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By Pablo Ventura -- http://www.home.ch/~spaw1167/

Computer technology which has steadily been influencing art forms, has finally reached the dance domain and the possibilities opened up for dance are unimaginable. With the appearance of various computer programs that allow to imitate and resemble human movement, primarily developed towards the creations of animations, a whole new world has opened up for dance. In particular, the program Life Forms developed in collaboration with the renowned choreographer Merce Cunningham could become a ground breaking tool for movement research.

Life Forms basically consists of three components used separately or in combination to design, edit and display animations: the Figure Editor which provides precise controls for moving selected body parts into desired positions, the Timeline which controls the timing of a figure´s movement and synchronises the motions of several figures, and finally the Stage which is similar to a stage and where one watches the figures perform.

The possibilities that the program offers are various. Nevertheless, the time consuming and primitiveness of the animation at this stage of development of the program, makes it a tool more useful in terms of the ideas that it brings forward and the promising future associations between dance and computer that Life Forms entails.

The first big change that a choregrapher experiences creating movement patterns on a computer is the fact that for the first time ever one is creating movement outside of one´s own body (or of a human body), working from without as oppose to the usual experience of working from within one´s own body, feeling movement and rhythm and deciding on what is right mostly on knowledge and intuition. Working with a choreography software radically changes this approach towards choreography since one creates movement patterns on an animation, working out various body positions in an animation on an aesthetic or otherwise basis, and allowing the program to work out the transition of one position to the next , speeding up or slowing down the procedure according to one´s wishes.

This can be a very frustrating and time consuming event since actions that are done automatically with one´s own body awareness, built in knowledge for movement and acquired reflexes, in the computer program, (however many pre-choreographed movements the program has incorporated into its archives); timing, spacing and coordination of simple actions, such as for example sitting or lying down, is non existent, and has to be fed into the animation; a complete dumb which is incapable of learning basic patterns of movement through the usual procedure of repetition of sequences.

All these inevitable inconveniences and handicaps makes the program, in my opinion, not suitable as a complete tool with which to choreograph and with which to generate movement material for the stage, but rather, as a tool to study movement possibilities which can then be integrated into one´s own improvisations, searching for those possibilities, experieced with the animation, from within one´s own body. (For example, the software allows to view a given phrase in reverse to its original conception, it allows to view its mirror image and to manipulate the speed in which it is executed, etc).

At this stage of the development of the program it seems to me an unrealistic assumption to ask the human body to imitate a program which itself is an attempt to imitate a human body in movement.

My personal experience with the program was positive in that it helped me to breakdown some acquired habits and patterns of movements due to the many years of choreographing, and the natural tendencies towards which one´s body is inclined to, due to the proportions of the body, abilities and obvious treats depending on whether one is left or right handed,etc. Working with Life Forms made me conscious, when I improvised searching for movements, of the possibilties and range of movements that were still unexplored in my own body.The second most important influence that working with the program radically affected the piece I was working on at the time: "Deus ex Machina", was that working with an animation that clumsily imitates human movement, produced a quality of movement (one might describe it as slightly robotic or mechanic) that was to me quite interesting in itself for its artificiality, and which eventually permeated the whole work. All in all, this rapport with the computer animation created a strange situation whereby dancers attempted to imitate the quality of movement of an animation that in itself is an attempt to imitate human movement.

The future of computer made animations in dance is yet to be imagined. In the same manner that the emergence of video was with its numerous applications a revolution for dance; becoming an ideal means to document a dance piece, becoming part of the scenography of a choreography through video projections on stage, or becoming an art form in itself through dance works created specifically for the video (Video-Dance), one can foresee similar applications of computer technology. On the other hand, I am looking forward to that day when a computer program will render exact human movements through the system Motion-Capture, and these in turn, will be projected on to a stage in three dimensions through hologram technology or laser three dimensional projections.

Other applications of computer technology are already in use for example in sports, whereby the computer analises the movements of an athlete with the aim of finding out how to improve the body´s capabilities in a given discipline. In dance, the possibility of creating dance patterns using computer to work out movements through chance operations is already a reality that choreographers are experimenting with. By giving numbers to the joints of the body and stablishing an imaginary cube surrounding the virtual body (such as the cube first introduced by Rudolph Von Laban, or that used by William Forsythe to visualise his technique), to stablish spatial coordinates towards which given joints of the body would move, and by throwing a set of coins or programming a system of chance operations into the computer to stablish a random pattern of movement through chance procedure, the computer will be able to achieve movements possibilities and ways to construct dance phrases unimagined before. We can therefore imagine a possible dance work of the future involving three dimensional holograms of dancing virtual figures, and whats more, totally created by a computer.

The year 2001 is nearing and the computer "Hal" will have a lot to say in dance!.

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