Dance Tag

Sync/O used in Advanced Dance Theories in Practice- Lecture Series by Kristin McGuire

We are focusing our blog on educational uses of Synchronous Objects for the next few weeks. So far we have posted examples of courses at The Ohio State University but we have also begun to solicit contributions from educators in other institutions who have either written publicly or contacted us about their use of these materials. This week we feature a post by Kristin McGuire who is “a dancer and dance lecturer interested in anything but dance.”

More information about her work can be found at: – Latest Project:

enjoy – nzshaw

“Synchronous Objects was the subject of the second lecture within a trilogy, which developed ideas from the “choreographic algorithm” to the “choreographic object” to the “choreographic construction”. All 3 lectures revolved around the work of William Forsythe.

The lecture series started with the analysis of Improvisation Technologies, which provided a rich database of dance operations and instructions. I found that they could be used in order to define a choreographic algorithm and as such create a dance piece. An algorithm is defined as a precisely described set of instructions.


The 3rd year dance students were asked to “fax” a ballet creating a simple choreographic algorithm based on the instructions/operations shown in the Improvisation Technologies CD. The remark of the architect Britta Callsen who had used Improvisation Technologies as an inspiration for her own project led me to my third lecture titled: Dance is Architecture in Motion. About the shared vocabulary of seemingly opposite art forms. Choreography and architectural planning as fundamental principles of organisation. Her remark is very insightful when it comes to analogies between architecture and dance:

“As an architect I sit in front of my computer, I click through the different menus of the CD and I get overwhelmed by a glaring similarity to the interface of my CAAD program.” (Britta Callsen 1995) When I asked her to name the similarities she responded: “With the CAAD program I construct a building with lines, polygons, circles which are basic geometric figures. I click the command ‘line’ to define two points and I draw a line between them. In order to view it in the right position I take the line and turn, twist, flip it in the virtual space. It is the same operation Forsythe demonstrates on his CD when he describes the relationship between parts of the body in motion.”

During this lecture the students were asked to develop a choreographic construction using orthographic drawings of a building (see image below). As they were keen to “manifest” those constructions in a dance piece they created work based on those constructions, which turned out to be very exciting material.

Example of a choreographic construction

Example of a choreographic construction

More of the drawings as well as the dance material can be viewed on

Synchronous Objects was the subject of the second lecture in between the two I have just described. The idea of the choreographic object as Forsythe describes it seemed to sit well in between a choreographic algorithm – a well-defined yet clear and simple mathematical structure – and a choreographic construction – a complex, multi-layered, 4-dimensional construction of kinetic events.

Cueing System

Synchronous Objects was a real eye-opener to my students who said that they had never come across anything like that. Since knowing this tool they take their dance pieces apart and reassemble them on timelines; they develop cueing systems for their dancers; they look at the dance floor as a map etc. Since looking at the science inside One flat thing, reproduced they have become researchers of their own creative practical work.

Apart from the impact that Synchronous Objects had on my students I can say for myself that it clarified and thus resolved a contradiction of concepts about dance in my own mind. It made me realise that dance has left the dramatic performing arts world, which is still based on narratives. Choreography in my eyes is DESIGN as opposed to performing arts and it would be worth piloting an academic project based on a design syllabus rather than on a performing arts/drama syllabus.

Who is up for joining me on that?”

– Kristin McGuire


Profiles of Architecture Students’ Final Projects Using Sync/O

Below we profile three final projects created in Professor Stephen Turk’s second year undergraduate installation class conducted during spring 2009 at the Knowlton School of Architecture at the Ohio State University. This studio deals with material fabrication, notation and fundamental representational skills. The images are from the students’ preliminary results from their research analysis and design investigations and the final installation in the Knowlton School of Architecture.

Project team: Ross Hamilton, Heather Brandenburg, Sarah Simeon, Minyoung Kim.
The Screen Machine is an installation that reveals and conceals the body. The Screens are made to reconfigure an open space, thereby inviting new pathways for people to move. Beyond reconfiguring the space, the screens perceptually reconfigure the body, as onlookers peering into the screens or gazing from a distance perceive a fragmented body as they catch sight of pieces and parts of the human form through open slits in the screens. The placement, size and design of the slits were determined by examining the cues in One Flat Thing, reproduced.

Screen Machine

Screen Machine

Ross Hamilton describes his intentions and methods in creating The Screen Machine:

“In researching the dance, I chose to focus on the interactions between the dancers that occur in the form of cues. These cues occur throughout the dance in various frequencies. As I moved away from looking directly at the connections between dancers, I began to focus on the number of dancers interacting within a certain time frame. I placed the time frames of the dance into various levels of density. I then used multiple patterns to describe these differing levels. These patterns were then used to create screens of varying porosity by translating the density of interaction within the dance to change the amount of the human figure visible through the screen. This reflects the “blurring” of the individual human figure which we perceived as occurring in the dance.”

Project team: Robert Scott, Jason Lee. Caleb Chamberlain, Emily Wright, Sameer Sharif

Cubes is an installation of performative objects, created for users to assemble and reassemble, discovering new alignments between slots cut into the sides of each module. As a system of combinatorial elements, Cubes also explores counterpuntal relationships in the space between the body of the user and the placement of a cube. Cubes was inspired by Forsythe’s use of counterpoint in One Flat Thing, reproduced, as the project team looked for moments of counterpoint in the placement, spacing, and orientation of the cubes.



Robert Scott describes his intentions and methods in creating Cubes:
“The analysis of the dance began with a study of movement and shoulder alignments. This data was then combined to form a new diagram in which the alignment lines transected the movement pixels. These pixels became voxels, and became the primitive units for the installation. I then studied the alignments and contrapuntal relationships of the dancers. These relationships form the system by which the primitives are organized. The voxels are free to be moved by visitors who essentially re-choreograph the dance with each movement. The stacks of voxels move from foreground to background, and as they move, visitors will notice alignments and contrapuntal relationships between cubes that are spread throughout the installation.”


Project Team: Jeff Anderson, Lauren Miller, Sally Cejauskas, Avery Brooks

Papers Clips is an installation that examines the absence and presence of motion, measuring the density of an action inscribed in a space overtime. Examining the entrances and exists in a 5-second section of One Flat Thing, reproduced, Jeff Anderson and his team created a map that charted the absence of a movement as a dancer exited the performing area. The strands of hanging paper clips hung above the visitors to the installation, vary in length depending on the density of movement at that particular second in the dance.

Paper Clips

Paper Clips

Jeff Anderson describes his intentions and methods in creating Paper Clips:

“I began my project by analyzing the different objects on the Synchronous Objects website. The design plots the change in dancer position over time at five-second intervals for the entire dance. This created an object reminiscent of a DNA strand, and I began to analyze it and pick pieces out of it. Eventually I created a diagram of the absence over time of each dancer from the performance. This formed the gradient upon which I based the rest of my project. I wanted to apply the gradient sensation to a hanging material, and I settled on chains of paper clips. I took apart the gradient I had made into different pieces and mapped the density in the gradient through space.”


Sync/O at PACT Zollverein

Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion
Photo: Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion

Sync/O is part of a symposium this week called Explorationen 09. It is a really interesting group of people and PACT is a great arts center set in the midst of a refurbished wash house for the coal miners who used to make up the majority of the population in Essen, Germany. The architects who did the refurbishing have left the original tiles, mirrors, soap holders, and other features of the space giving it a haunting feeling of uses from the past. Now it houses artist residencies, dance performances (to my delight this week was British choreographer Jonathan Burrows), and symposia focusing on off-beat and interdisciplinary perspectives. Being here has inspired me to (finally) begin working on my book about Synchronous Objects and the creative research methods it required. -Norah


Sync/O Research as Teaching Laboratory

Another great contribution from graduate student Lily Skove:
At the Ohio State University, The Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD) is a unique space for the convergence of distinct fields. Perhaps “collision” of distinct fields would be a more apt description, as “convergence” suggests easeful assimilation. Collaboration as collision necessitates the full force of each fields’ identity, traditions, and expertise entangling to create something new, and this is how I would describe ACCAD’s latest conquest, Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced. Working as a student on this project gave me the unique vantage point of observing and engaging experts at work in cross-disciplinary investigation. Continue Reading


Laban and Dance History in relation to Sync/O: Student Perspectives

Mara Penrose, an MFA student, and Hannah Kosstrin, a PhD student in the dance department at the Ohio State University, offer insights about Synchronous Objects from the perspective of Labanotation and dance history in a recent interview with graduate student Lily Skove.
Lily Skove: Can you speak to your interest in Labanotation in relation to Synchronous Objects?
Mara Penrose: Systems of annotation represent the movement they describe. Therefore, dance notations need to be specific to the piece itself and the intended audience. Continue Reading


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


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


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