our work to date has used dance to investigate the brain mechanisms for seeing and representing the human body and human action.  For example, working with a dancer and a choreographer, we contstructed a set of stimuli showing the same body in a wide range of body postures, and we asked non-dance volunteers to distinguish whether two postures shown in quick succession were the same or different.   We were able to identify two distinct brain systems involved in representing the human form: one area in the posterior, visual brain recognised postures from local details of body parts, e.g., the orientation of fingers and feet.  A second area, in the anterior, motor brain was concerned with the global posture of the body as a whole, in the sense of the positioning of body parts relative to one another to form a whole geometric pattern.  We called this a ‘motor way of seeing’.

The same area, in the premotor cortex, seems also to provide a unique way of viewing dance actions.  We showed ballet and capoeira clips to expert ballet and capoiera dancers in a brain scanner.  The premotor cortex showed stronger activations which each dancer watched the movements of their own style than movements of the other style.  That is, the dancers’ brains represented the movements that they saw in terms of movements that they themselves performed.

More recently, I’ve become interested in the aesthetic response of dance.  Why can watching bodily movements have aesthetic value, and what brain processes are involved in this aesthetic experience?  Is there a special link between the motor way of seeing and the aesthetic response to dance?  Clearly, that’s a complex issue, and there are many layers to dance aesthetics.  In fact, the area is an intellectual minefield, and some people think it shouldn’t be approached scientifically at all.  My personal view is that one can shed at least some light on these questions by analysing them scientifically.  To do so, the scientific approach evidently needs to simplify, and work with a reduced version of the artistic object.  But this simplification is not disrespectful: rather, it’s an effort after meaning.

A number of themes keep recurring in the (minimal) experimental aesthetics literature on dance.  One is geometric arrangement of body postures, and a second is the pattern of visual motion, as the dancers’ image flows across the observer’s retina.  My latest work, which I hope can feed in to Choreographic Objects, focuses on how visual biological motion in dance carries aesthetic value.  Working with Scott deLahunta, Norah Zuniga Shaw and Maria Palazzi, I’ve been using a top-view video of “One Flat Thing” to look at some of the factors that influence the aesthetic response to dance.  We extracted very brief 2 s clips from the piece, and showed them in pairs to participants in our experiment.  After each pair, participants had to say which of the two they preferred. These aesthetic preference judgements tell us little about why people like one piece of movement rather than another, and certainly don’t capture the whole of aesthetic experience, but they do represent a kind of aesthetic bottom line: if a person prefers clip A to clip B, then clip A presumably has a greater aesthetic value to that person at that time.

Based on our viewing of the piece, we classified each clip according to what we felt were three key dimensions of dancer movement in the piece:
•    Coherent movement vs chaotic movement
•    Several dancers moving vs few dancers moving
•    Fast movement vs slow movement
Combining all of these dimensions with each other allowed us to place each clip into one of 8 categories (2×2x2).  We then showed 32 participants several pairs of clips, and looked for any consistent patterns of preference across people.  Previous studies of visual art suggested aesthetic preferences are highly inconsistent across individuals, and reflect individual taste and culture, but there is almost no previous experimental work on performance art.

We found one clear and significant result in aesthetic preference judgements.  When many dancers were moving simultaneously, participants preferred chaotic motion to coherent motion. When just a few dancers were moving, we found the opposite pattern.  We interpret this as the coexistence of two ‘registers’ for watching dance, both carrying aesthetic value, but with quite different tones.  The alternation between these registers is what I personally find in viewing OFT.

In addition, we’ve also considered the relation between choreographic cues and the observer’s experience, and the relation between aesthetic evaluation and memory.  I’ll describe these results in another post to the blog.
—Patrick Haggard