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, 2016watch now
As we all know education is a big part of the wacky world of dance and to celebrate this Richard Alston Dance Company have set up a website that's all about educating the people.
Cleverly titled The Alston Studio (.com) it aims to give users a detailed insight into the inner workings of not only the titular dance maker but the company itself.
We won't be going through each and every bit of information on the site because there's too much of it and it's too fragmented, we're just going to cover the basics.
The site contains 10 main sections and several sub sections, located within many of those. From the main sections we have "Richard", "Repertoire", "Music", "Creation" and so on. If you click on the section you get either some text telling what it's all about or a series of links.
The "creation" portion of the website, for example, includes several videos concerning the making of 'Gypsy Mixture', filmed at the company's studio in London.
These short videos feature Mr Alston talking through various sections of the piece with the dancers. Although the videos are reasonably interesting from the point of view of constructing movement sequences there's not a whole of depth in any of them.
In total, the four videos last for a little over 30 minutes.
Sadly, this lack of depth is something that permeates the entire experience at thealstonstudio.com.
At the bottom of the page are some links to PDF documents that act as written references for teachers to use if they are watching the videos with their students.
You can't download the video material for offline viewing however so if you don't have an internet connection handy you're out of luck. This is an odd decision on the part of the company, rectifying it would have been simple.
So it goes throughout every section of this website.
In terms of design and layout the 'Gypsy Mixture' section of the site is the perfect example of the poor design in evidence throughout.
The five videos that make up 'Gypsy Mixture' are just thrown onto the page one on top of the other. We feel sure there was a meeting held with RADC and the designer of the site where it was suggested that teacher's would just run the video full screen via a projector or interactive whiteboard.
Perhaps some teachers will do this but what about those using the site on their own computer, or in a computer lab? None of the videos has a text description alongside and each video is simply called "day 1, part 1", etc.
Despite the fact ThePlace has purchased a Vimeo "Pro" account at a cost of $200(US) none of the videos are in High Definition. If a teacher does blow these things up to full screen on a projector the students will not be amused by the pixelated mess that greets them on screen.
Let's just say that full screen on a 27 inch monitor was not a very pleasing visual experience.
Finally, whomever decided that a "credits" video needed to be created and presented separately should probably be relieved of their job.
Moving to No Music
Another section of this educational experience covers music. Music is of course very important to dance especially to the work of Richard Alston.
The music section however doesn't actually have any music on it. What you do get are some short quotes culled from various interviews with the dance maker where he talks about how he uses music and that's it.
Did it not occur to anybody that what they could have done was pick a nice piece of Creative Commons music (that is free from licensing restrictions), have Mr Alston craft a short work to that music, say 5 minutes, and then make a nice 10-15 minute video where he discusses musicality and how it relates to movement illustrated by this short work?
How do you encourage students to be diligent and work hard when the people who did this evidently couldn't be bothered?
We should also mention that Mr Alston does actually work for the company so it would not have taken a great deal of effort to conduct an interview with him.
Lighting The Way
Further issues with design and consistency emerge when you look at the lighting section.
We're not entirely sure why this is on the site at all but, like the music section, they try to talk about lighting with no visual explanation at all.
You do get some images of a lighting plot sheet and some sort of technical diagram but unintentional hilarity ensues when you click on the images and the resulting pop ups are too small to read the information on them.
Why are these "help sheets" in tiny image format and not PDF format like the other help sheets? Also, what exactly is a teacher or a student supposed to do with a highly technical lighting chart sans any detailed explanation from an expert about what's on it?
One of the images is below, actual size!
A mainstay of today's internet is interaction. From simple comments to full blown web based applications the web is about being able to communicate.
The latter is usually very expensive but the former is a simple way to talk to your websites users. thealstonstudio.com doesn't even manage to do that though. There is no way at all to actually communicate directly with the company. A contact form is provided, if you can find it, but before you can use it you apparently have to agree to the terms and conditions for using the site.
You can't read the terms and condition though because the link to that page doesn't actually work.
Comment platforms like Disqus provide powerful and free systems to interact with your users. Again, we have to ask, why didn't anybody think of that?
As far as we could determine the company don't even have a Twitter account.
Dazed and Confused
From top to bottom thealstonstudio.com doesn't appear to know what it is supposed to be doing or who it's supposed to be doing it for.
Information is badly organised, badly presented and, more often than not, isn't actually that helpful or instructive when you do find it.
More attention seems to have be paid to picking pretty images to illustrate each section (a dreadful throwback to the 1990s) than to the purpose of the site and the information architecture within it.
A key mistake is the complete lack of focus. Instead of trying to do a single thing really well thealstonstudio.com does everything badly and it has all the hallmarks of a resource built by a committee and that committee had absolutely no idea what it wanted or how to achieve it.
Simply put, take this thing off the internet and do it properly before putting it back.