Falling Cat 'Closer'

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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by Neil Nisbet


Technology and dance are often uncomfortable bedfellows particularly when taken into a performance context. Falling Cat however have developed a unique, interactive performance environment that not only serves as a therapeutic tool for individuals with a range of medical disorders (autism for example) but also provides a stimulating movement orientated environment that is a lot of fun for children and adults alike.

Article19 had a play with the system during a recent event at Dance City, we then cornered Amanda Drago, director of Falling Cat, and demanded some answers about the project they call 'Closer'.

The system works with the application of three regular pieces of technology, a computer (in this case an iMac), a projector and a video camera. Running on the computer is a piece of software called Isadora, developed by the US based dance company Troika Ranch. Essentially Isadora is a programmable platform that assists the creators in making interactive environments that combine sound, video and real time visual effects that are all custom created by the users of the system. A good comparison would be Flash technology on the internet. Flash provides the platform, the individual programmers provide the creative expertise.

Getting Closer

With Closer, users of the environment are taken on a journey, via the projected video display, and on arrival at each location a different experience is offered that involves the user proactively manipulating and creating the visuals they see before them. A camera hidden beneath the large display projects a real time video image of the child or adult that is in-turn tracked by the computer so users of the system are literally a part of the on-screen antics as they manipulate them in real time.

In one example; small raindrops appear from the top of the screen and the participants onscreen image can interactively touch the raindrops which then fall away to an accompanying musical note. The more drops you knock of the screen the more music that you make. It is an exercise in coordination and memory but it’s also a great deal of fun.

Although many of the games/experiences are simple in nature the level of reward to be had for an adult, never mind a young child, is enormous. Even this seasoned cynic left the demonstration wanting the system installed at home, purely for therapeutic reasons you understand.

"I had created an Installation at the James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough” Explains Amanda, “and then developed that with Kit Haigh (the musician) and Bruno Martelli, the visual artist that does the programming and it was quite successful. In developing that there were things we wanted to do differently so after some fundraising we [received] some support from Creative Partnerships who wanted us to work with Columbia Grange Special School, which is a primary school for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders.

We also worked with the Cleveland Assessment Unit because they had an installation up and running so we used their installation as a test bed. We did dance workshops and music workshops with children from the school and the assessment unit and looked at some of the ideas and stimuli that they enjoyed [watching] or liked listening too.

So [with] the audio triggers what did they like to listen to? How did they like their music structured? What kind of visuals did they like looking at? Is it colours, colour contrast’s, things with sharp edges, things with soft edges, all of that kind of detail.”

About ASD
Extract from National Institute of Mental Health Article

Not until the middle of the twentieth century was there a name for a disorder that now appears to affect an estimated one of every five hundred children, a disorder that causes disruption in families and unfulfilled lives for many children.

In 1943 Dr. Leo Kanner of the Johns Hopkins Hospital studied a group of 11 children and introduced the label early infantile autism into the English language. At the same time a German scientist, Dr. Hans Asperger, described a milder form of the disorder that became known as Asperger syndrome.

Thus these two disorders were described and are today listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR (fourth edition, text revision) as two of the five pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), more often referred to today as autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

All these disorders are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills, social interactions, and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior.

The autism spectrum disorders can often be reliably detected by the age of 3 years, and in some cases as early as 18 months. Studies suggest that many children eventually may be accurately identified by the age of 1 year or even younger.

The appearance of any of the warning signs of ASD is reason to have a child evaluated by a professional specializing in these disorders.

[ Further Reading from NIMH ]

Autistic Spectrum Disorders

The National Institute of Mental Health describes one of the symptoms of Autistic Spectrum Disorders, with particular regard to sensory problems as follows;

”When children's perceptions are accurate, they can learn from what they see, feel, or hear. On the other hand, if sensory information is faulty, the child's experiences of the world can be confusing. Many ASD children are highly attuned or even painfully sensitive to certain sounds, textures, tastes, and smells. Some children find the feel of clothes touching their skin almost unbearable.

Some sounds—a vacuum cleaner, a ringing telephone, a sudden storm, even the sound of waves lapping the shoreline—will cause these children to cover their ears and scream.”

Since Closer is based entirely around the use of the senses its benefits to those with ASD became apparent as the project progressed,

Amanda told us;

“What we found in our research was they liked music that had a loop [because] that’s actually quite soothing and it becomes less frightening because they know it’s going to come back around again. They also found it very difficult to be in new places so the installation takes them on a journey to places that maybe they would [never] go or attempt to go”

Beyond Non Commercial

Although the initial phase of the project was a commission from a hospital; Falling Cat has been making subtle moves to explore the potential of the system in a range of additional contexts.

“It wasn’t designed as a commercial product, it was specifically a tool to be used by teachers. However, from the response of this week and the responses of other people having taken it out of the school and put it within Dance City (during the NDA’s Free Week festival) there is [now] a lot of interest elsewhere.

We did a tour to York Early Years Partnership, we set it up and there was [also] a performance. We are looking at other ways of using it so it can be used as a performance piece, it can be used as a workshop guide or as an installation piece where people come and enjoy it.”

Almost as important to Amanda and Falling Cat is that system be enjoyed by as wide a range of people as possible in as many different situations as possible;

“It is multi-functional and I don’t think I realised the full scope of it until I put it in the room and people began making suggestions. I [want] adults to play with it, I’d like adults to enjoy it too. other than being an educational resource it is actually fun to be in and I think it would be very suitable for small gallery spaces because it’s a family thing, everybody can enjoy it, it’s not just for children!”

For more information about Falling Cat and the Closer project email Amanda Drago at the link below. You can also follow the link below to the Troika Ranch website for a detailed look at the Isadora software.


[ Email Falling Cat ]
[ Troika Ranch ]

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