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[ENG] Dance X Technology: Experience from young Asian artists

Text: Zelia ZZ Tan@TechDanceLab


What is future dance? That is the question.


In a way, dance is in an existential state, if not a crisis, yet, like Hamlet. “To be or not to be” is not about now but the future. Or its absence. What we call modern/contemporary dance is a little more than 100 years old. There is no reason to believe that it will stay as it is forever. Art evolves, like humans. And the evolution is essentially artificial, not natural. It is motivated by human vision, imagination and creativity, and by the drive to remain relevant to the presence, not to be static as a historical artifact. Dance is live, thus it has to keep transforming itself.


Dance Offering (work in progress). Vector#2 Photos by Bernie Ng. Dance Artist: Kornkarn Rungsawang. Hybrid performance version in Singapore 2022 (Photo provided by Zelia ZZ Tan)


So, what is future dance? This was the topic of the first TeDaChat, broadcasted live on Youtube on 27th December 2022. It is a regular media programme of TechDanceLab, an artistic laboratory I founded in 2022, focusing on exploring the interaction of dance and emerging technologies, based on the Internet and working on projects with a global community of associated artists, scholars and technologies. For TeDaChat001 I was pleased to invite two young, innovative Asian dance artists to share their visions and practices on creating dance of the future.


Kornkarn Rungsawang, born in Bangkok, Thailand and based there, is an experimenting dance artist who aims to bridge the traditional and contemporary. She trained in diverse traditional Thai performances and applies her wide knowledge of traditional kinesthetic systems to the contemporary body and urban rhythms to formulate new dance expressions that reflect the current social, cultural and political environment. She is currently a full-time dancer at Pichet Klunchun Dance Company.


Max Levy, born in Tokyo, Japan and based in Frankfurt, Germany, focuses on the intersection of athletic focus, meditative processes and laden atmospheres. His processes produce a form of collaboration in which an artistic goal is formed through the overlap of artistic contributors. He has performed with many renowned companies and prominent choreographers, and won major awards. Since 2017, Max has worked as an independent artist, collaborating in projects for the stage and non-traditional spaces, installations and improvisational works.

Dance Offering (working in progress) Photo by Choy Ka Fai. Dance Artist: Kornkarn Rungsawang. Public version in Mainz, Germany 2022. (Photo provided by Zelia ZZ Tan)



Zelia: Welcome to TeDaChat! We are excited to have Kornkarn and Max, two incredible artists, here today to share their insights on the intersection of dance and technology.

Are there initial questions that motivated you to experiment with the intersection of dance and technology?


Kornkarn: I observed people living in limited space. One question is always in my head: how people's beliefs and cultures influence their lives now as well as in the future? I started to search for answers through a digital portal, which I also call a digital shrine. I, as a dancer, played a role in a live stream performance, and saw the audience's real-time feedback and wishes in the chat box.


The use of technology in dance redefines the body and how it is combined with semi-ritual and spirituality. My hybrid performance Dance Offering (2021) combines AR and VR. I was inspired by the Thai traditional performance called "RUM-KEA-BON", an art form created where dance was used as a negotiation tool between humans and higher or sacred beings. In dance experiments, I tried to transcend physical sites, boards, cultural differences and social-economic status. I asked: if we take the area of belief that exists physically into the online world, will people still believe this, or how will they react to it?


Max: My work pre-COVIC focused primarily on what the movement brings in combination with lights, music, and the composition of the stage. When COVIC happened, technology became quite a highlight or substitute for the stage which was not available. Even though there was no rush to embrace technology or involve it in one's work, it became an important factor.


TeDaChat001. Screen captured by Zelia ZZ TAN. Livestream on Youtube. TechDanceLab.


Zelia: What are the technologies you considered, and how do they inform creative decisions?


Max: The selected technology needs to always be there and creators need to know why it's important to have it involved. For example, when you put on the goggles and participate in a piece, it becomes clear that it needs to happen in VR. It forces you to venture into decisions you would not make if you didn't have this technology affecting the situation.

I understand the elements that are at play when we are layering AI scripts to change the recognition of patterns of how the effects will happen in 2D space even if I could never write any of it myself. I understand in my collaboration how this functions.


Zelia: How can technology alter your perception of dancing moves and the creative process as a choreographer?


Max: I believe one thing changed in my work, whether through technology or accelerated by it. I became taking much more into account the atmosphere and the experience. I am still choreographing, but I'm playing the role more like a bridge between the technical and dance department, as well as the music and lighting. Programmers and designers can explain their work to me. As someone who focuses on dance, now I also speak some of their languages.


Zelia: How do you approach the collaboration between artists and technologists?


Max: It’s crucial to have people who can fluently discuss both the artistic and technical elements. It’s also important to have a shared vision and purpose for the project.


Zelia: How do you apply emerging technology to experiment with forms in dance?


Max: I used Kinect (1) to do motion capture and receive certain feedback on generated choreography. Then we were able to create visual movements. We played around in Unity with AI body rigging with Point Cloud (2) like a depth straight Point array depth clouds to see if something depth mapping in a 3D space gets then rendered in 2D to regenerate 3D avatars. We just scanned what were in the room or we generated something fantastic on top of it. We were not sure exactly what the specifics were, but why we wanted to be involved in it and what it could bring were clear to us in that situation.


Zelia: What can you share in the collaboration process?


Max: If we don't have some sort of overlaps and agreements, or get along with a purpose or vision, then people end up as islands of expertise, rather than learning how something else works from another aspect of the project.


You will never be able to favorably respond to all of these questions or know the solutions the first time you collaborate. However, understanding the limitations throughout the procedure is essential. If you continue to go into something that is a struggle and not possible within the technology you've decided to embrace with, and at the capacity and resources, you may waste time trying to do something that is not possible rather than moving forward.


Zelia: How can technology enhance the live experience for an audience?


Kornkarn: I use hand gestures to manipulate and communicate with the audiences in virtual reality. In another version, I encountered audiences in an outdoor space in Germany, where people showed their hands up, and I paired it with augmented visuals in the Instagram filter on their phones. I gave the QR code, then the audience used their devices to offer their wishes for my performance.


Sleepdancing I: Ar e Luar. Photo by Yaiza Davilla Gomez. Choreographer, composer, film editor, and director: Max Levy. Dancer: Josianne Fleming (Photo provided by Zelia ZZ Tan)


Max: Rather than attempting to fix and communicate a narrow perception of what a performer is going through to an audience, I am interested in what a sophisticated experience is.


Kornkarn: I enjoyed playing the role of an agent interfacing between the audience and their wishes. I believe the cultural value of a piece cannot be determined until after it's performed.


In order to completely utilize VR technology and create a virtual shrine that integrates various cultures between the physical and virtual bodies in the movement of "Mali Bucha", I planned to continue working on my project.


Zelia: What prompted you to investigate Dance X Technology?


Kornkarn: It's like playing new games, and discovering new possibilities for movement or language is a lot of joy. My work is about humans negotiating with God and technology. I must find a means to learn more about the subject. When I worked with others to develop new virtual environments, I discovered a method for transforming concepts from intangible to tangible. For example, when I put on a VR headset and look for new hand motions inside, the outside changes as well.


Max: I seek a unique contribution and purpose when involving technology in dance performances. I believe that involving technology requires constant experimentation and exploration to find new possibilities.


It inspires me to see that fellow young pioneering dance artists consciously look at the bigger picture and explore purposes when incorporating technology into their performances. For my own artistic practice, I plan to explore new mindset and skillset to prepare myself for the upcoming transformation of humankind and the world as AI advances and web3 emerges. Creators with a forward-looking vision need to find theme and content to connect with the World, as well as new methodology where cross-disciplinary, cross-national and cross-cultural collaboration can create new values.


Sleepdancing I: Ar e Luar. Photo by Yaiza Davilla Gomez. Choreographer, composer, film editor, and director: Max Levy .Artist: Louis Cortes (Photo provided by Zelia ZZ Tan)


Footnotes:

1.(1) Kinect: A motion-sensing device developed by Microsoft for use with gaming and other applications, often used in motion capture and other forms of interactive technology.

2. (2) Point Cloud: A collection of data points in a 3D space, often used in computer graphics and other forms of visualization.


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Zelia ZZ TAN


Zelia ZZ TAN is a cross-disciplinary dance artist focusing on presence and identity. She is a pioneer in dance x technology in Asia, creating hybrid performances with motion capture, AR, VR, avatars, etc. Her research interest is in the future of body, experience and interaction. She is an experimental filmmaker whose works were featured in 18 film festivals. A dance artist of City Contemporary Dance Company and founder of TechDanceLab, she is based in Hong Kong and works globally with masters like Gilles Jobin and Sasha Waltz. Her own long-term artistic research project Flaneur continues.


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