Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Chris Elam - dance company and new media

I came across Misnomer Dance Theater when I was looking at arts organisations that are working comfortably with online technology.

Misnomer Dance Theater has made a name for itself as a company that exploits for dance the resources that indie bands and songwriters have successfully utilised to get their work distributed to a wider audience.

For those who were reminded at the New Media, New Audiences? conference yesterday that there won't be any extra money in Ireland for research and development in this area, it will provoke envy that Misnomer has just received a grant of $1 million to develop its model in to something other arts organisations can follow. The company's artistic director and choreographer Chris Elam may have had a head start in all of this in that he came to dance while he was studying public policy and computing at university. But that just reminds me that you need people who are connectors and multi-disciplinary to help knowledge to flow from one area of culture to another.

You can read more about their work in a recent New York Times article

I did notice from reading the article that while the company will enjoy having this $1 million in the bank, that money won't get any work made. The company will still have to fundraise for its artistic programme. And I wonder if it matters how good the communications technology and media are if there isn't something worthwhile to communicate.

New Media, New Audience?

I attended the Arts Council's New Media, New Audience? conference in Dublin Castle yesterday. Going there and particularly having been invited to be on a panel, I felt a bit of a charlatan since my engagement with online media is this blog, some facebook advertising and youtube - hardly cutting edge. However, in comparison to the majority of arts organisations in Ireland, it appears that this approach is relatively novel.

It was instructive that of the two keynote speakers it wasn't the utopian Charles Leadbeater whose argument received the most vocal support from the delegates. Instead it was Andrew Keen with his focus on what is lost (mostly traditional authority structures and traditional business models) that drew audience sympathy. Is that because there were more people representing arts organisations there than there were artists? Do organisations have more investment in maintaining control over the traditional means of distribution and traditional relationships with a traditional idea of audiences? In my experience, artists just get on with using whatever resources are available to them and web technology is another set of resources.

I moderated a panel with Peter Fitzpatrick, Trevor Curran, and Conor McGarrigle who were all positive about the opportunities that do exist. Trevor is already involved with producing the online teen drama Aisling's Diary, Conor has created a body of work online, using GPS technology in particular, and Peter, who works with Microsoft (but confessed to being a Mac user too!) talked about the software and applications that are being developed that the arts sector can start to use.

Even so, I realised that many people in the room weren't aware of the concept of something like Cloud computing and I wondered how that kind of awareness (which is part of newspaper general culture now rather than specialist knowledge) might be raised. Someone said to me that he was shocked by the level of resistance to 'new media' (not new NOW) and thought the sector would be severely hampered by such resistance.

So why do I blog? Because I want to share what I'm thinking about, what influences me, what I've learned; by sharing that, I want to help people have a way in to my work, to not just encounter it as a closed product but to see it as something in process, something porous.

However I wonder if my invitation to participate is clear enough. Do I really make it possible or worthwhile for people to engage in dialogue? Or am I more driven by the narcissism that Keen thinks is endemic in this everyone-has-a-voice culture?

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Film by Samuel Beckett

The figure runs close along a stretch of tall buildings. Scurries. Hides. Evades. Makes it to bare room. Hides. Evades.

Buster Keaton's distinctive if older physicality makes the opening of this unusual Becekett film an interesting dance in the city, a body making its way against a set buildings, under surveillance from the camera.

Another unexpected antecedent.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Performing in Artium, Vitoria

I arrived today at Artium, an unexpectedly interesting art museum in the Basque city of Vitoria. It’s the first venue of a tour called ‘A Man’s Touch’, organised by Mikel Aristgui who is Basque and who just danced in Niche. It was thanks to him that I brought Match to Bilbao this summer and now I’m back with Match and the solo from Cosán Dearg that I performed in China last year. The evening is called ‘A Man’s Touch’ because it’s choreography by men (me and Mikel) performed by men (Matthew, Mikel and me). Mikel and I both have duets and a solo to present and we finish the evening with a improv coda that brings all three of us on stage.

I was impressed by Artium from the minute we arrived. It’s new, beautifully designed and has an interesting collection. More importantly for us, they are welcoming of dance and though they don’t have a theatre or studio space, they have a team that transforms one of their spaces into a spacious and flexible performance venue. The lighting is limited but given that I’ve performed Match and Cosán Dearg in all kinds of technically unsupported spaces that’s not a problem.

It was a pleasure to return to Match and feel secure in the reliable relationship with Matthew. Adapting to new spacing is easy in theory but it’s interesting that it takes longer for the body – my body, at least – to be assured in that adaptation. Matthew and I performed well but I was aware that we would come out of some passages of movement and orient ourselves by different internal maps that set us fractionally at odds with each other when we would come together for the next physical interaction. I don’t imagine that many will have noticed this from the outside but we are aware of the adjustments necessary in those moments of misdirection.

It’s been longer since I did the solo but that was a pleasure too. I’ve done it in so many different places (in Project’s Space Upstairs, in a wood in Cúil Aodha, on the Bird’s nest building site and on a roof terrace in Hong Kong) and there is something of each of those iterations that lingers when I perform it again. To those memories I now add a sense of long rows of Basque faces in the sensitively lit Artium as I find out how my body has changed (aged) in a year, what it accomplishes with ease, what now feels alien, how I respond emotionally to these perceptions. It’s like meeting an old friend

Saturday, 1 November 2008


I’ve been thinking about perspective. We’ve just finished performing Niche and I’ve been comforted and confronted by other people’s perspective on the work. I think I’ve made a piece that invites a particular way of viewing, an attentiveness to what’s going on in the space (a shared space of performers and audience) rather than an attempt to decode symbols that stand in for something else. Of course as I write this it sounds like I’m offering some unmediated, raw experiences and as a good student I know that’s impossible. We can’t help but view things, experience things, feel things, through the filters of prior experiences, social codes, and prevalent ideas about ourselves and our environment that organise the sensory data we receive from the world (even this idea of us separate from the world is an organising idea that shapes our thinking).

So what am I asking when I invite an audience to be attentive, to notice what’s going on (the wobbles, the detail of touch, the instability of weight, the hum of the generator?) How does an audience know what matters and what doesn’t?

I don’t know what matters – not in the big scheme of things. But I know what matters to me and I make work that reflects that. But knowing that my perspective is not complete I build in structures that remind myself and the audience that what I’m presenting is partial, limited and personal. I invite them to pay attention to what escapes me and my control, to see more than I can and to be delighted by the new things that are revealed in the process. And maybe I remind them that their perspective is partial too.

It’s for that reason that the woman in Niche has a trajectory independent of the men. Her rhythm is not determined by me and is a surprise each evening. I have made no attempt to resolve her sharing of the space with the men, though I know how I, as audience, have created links between the men and woman. Like independent inhabitants of the city, their paths can be viewed simultanaeously from a particular perspective but the temporal connection doesn’t imply a causal relation.

I’ve also reflected on perspective because this week I took Mikel’s part in the piece for performances in Liverpool and Bray. As a result I’ve seen the work from the perspective of a participant though not quite yet forsaking the external perspective I carry in my head from previous performances.

This is what Niche looks like from my perspective on the stage:

Matthew's solo

Stéphane waiting for Plank

Matthew's solo

Stéphane after Hoodie duet