Each day has brought a new development in the spreading of COVID-19. As I am developing my online classes for Yoga and Ballet for the rest of the semester at Ohio State University, I find it difficult to concentrate. Not because I have two beautiful girls (4 and 7) asking for yogurt every five minutes, but because I’m disappointed and sad, and a little because of the yogurt thing.
After our first spring break, I’m already missing the graduate student cohorts that dwell in our OSU Department of Dance and as we prepare for virtual classes I’m missing my students and the normalcy that I had just begun to find in our semester. It takes me a while sometimes. Now, we all begin to find our new normal. What will that look like? What does a society do when it is told to stay in and distance ourselves? Ways of resilience are now a necessity. Ohio has told all restaurants to close their doors, thankfully delivery and pick up are still available for some. My girls are school-less, possibly til the end of the year and everyone is walking around with an energy akin to holding your breath. I’m now tasked with teaching my child, virtually teaching my classes, and virtually taking classes through the rest of the year that were primarily lab and community-based.
What does a society do once it is told to slow down? I’ve already begun taking control of what I can. I am both happy for some semblance of schedule and exhausted by the level I have to keep it together for the girls. I am required, although I have a hard time focusing on it, to upload new syllabus, learning goals, and grade book for my now online movement courses. I’m thankful for various apps and Youtube providers that already have movement online for me to share with my students. I’m thankful to my cohort for the ongoing texts. I’m thankful for Instagram and Facebook that make me feel more connected to the world. I am grateful for the extra time with my kids, although way too much time, I think they are grateful for this too. I look forward to classes starting and information for my 7-year-olds school to find out what is recommended for her future education. I look forward to seeing and feeling what this means for all of us.
Concept Tilt World rehearsals (Jan 2020 – May 2020) are geared toward building a set improvisational score or group of scores to be used once more dancers are brought into the fold.
Today’s rehearsal began with the accumulation improvisation from last rehearsal, digging deeper into different brushes, colors and textures with different tempos and repetitions of movement. In taking detailed notes and ending each rehearsal with a clear written documentation including questions, I have a clear place to begin to ask and answer more questions. Some technical questions are best researched outside of designated rehearsal time.
Inside Virtual Reality Looking at my hand while it is painting and remembering the movement inside my body at the same time is a very different mental process than when doing this movement without Tilt Brush. It feels similar to patting your head and rubbing your tummy, but instead you are aiming to look at a trail of paint while feeling your body so you can remember what the whole body does after the trace is created. The paint trace ends up being an “aboutness” of the movement instead of a specific archive. Since paint only comes from one end of the brush I have to make specific decisions about where the brush is on my body, whether distally painting from the hand as an extension of the spine or attached to the hip, foot, knee, or other.
The smoke brush continues to create a dispersed movement after you create with it. I used this brush today and ended by slowing and looking at what I created. Turning in a circle, I’m able to see the smoke move and the intricate pathways the chaotic movement created prior to this.
I also used the Mirror function later in the rehearsal which creates a division in the infinite blackness of the virtual space where the other side has a reflection of what you are painting in real time. I found a very curious effect happen when I watched my reflection painting, because it is not exactly what I am painting, but the reverse. It creates a really inquisitive effect.
Questions and Moving Forward Does it matter if I reproduce the movement “correctly” after the first iteration of improvisation? The difference and trail of remembering and correcting is interesting. I think the answer is no? It is about the effort and physical thinking.
I remembered that in the Oculus Quest you can record live what you are doing, like what we did in the walk through for our VR Poltergeist room. I’m going to try this next rehearsal to live record what is happening while I’m painting.
I also need to research the audio and the controller settings on the Vive. You can do a lot of modifications with the controllers. Can I configure the controller so I can paint out of two hands/two controllers?
I also want to incorporate resizing and moving whole traced improvisations because I believe you need two hands to do these actions and this will make the palette hand more active even if I don’t achieve two paint brushes.
My co-creator and I, Laura Rodriguez/LROD, aimed to create an Augmented Reality application used as an educational supplement to Laura Dixon Gottschild’s Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance: Dance and Other Contexts.
We chose ten pages that we would augment in the book. Each being accountable for five, we discussed ways that would most effectively visualize the textual content. We also were looking at different ways to activate our selected pages resulting in a blueprint containing a motion capture example of poly-rhythm, several reliefs of video examples of the pieces discussed in the book with sound and including the capability to stop and restart the video with a button, one relief picture of a definition with sound to clarify the pronunciation of the word ephebism and one relief of a black and white picture that changed to color.
Discoveries and Looking Ahead As we collected assets and artifacts for the project (i.e. video of Pearl Primus, a video of Earl “Snake Hips” Tucker, a photo of Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, etc.) we realized this project would run into copyright issues. This was also brought up in our first user test and demonstration during our Grad Day Showing in OSU’s Dance Department. However, using materials without permissions to create a proof of concept was successful. We also have discussed converting the app for cross platform use as it is currently only Android based.
In addition, Vuforia only recognizes images not text unless graphically designed, so using Gottschild’s “Digging” posed some problems in that the content that we wanted to highlight only had text on the pages and all the photos for the whole book were located in the center. For the pages that didn’t have imagery, we used found photos and created inserts to the parts of the book. Although effective, it was most satisfying when the photographs printed on the books pages came to life. If designing an educational tool for augmented reality again, I would prefer to work with the writers as the book is being designed to keep Augmented Reality in the design process creating a more cohesive visual and educational experience.
My summer research turned out to be two months of rehearsals digging into how I view different ways of making and different dance aesthetics. I will continue and finalize an iteration of this research next semester.
In May and June, I met with fellow, almost 2nd year, amazing, talented dance grads Alessandra, Davianna, Laura, and Emily for four hours a week in addition to two hours a week of solo research. Alessandra was a wondrous resource as dramaturg and Davianna, Laura and Emily were important and vocal collaborators in the process as well. Using making methods and ideas surrounding emergence and improvisation, we explored the complicated definitions of control, specifically surrounding societal conduct and power structures affecting women.
I began this process with some ideas I found in Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed detailing the education of oppressive societies to fight against their oppression. Although the stakes are much greater in Friere’s books, I found that some of the words he used to subdivide the last chapter define complicated and layered societal formulas that happen in the everyday.
The first four phrases were ways groups of people elicit power and the next four are their counters describing ways people can come together to liberate themselves from their oppression. We began by defining these words within our bodies through improvisation and the use of space:
Divide and Rule
Unity for Liberation
The concepts of separate/divide and together/away kept resurfacing physically. The ideas of bodies in unison and then not, bodies high, middle and low as a power structure, three against one, and bodies intercepting or inhibiting another’s movement came to the surface. The ideas of women empowerment, control, and social structures were apparent as these themes were explored further.
The questions that remain are: How do I unite improvisation and codified movement in a way that doesn’t seem forced and goes along with my personal aesthetic? What am I trying to say and how much of that do I want the audience to actually glean?
Below is an example of what I consider codified movement. A phrase or sentence of movement designed to be completed somewhat the same each time.
Below is an improvisatory exploration involving the parameters of finding moments where the other person is completely supporting your weight and you theirs as you move together and then away.
Below is an improvisation where Emily and I are trying to force Davianna to one corner as she is trying to get to the opposite corner.
Yes to redefining virtuosity
Yes to conceptualizing experience, affects, sensation
Yes to materiality/body practice
Yes to investment of performer and spectator
Yes to expression
Yes to excess
Yes to ‘invention'(however impossible)
Yes to un-naming, decoding and recoding expression
Yes to non-recognition, non-resemblance
Yes to non-sense/illogic
Yes to organizing principles rather than fixed logic systems
Yes to methodology and procedures
Yes to editing and animation
Yes to style as a result of procedure and specificity of a proposal
Yes to multiplicity and difference
My final “Tilt Brush” iteration this semester was an installation/performance during ACCAD’s open house on April 5th in the Motion Lab. The audience/participants entered a circle of projection screens where cardboard boxes, feather boas, pool noodles, and random small balls littered the space. Tasks were written on cards around the space for the audience to complete such as, “Build a castle.” Two performers were also in the space, one acted as safety and instigator of movement (KJ Dye), while the other (myself) was immersed in VR. As the performance transpired, painted traces of the immersed’s VR experience was projected throughout the space.
I wore the VR headset in the black void of Google’s Tilt Brush and except for running into the occasional cardboard box obstacle or feather boa adornment I was in my own world, a world absent from that of the audience-participants. People came in, sat on blankets or “played” in the space while KJ and I completed our score.
The technology stopped working at the beginning. A tower had been created out of cardboard boxes and was possibly obstructing the view of one of the cameras making it difficult for us to complete part of the score that began on the floor. The house I was to build, the tracing of bodies and the reflection of looking at the house from a transported place had to be skipped over. We completed this iteration with the standing portion of the score.
Documentation was also on the fritz, schedules had been mixed up and although Oded filmed the event, his video was corrupted. Technology often breaks or doesn’t work at moments when I am around. However, even though it didn’t work perfectly, I’m not sure it mattered. From my perspective, my world was cutting out, but from everyone else’s perspective (from what I have gathered so far from people’s explanations of what happened) they didn’t notice. It was swirling, surrounding colors in a space where the audience became performers. They watched me navigate blindly through a messy environment with KJ keeping me safe and directing my movement in alternate routes.
There was a push and pull to KJ and my relationship. Do I allow her to draw for me or do I draw residually? When she stops me, do I let her? Ideas of permission and control came up for me, perhaps, in part, because I wasn’t able to see her. One of the most unexpected things was that I have no memory of what the audience was doing while I was in VR. When performing without a VR headset, I could remember who came to see the event and what they did. But here, I only remember the brief time I took the headset off and hugged my babies because it wasn’t working. That moment is particularly magical for me because it is the only moment I knew what the space looked like and when I took my headset off the first thing I saw were my two girls.
Reflecting back to the beginning of this project, I was planning on short iterations of three different projects. The other two fell away as I became enamored with objects in space and the theory of absence/presence introduced in Dr. Nadine George-Graves Performing Bodies. In Leder’s “The Absent Body” the idea of yourself as nullpoint played right into the idea of yourself in VR. Sensation at the forefront, other theorists exploring perception (Merleau-Ponty), subjection, and the “zero point of orientation” (Husserl) informed my interest in these two worlds.
Finally the use of task to empower the participant in a way that the performer is empowered. Through Freire’s ideas of liberation pedagogy and praxis, I found a connection between Freire’s definition of praxis and what is happening in participant environments. Freire’s definition of praxis, “reflection and action upon the world to transform it,” can be applied to these environments. I was transformed. KJ protected me and the audience’s world left traces that were beautiful, creative and a reminder that they were there too, even though I didn’t see them.
Click here or here to view two of 12 traces created during the semester of rehearsals I had inside of Google’s Tilt Brush. During these rehearsals, I was researching how to create an improvisational score that I would paint live. These are traces 11 and 10. (These links are best viewed and interacted with on a touch screen, like your phone or tablet, you can swipe around to see different angles and zoom in and out. They will only work on computers with enough computing power.)
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, a Sandbox is something Norah uses in her Research Studio class that allows room for change and brainstorming of a group. In the following photos by Dan Shellenbarger (thank you!!) he documented some experiments in my sandbox in February. This project, titled “Tilt World” is an exploration of how an embodied mover informs physical painting in VR using Google’s Tilt Brush while an audience creates an outside environment using found objects.
Photos and Drawing by Dan Shellenbarger (you’re awesome!)
In class the other day we had to teach something off the cuff with two of these cards. We selected them face down and didn’t know what we were selecting. I like the idea of switching things up with these cards.
This semester has resulted in a real community of support. My grad-cohort is awesome and most if not all the preliminary tools I need to make, write, create, put forth work and fail have been introduced to me in our “Foundations in Dance Research” course.
“Laban Systems: Movements, Methods, and Analytical Frameworks” has been a wonderful addition to the writing kind of making. Not only do I have a new treasure chest of descriptive words specifically crafted for movement, but also a new way to look at movement and a toolbox of sprinkles and ingredients to add to my movement-making process. “Aboutness” can be applied to my whole first semester here. Trying to frame and understand specifically what I am interested in is the “aboutness” of my work and my-artist-self.
My body feels strong and smart. I am articulate in my joints and muscles in a way that I haven’t been for a while and it feels amazing. Crystal Perkin’s Afro-Horton technique class was an integral part in this strength and agency as was my Pilates course. I was able to apply Pilates techniques in Crystal’s technique class. The integration of whole body movement in Pilates is something I am still working on but I now have a practice to bring with me for the next two years. Pilates challenged my self-motivation in multiple ways and Crystal’s class was my grounding force throughout the semester. Technique class is my home, I know how to be a dancer and trust the movement and my body, so once I gave into the discipline and physical effort, this class was healing and got me through other more tumultuous moments.
I believe the next two and a half years will result in a confident, strong, maker who can own her place in an academic setting. This department has a professionalism built into it that is transparent but also ingrained. Research is what you make it. Figuring out what specifically interests me is the hardest part. There seems to be a fine line between what I’m interested in and what falls flat. In this academic context, it’s about framing your questions and spending time figuring out your project and writing it down before you actually get to figure anything out. This backwards approach is difficult for me but a skill worth developing. It’s similar to grant writing, but with a different flavor I can’t quite place.
In the moments to come, I’m interested in exploring some new practices of making, perhaps more improvisatory or contact-based processes, perhaps some making with friends/current grads, perhaps some non-mandatory uses of technologies. I’m still working on what I’m interested in, who I’m interested in doing it with and how to get it done in this still new environment but I trust the process. At the end of the day, it’s about coloring inside and outside the lines. It’s about appreciating all approaches and angles but also figuring out where you fit into them, how to best apply them to help you grow and how you want to approach your own angles or angle your own approach.
Our final performance in Intermedia was the culmination of three months of “digital recess” as coined by a former student of Norah’s. It was so exciting to have two willing participants wheeled into our playground like “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”from Disney’s Magic Kingdom. That’s not a metaphor, they were sat in chairs and wheeled in. The participants/audience were brought into the space to witness, choose and be the performers often in absurd events like what we titled, “Dada Birthday Party” where we sat at a table and sang “Happy Birthday” to the participants in a surprising and upbeat way and then handed them a tiny mallet in front of a tiny cake and waited to see what would happen. The mallet referenced one of our readings by Soke Dinkla who wrote about one of the first Dadaist artists to include audience participation. “Ernst placed an ax next to one of his works to be used by the visitors in case they did not like the object.” (Dinkla, 280) We asked the participants to choose cards that would determine the next scene. The other three scenes were “Motion Capture,” “Hot Air Balloon” and “Box Head” which we yelled out when they chose the card. “Motion Capture,” a station that was from our second study, was a play on words, two people sat facing each other in chairs and one mimicked (captured) the movements (motion) of the person opposite them. “Hot Air Balloon” was giving the audience/performer a bag of unblown balloons and seeing what they would do when sitting on a white cube at the center of the space and “Box Head,” pulled from our first portrait study and had the person put their head on a box while we took a live feed of their face and asked them mundane questions about their life. Each situation was an experiment commenting on or inhabiting expectation and power. Other aspects of the piece included some movement developed from questions answered earlier in the work, saying a memory and throwing an imaginary ball to another person in the space and at times a voice over commentary, by yours truly. The aboutness of the work seemed to be community and absurdity or audience and performer or perhaps reflection and memory.
As I discovered at the end of our last lab study, “Interactivity and Participation,” I’m interested and excited about the awkward moments and the moments that could change each performance. Throwing an audience member into the mix throws a wild card that is performatively exciting and something that my lab group played with the entire semester. In this study we focused on comparing viewed performance and interactivity in the form of stations. Tricking the audience that they might just sit and watch and then ushering them from station to station where they were to complete a similar “Box Head” and “Motion Capture” moment from our final experiment. Our third and final station was an array of “bric-a-brac” which had a sign that said, “Arrange.” This was inspired by our readings from Dinkla about Duchamp’s ready-mades. At the end we performed some movements we captured during the “Motion Capture” station and watched peoples faces float around in bubbles captured from the “Box Head” station. The ideas of being seen and watched were at the forefront of the work.
Our second “Media First” study, came directly out of discovering textures that could be used as projections. Zooming into a moving object or objects, water, leaves blowing, bubbles rising, screens moving or a swing shifting can create a texture when projected into an environment. We gathered textures and then made a study using them. The Motion Lab has screens that can be moved into a circle which made us think of a carousel and I was particularly interested in how we could guide the audience’s gaze around the space.
I found Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” music video to be even more inspiring after having learned the origin of the projection magic she utilized. Jerome Bel’s “Veronique” Series is an almost poignant solo for a corp de ballet dancer from the Paris Opera. These and others were “Viewings” we watched throughout the semester. The course highlighted an array of artists using not only technology but also other mediums. Our reading from Simon Morely’s “Writing on the Wall” highlighted artists influenced by Duchamps “readymades” that began to experiment with mixed media approaches to panel art in the 1950s. In the text I was interested with the “affichistes” and their ripping down advertisements and using them to create their own art. Intermedia is a course about creating with found objects. Everything we experimented with was already made, we just put it together in different ways. Use what you have to create something new.
The collection of topics, viewings, technologies and the history of media art we’ve explored has allowed me to place the concepts and people we’ve discussed in a way I couldn’t before. I can see how certain artists were influenced and where that landed their trajectory. I’m beginning to understand what interests I have and what kind of art I want to make. I’m beginning to understand my artistic world a little better and that is an important piece in trying to figure out what place I want to have in the puzzle. What’s the puzzle? That’s another question entirely.
When I was teaching composition at a magnlet arts high school, the class would often revolve around a set of tasks designed to give the students creative tools to craft “interesting” compositions. When it was time to give feedback, I would always say to the students, “Take what you want and throw the rest away.” If we had showings, other teachers also proscribed to the “Take it or leave it” mentality. Even though I said that, I didn’t really mean it. I think I meant, “I’d like you to at least try to apply a part of my feedback to get a different result. If in the end you don’t like the result, you can always revert back to where you started or somewhere in the middle. In the trying, you might find something new somewhere along the path.”
I still had expectations about their products and as teachers we would often struggle with how much to lead a student to get a “good product.”* If the student was using the tools, testing boundaries and following their instincts I was always happy with their process and often their product was more successful, but not always. When mentoring the creation of a senior project, the students were struggling with figuring out what they instinctually liked, navigating what they thought “good work” looked like and how to make their work “good.” I gave the advice, “Stick to the process and the work will follow.”
I’m now the student and it’s interesting to see the teachers struggle in the same way. How much are they leading me toward their aesthetic or their style of discussion. Am I learning how to survive in the academic world or am I learning how to survive in their specific setting. I’ve decided in this moment that I will try to apply what I wanted my students to do. Try out some options revolving around the feedback given and see where that takes the work. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a setting where I’ve had to take into account constant feedback. It’s interesting that I am also still wrestling with the notions of “good work.” Stick to the process and the work will follow.
*A good product by definition is something created that is desired or approved of and is therefore all about perception and opinion. Not everyone likes the same things, that is why there are so many options and reasons for creating the art you want to make. Not everyone will like what you make, but someone will…somewhere.
The other day I realized I actually know things. I’ve been perfecting technique and practicing performance for a while, studying from different people along the way that had skills and certifications in Bartenieff, Alexander, Yoga, Feldenkrais, Meditation, Release technique, classical techniques (Horton, Graham, Humphrey, Limon, etc.) and various other forms of techniques that I don’t even know about and yet most of the time no one labeled them for me. You don’t go through a dance class labeling everything you have ever studied and explaining where it came from. You begin lying on the floor feeling your weight into the floor (meditation), perhaps some effort based stretching and abdominal work (yoga and pilates) and as you move through the class you talk about weight, time, space and flow (Laban) and then perhaps some discussions about finding ease and efficiency (Alexander), etc. You don’t necessarily label them as a teacher and I can’t say I knew their lineage and I still can’t say that I do. So as I’m finally realizing I know things, I’m just realizing that here is the place where I label them and understand their history and lineage. Pedestrian walking on stage originated in the Postmodern era. Ok, I knew that one. But, Laban is where you define weight, time, space and flow and dissect them. I just found this out.
Grad School is where it happens, this is where connections are made, this is where you dig into the granules of what has created what you already know.