Blog : Charlotte ConstableAnimation: Making Dance Inanimate?

Published on Tuesday, 24 September, 2013 |

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Charlotte Constable is a recent Choreography & Dance and Psychology graduate of the University of Winchester. She is currently watching, writing and waiting for her big break in dance criticism.

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Tuesday, 5 November, 2013

#Critic

Tuesday, 20 August, 2013

For the most recent Coda Dance Festival in Oslo Ballet de Lorraine from Nancy in France brought a new work from Norwegian dance maker Ingun Bjørnsgaard.

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What if the choreographer had a canvas with physical boundaries that were... limitless?

That's the question I began to ask myself after coming across this (apparently unofficial, possibly linked to soap opera 'Amor a Vida') video to Arctic Monkeys' 'I Wanna Be Yours': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8Zf0IhQ1zc). Firstly, it's not every day you see choreography to indie-ish bands, so that alone makes it worth a watch. But my curiosity was spiked when I began to note how flawlessly executed the choreography was. Because, you see, it is all animated.

Now, I am in no way an expert in animation. But I realise there is no room for the human error of performance - no stumbles, no wobbles, no fatigue. These animated figures have endless life by simply having no life at all. They can be designed to execute the choreographer's steps to perfection; the fluidity of their transitions is out-of-this-world. And - bonus - there is magic and illusion, too; their limbs seem to dissipate into stems of smoke after falling or suspending. The female dancer vanishes in a cloud, then reappears right before her male counterpart, who seamlessly dodges her suspension.

Did this video even have a 'choreographer'? Was the movement designed on human bodies first? And - the disturbing question at the core of this article - where are those dancers now?

I began envisioning a world where dancers are replaced by animated performers. If technology can offer a better job, asks the choreographer, then why not allow those illustrations to do it? Suddenly going to see live dance becomes a thing of the past; all dance is performed on-screen. Dance theatres become niche little cinemas... or cease to exist.

Then I realised this is madness.

After all, animation has not replaced live action films in the acting business, or live theatre. The live performance is all about the occasion, the event, the energy. Seeing your favourite performer sharing the space with you (or, in the case of one of my all-time favourites, bgroup's 'The Lessening of Difference', climbing over your shoulders). Feeding off the anticipation of that sense of risk; the danger and physical intensity executed by companies like Motionhouse and Jasmin Vardimon Company. Capturing a moment before your eyes which you may never witness again - and nor will the world outside that theatre.

This is not to say that animation doesn't have a useful part to play as a choreographic device. Merce Cunningham utilised the technology of an animated body in his choreography programme, LifeForms, in classic works such as 'Trackers' and 'BIPED'. He claimed that its limitless approach to human movement expanded his imagination, the results challenging the bodily capabilities of his living dancers. Perhaps this is where best animation can lend itself to the future of dance.

Then again, who says dance and animation have to be detached from rehearsal to performance? In Jasmin Vardimon's 'Freedom' an animated lizard projection scuttled over one of the performer's bodies. And, in one of the most breathtaking moments I have ever witnessed in dance, a projected 'beating heart' is passed from one body to the next (Vardimon, again, with 'Lullaby'). And let's not forget Motionhouse's dependence on animation and projection to give the illusion of changing landscapes and perception in 'Scattered'.

I can see myself digressing into matters of film and design and all sorts here, so I'll stop. But it is interesting to note that some of the very companies I emphasised earlier in this article as live performance spectacles, defendants of live dance as entertainment, I have now cited again as highly complemented by animation - totally by accident. Maybe the dance world already relies on animation more than we might first assume. Watching the Youtube video which inspired this article, I am already wondering how that vanishing-into-smoke effect can be recreated on-stage... and realising that animation may be the most effective solution. But, provided there is a stage to recreate such effects on, it is surely a harmless - in fact generous - medium.

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