當提及「舞蹈與科技」，我們必先理解科技的意指會隨時間而變，如1900年攝影改變了人觀賞身體的方法，但來到廿一世紀當我們每天用大量圖像展示身體時，攝影並不常稱為衝擊人類視覺與思維的科技，來與藝術對弈。同樣地，不論舞蹈電影，3D影像，乃至VR、XR（Extended Reality）等模式開始日漸普及時，當劇場能夠充分掌握這些技術時，我們就不會再稱之為科技。即現在很少會有人特意稱呼舞台上的燈光是科技一樣，縱然它具高度專業性及複雜性，然而當某個演出能以更新穎的方式來運用燈光，或以燈光效果去改變人的觀感及想像，如Olafur Eliasson幾個光影裝置，我們又會稱它為科技。故此，所謂舞蹈與科技，並不是一個偽命題，但似乎並非在泛指所有純然使用一些技術的舞作，如放幾個幻燈，加VR，或轉換成電影，我認為還不能自稱科技演出，而是作品在利用一些未普及或觀眾已陌生的技術，那怕只是皮影戲或剪紙，從而誘發更多不同藝術觀賞角度及思考，才算是把舞蹈與科技真正地作交流。
故此當香港藝術發展局因應疫情而開展的「Arts Go Digital」計劃，旨在支援不同藝術範疇傾向完成拍攝影像，當中的作品，以致近兩年大量出現的舞蹈影像，當中不乏優秀作品，但所要討論的不是質素的高低，而是它們也未能算是科技藝術，至少在廿一世紀當下，當CCDC多年來舉行跳格國際舞蹈影像節，展示及介紹舞蹈影像多年後，不能是。
楊則在訪問中補充說，現在不少歐洲藝團都在利用motion capture及XR技術給舞者去探索虛擬與真實身體的異質性及不協調感，既利用科技，但更多對科技的身體有更大量的疑問，再回頭以新的視覺審視自己的身體。這樣，當人與科技碰撞，如果不僅是借科技作為噱頭，而是希望有更多思考的話，我便更提及不斷被人談論的話題，舞者的身體真的可以被虛擬完全取代嗎？當電影已大量利用motion capture全立體素描人體，之後再用動畫重構演者的所有部分，舞者及身體的存在究竟可否變成數據，而放棄本體？舞者在面對這些鏡頭及動畫時，有沒有違和感及不安？真正的舞蹈，是否必須要通過與虛擬比較，才顯出靈魂的價值？這些問題，又該如何帶上舞台向觀眾呈現，而不是炫耀科技？
藝評人，劇場人，插畫人。 個人網站： www.felixism.com。
Dance and Technology – how do we show the meaning of bodies?
Original text: Felix
Translator: Chermaine Lee
Interview with media designer Adrian Yeung (Photo provided by FELIXISM CREATION)
Thanks to the global pandemic and my own work, I have not watched that many performances in the past two years. Instead, I have taken part in numerous online seminars on the intertwined relationship between technology, the impact of Covid and art performances. I have also interviewed many artists and authorities on the fusion of art and technology in the future, so I would rather not to critique performances, but to raise questions: in the post-Covid era, when technology – especially virtual reality (VR) – has taken centre stage in performing arts, how do artists, critics and the audience view the technology intervention? How, and to what extent, will our feelings be changed in the future? These are the things that interest me.
When we talk about “dance and technology”, our definition of “technology” has changed over time. In the 20th century, photography revolutionized how people viewed the human body, but this same invention fails to bring visual inspiration to people’s perception of art in the 21st century. Similarly, when dance films, 3D visuals, virtual reality and extended reality (XR) become prevalent and theatres are able to master such presentations, we will no longer call them “technology”.
Nowadays, stage lighting is seldom regarded as “new technology” despite its professional and complex nature. Only if a show features a fresh way of using lighting, or seeks to change viewers’ visual perception and imagination with lighting, like the lighting installations of Olafur Eliasson, will it be considered “new technology”.
So while “dance and technology” is a real concept, it does not refer to dance shows which make use of basic technology such as projecting slides, adding VR elements or filming the performance – I do not think these can be regarded as “technological performances”. In my view, the definition “technological dance” should apply to shows using technology unfamiliar to audiences, even like shadow puppetry or silhouettes, to spark new perspectives in art appreciation. Only work of this kind counts as a true merger of dance and technology.
Numerous dance videos have been released through “Art Go Digital”, a scheme set up by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council in response to the pandemic in order to support filming various art shows. While many of these videos are exemplary, quality is not the issue - they cannot be regarded as technology art. In reality, this so-called digital art does not differ much from the type of work seen in Jumping Frames, the festival held by City Contemporary Dance Company for many years to display and introduce dance films.
How about the VR movie Afterimage for Tomorrow, directed by Singing Chen, choreographed and performed by Chou Shu-Yi in Taiwan? I have not watched it yet, but again, the quality of the work is not the issue here. We should instead try to understand if VR weakens the audience’s other senses by limiting their perception to video – an experience often likened to out-of-body. If so, the VR element of the video does not count as a “new technology”, but rather a new physical interpretation of the movie from the interaction of one’s virtual perception and body. The point to focus on is whether the performance can inspire new imagination in the audience through the use of technology.
From the performers’ side, we should ask if technology can stimulate more inspiration on dance and body for artists and dancers – this is a significant discussion on the relationship of dance and technology. I interviewed media designer Adrian Yeung, and checked out his new media pilot programme on XR at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. He was conducting a series of experiments with actors with the use of VR and motion capture to look for new angles, as well as to expand the space for imagination for both artists and performers.
In the discussion panel of the scheme, a performer who took part in an experiment commented that the synchronization issues in shows that involve virtual motion capture may cause technology mishaps: the virtual performer who should be interacting with the human performer ends up being the split image of the human performer.
Yeung added in the interview that a lot of European dance groups are using motion capture and XR as a way for dancers to explore heterogeneous sensation and dissonance. They are often forced to look at their bodies with fresh eyes. If technology is not only used as a gimmick in shows, but also as an impetus for deeper thought, I have to ask the question many people are discussing: can dancers’ bodies be completely replaced by virtual animation?
Given that movies often employ large quantities of human anatomy sketches through motion capture to create animated figures, can dancers and their bodies be turned into data? Does this touch a nerve for dancers? Does the value of the show only reveal itself in the comparison of real and virtual dance? How do we present both these aspects on stage to the audience without allowing the technological to overshadow the real?
Hong Kong Dance Company produced a VR video named Convergence – A Journey of Chinese Dance & Martial Arts last year. Unfortunately, I could not watch it (Note from Editor: the show was not screened in public due to pandemic-induced public health concerns), but how it changed the way viewers watched the show or how the dance movement was presented in 360 degree are not what I want to raise here. The dance company initiated an encounter between martial arts and dance, inherently questioning the fundamental relationship between dance and body. How one balances the beauty of martial arts and dance from a new visual angle merits discussion and can be an important reference for the future.
The construction of the East Kowloon Cultural Centre is close to completion. Talks have been held to introduce the high-tech facilities available in the building. However, regardless of how advanced the facilities are and how professional the VR producers are, if such tools are limited to showing something new to the audience and creating new visual effects in live performances, they are not being used effectively. As Yeung said, only Hong Kong would still question the reasons why we should use technology. In Taiwan they are already proficient in using it and are able to explore the questions it raises – that is the difference between stage technology in these two places.
What is dance? This is a very broad question. Yet now, as new technology invades theatres and has an impact on artworks, the question has a new meaning, and may be the most important topic for choreographers in the coming decade. Faced with incessant illusion, how much will be left of dancers’ bodies on stage? It seems to me that this is the kind of beauty the audience needs to appreciate once dance and technology are truly combined.
Art critic, theatre lover, graphic designer. Personal website: www.felixism.com.