An interactive stage design project.
produced by: Jana Velinova
Working on this project my goals were two-fold, one practical and one theoretical. Throughout this year I have been very interested in how I can balance my existing dance practice with my newly developing practice of computation to broaden my overall artistic pallet as a performance maker. To satisfy my interest in the relationship between thought and action or theory and practice, I worked with computational design, performance as research and a theoretical critical theory approach.
1. Practically, I aimed to have a real life experience using software interactively on stage.
2. Theoretically, I wanted to think through the type of knowledge dance produces and the type of information collected or compiled by computation.
In alignment with the post-dramatic turn I aimed to encourage an "experience of multipolarity, in which each medium (dance and computation) maintains its artistic integrity, which constitutes a part in a whole that is greater than ‘the sum of its parts’.’
What I have seen many times in watching performances is that one element is at the center of the show while the rest are supporting and subordinate. My interest stems from an effort to exploit the diversity and difference between the elements and maximizing the expressive potential of each medium by orchestrating all the media simultaneously in a non-hierarchical manner. Rather than build a bridge, I aim here to widen the gap.
Following in Deleuze I approached the process of putting together a computational design with a dance as singularities or events that 'correspond to heterogeneous series which are organized into a system which is neither stable nor unstable, but rather ‘metastable,’ endowed with a potential energy wherein the differences between series are distributed.'
In place of trying to embody or translate my dance ideas into the form of design, I wanted to instead respect each of the media as separate and explore how the whole performance might be enhanced or changed by the separate contribution of each dance and computation. Not all knowledge can be translated into an algorithm just as much as not all algorithms can be understood through the language of dance. Instead of translating I focused on the space between, on the encounter or meeting point of two singularities. The moment of interaction which requires two separate entities.
“Séparés, on est ensemble’ that I will translate as follows: ‘Apart, we are together’.” - Jacques Rancière
While coding I thought about the process of computation and what it is I had to do as a coder. Coding is a building process, a compiling process. A coder builds on something that came before one block on top of the other. In my dance making practice, this could really not be more different. Art is a destruction process. Breaking things in order to put them together differently. If I make a mistake in my code it just doesn't work, it won't compile. But in choreography and dance, sometimes the best thing I can get is the mistake. The computer collects information and stores it in memory for future access. A human memory very differently of course cannot possibly work that way, we forget. We forget pain and sadness, war, hate, love, and joy. We intend to understand the world by living in it not to remember every part of the world and access it later. This is not to say that either is better than the other but just to recognize the difference between them. A dancer on stage is at their best when they have forgotten about the choreography and are present in the performance of it, they know it rather than accessing the information from a stored location. They know the essence of it. A computer is best on stage when it remembers every bit and can access all of the information of the code at all times as needed. The difference between knowing and storing or collecting seems an important one in understanding the type of knowledge that is produced by each medium.
 Abulafia, Yaron, The Art of Lighting on Stage, Lighting in Contemporary Theater, Routledge, London & New York, 2016
 Rancière, Jacques, Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetic Community: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art, lecture in 2006
 Taylor Adkins, translation Simondon, Completion of Section I, Chapter 1, The Individual and Its Physico-Biological Genesis, 2007
Continuing on with the concept of difference as the meeting point between the two mediums, I used computer vision as an interactive element. I spent several weeks working with a frame differencing application in openFrameworks. I studied and researched how the technique works eventually understanding it calculates absolute differences between the pixels of successive frames of video, accumulates them in the buffer, and finally computes motion areas using a thresholding. I used the accumulated differences to project on stage. As I worked on the code I had many challenges to overcome throughout and often felt I really wasn’t getting anywhere but once in the theater I found new inspiration with the application.
Perhaps my main success was actually getting into the theater for the technical set up. The way an application will work for a performance can only really be seen in the theater with all the lighting, performers, scenography, and production elements there in real time. For this work, I had another performer downstage right directly interacting with the application. I was center stage with the projection of him behind me. I originally intended to use two projectors but found that the precious theater time didn't allow for both projectors to be set up properly and so in the end only used one. During the performance, while the other performer interacted with the application directly I could see him in front and to the left of me and I interacted with him indirectly through my movement. I could see the screen behind me in the screen of my computer at the front of the space. We shot one single continuous take. We worked in silence creating a rhythm of movement between us and I added the music in later after the filming in post-production. Neither of us had ever heard the music before but putting two things next to each other that are different sometimes brings out their similarities.
The lighting design was one of the difficult aspects because I had to figure out how to light the performer and at the same time keep the application visible on the cyclorama. The diagram below shows how I finally figured out I could achieve this task with the technical set up.
What I found to be the biggest and main constraint in this process was time. I spent a long time working with the code alone. After which I was in the theater space for a single day shoot bringing and setting all the equipment into the process. In a real-life scenario of making performance the time at the theater is very limited. Understanding exactly how to set up all the lights and equipment so that everything would work well took a significant amount of time as well as experimenting conceptually to go further than what I was able to do off-site by myself with the application. In the future, I would like to ideally be able to allow for a larger amount of time to both physically rehearse with the application at the site and to develop the design and code off-site. The code in this project was kept simple rather than complex because of my fear of making a mistake in it, but a technical development for the future that I would like to explore is how to generate a projection that layers successive image differences of a moving person, focusing on the Motion History Image (MHI) method and its variants as well as to learn and use shaders for things such as shadow mapping of a person as they move.
1. Abulafia, Yaron, The Art of Lighting on Stage, Lighting in Contemporary Theater, Routledge, London & New York, 2016
2. Rancière, Jacques, Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetic Community: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art, lecture in 2006
3. Andrew Goffey, Subjectivity, Art and Data Research Series, Micropolitics of Software: Rethinking Programming Practices and the Production of Subjectivity, lecture in 2018
4. Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, Columbia University Press, Mass. USA, 1968
5. Kasper Kamperman, Computer Vision, Frame differencing
- Troika Ranch Dance
- Chunky Move Dance Company
- Anton Chekov, The Seagull. Adapted and directed by Ira Avneri, light and projection by Yaron Abulafia, Tmuna Theater, Tel Aviv, Israel, 2013
- David Zinder, Peer Gynt, Hungarian State Theater of Cluj, Romania 2008
Below is a theater diagram showing the technical set up for the performance.
- Projector - Optoma DS330 - 3000 Lumen Projector
- Computer with Xcode
- Birdie stage light - PULSE PAR16 (240V)
- Flood stage light - 1000W with R7s lamp-holder and asymmetrical hammered pure aluminum reflector
- Film camera - Canon HF-G25
- webcam - Microsoft Webcam: LifeCam HD 3000
- Blackout curtain