Current mood:determinedSo it's been nearly over two weeks since I've posted here... there's a lot to catch up on.
The previous two weeks were a big search for the right material. It was a bit like wandering in the desert... you're desperately thirsty, so you keep seeing mirages only to find out they are not real. This week was far more satisfying. Far fewer mirages, and a lot more water to drink. And the piece is now taking shape. Sometimes the wandering is frustrating. But the successes of this past week could not have happened without the previous missteps and wrong turns.
The artmaking process is an accumulation of failures and successes that lead to insight and provocative revelations. I am quite proud of Dawn and I for taking more risks in terms of being willing to take those wrong turns along the way. Peter, our dramaturg, has been absolutely crucial to our ability to take these risks. He never ceases to keep us on track and moving bravely forward, and has provided many important ideas of his own.
For the dancers, the process of learning the looped material was both time consuming and tedious. And not all of them worked... it was interesting to see which movement material worked within the computer loops created in Isadora, and which didn't. In the end, it seems that the more "pedestrian" the movement, the more interesting the looped version; the more "dancey", the less well it worked. But, all theories of accumulation aside, I will say it was hard to drop a piece of material after one or more of the dancers had given so much energy to learning it.
Perhaps the most important development recently came from discussions between Peter and Dawn. There was a pattern of six positions and postures (ABCDEF) that the dancers move through at the beginning of the piece. Peter and Dawn decided that this structure would become the basis for the whole piece... that the movement through these positions would never stop -- from beginning to end. This was critical because it 1) again reinforced the notion of the loop/cycle/repetition, and 2) it supported the theme of violence, imposing a relentless and unforgiving structure upon the performers. It is also physically fatiguing, something that everyone watching will feel. But, for us as creators, it gave us a clear structure with which we could push/pull/struggle with as we brought other material to the piece. I offered to Dawn and Peter that it was much like an "ostinato bass" -- referring to the musical idea of a repeating bass line that goes throughout many baroque compositions. And it was upon this ostinato that we would build the remainder of the work.
At this point it was Dawn's job to implement the material that rode this wave, interjecting and disturbing the ever present ABCDEF pattern. It was upon this form that she began depositing the solo and duet material generated from the computer loops. This process is working... and continues now as we enter our final week of preparations for the first shows.
In addition to the movement material Dawn was creating, I directed several of the interns (most of whom have dance training) do quite small movements or very particular gestures. Several of these were successful, and allowed us to create some small "atomic units", little non-sequiturs that could be dropped in at various locations in the structure. These are like little filigrees, tiny details that can enrich the material and fill it out as needed.
Another thread that we have followed was working intensively with our performers on the Scott Kelman techniques mentioned in a previous blog. This mostly has focused on the "raps", the improvisational speaking technique. In addition to daily exercises, we had the performers do two long raps; one that was twenty minutes, and another that was a full hour. Both were videotaped, allowing Dawn and Peter to review the material and pick out the most compelling phrases and other bits of text.
Peter in particular did an enormous amount of work, transcribing all of the spoken text from the twenty minutes raps (120 minutes total). From this we culled little chunks that the performers could speak.
What is interesting about the "rap" technique is that it becomes a method to access the sub-conscious... after a certain amount of time improvising, you can no longer edit yourself.. and the ideas and inner thoughts begin to pour out. Upon reviewing the tapes, we found there was a lot of material about control and repression. Clearly this was a deep reaction by the dancers to the rather vicious process of learning the loops... but, it was also totally germane to the theme of the piece.
"in a lake… a numb cage… filled with unnecessary birds… redundant… their blinking eyes… watching me… forcing an image… crashing into yesterday… dragged back… blinking eyes… the life in me… continuously… reducing… "
Then we began attempts to integrate this into the work. At first we had the performers dancing and speaking... but it was instantly clear that this was not the right road to follow. It is has been done so often, that it feels like a always seems to feel like a cliché. We struggled with various modes of presenting the text, trying various combinations of the ABCDEF pattern and speaking... and basically nothing hit the mark.
But then I had an inspiration. One of the points on the ABCDEF pattern is a position where they sit in the chairs along with the audience. (Each half of the audience is positioned on opposite sides of the stage looking at each other, sort of like at a stadium or football match.) I directed the dancers to create a very complicated process of adjusting their microphones (each on a stand with a boom attachment). Then they read their text, performed a retrograde of the stand adjustment, and then stood up and did a miniature ABCDEF standing in front of their chairs. What was more of a dance form became much closer to a pure theater form, with a movement bit inserted to maintain the ABCDEF ostinato. And it was in this moment that the whole thing came totally to life.
One problem remained... the text itself. It was wordy and long. So quickly made a rough distillation of this into a much smaller text, an example of which is given above. Now the words could be read much more slowly, and the whole thing fell completely into place. It totally worked... and once we'd gotten there, we all knew it instantly. Phew!
At this point, the media for Loop Diver is quite simple. A series of images projected on three screens. Finding the content that matched the theme had been an issue since the moment we devised it. But one our interns, Adrian Hart, did some incredible research into abandoned buildings in and around New York City, and eventually made an amazing find: the Kings Park Psychiatric Hospital in Long Island, about two hours train ride from Manhattan. (You can see images at http://www.opacity.us/site3_kings_park_psychiatric_center.htm)
As it turns out, it is quite a popular destination for "Urban Explorers", and you can find loads of images and video clips showing this rather amazing place. Once I saw these images, I became obsessed with gathering my own material from this site.
With our chief intern Jennifer, I set out to get these video tapes. This adventure deserves a blog of its own, but suffice to say that the huge amount of urban exploration there, along with buildings that are literally falling apart, had led to the place becoming far more sealed up than it seemingly was in the past. Nevertheless, Jennifer and I got into some pretty intense places, and shot about 45 minutes of material. I've uploaded a short clip of this to our YouTube channel at http://youtube.com/troikaranch and you can see documentation of me videotaping in the Pictures section of here on myspace (see http://viewmorepics.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=viewImage&friendID=217642384&albumID=265546&imageID=4078593) Unfortunately, I was not able to get one key image: walking down one of the numerous a long hallways shown in the photos mentioned above. But, I am in contact with one of the urban explorers whose video material is on the web, and I am hopeful I will get this from her, as she's agreed to let the video be used in the piece.
The environs of these images create an incredible sense of "place"; and because of their decrepitude, it strongly implies that this is the place where the violence occurred.
So these were added along to the images I already had developed. Specifically, there are three "worlds" I'd created. The first uses combination of video effects in Isadora to create ghostly versions of the looped material of the dancers' solos. The lovely thing about this patch is that whenever you reach an edit point in the loop, you see a visible "flash" which emphasizes it. The second was of extreme close ups of various body parts, their gigantic scale turning them into landscapes and towers. And finally, an image of myself, nude and suspended from the grid of the theater. In this clip, I gyrate wildly while "rapping". I find the looped version of this material extremely disturbing. (The latter two I considered to be the same "group", as they were both of the body.)
So, I came to some conclusions about how to organize the material into a kind of journey:
Place -> Ghostly Place -> Ghostly Bodies -> Close Up Body Parts -> Real Body
For the "Ghostly Place" video, I simply applied the "ghosting" effect previously applied to the bodies to the videos of Kings Park. The gyrating body forms the terminus of this, because it is so disturbing.
Let me interject here that this issue of the notion of the "disturbing" has been on my mind lately. So many recent dance and technology pieces I've seen are full of "beautiful" imagery... and by that I mean computer generated imagery that has little emotional impact, because it is often simply abstract forms. I have a theory that the only time we can feel truly disturbed is when a human body is attacked, maimed or killed. (It can work with animals too, but mostly because we've anthropomorphized them.) Sitting here at the 3LD Theater -- a scant two blocks from "ground zero" -- I'm inspired to say that if the World Trade Center Towers had been empty on September 11th, it wouldn't have meant much that the buildings fell. We naturally empathized with the horrible moment of death for those victims... and multiplied that feeling by 3000 as the towers fell to the ground.
So I have a plan, and have already implemented about 25 minutes or so of stuff that works. But I have a lot of work to do this week. ;-)
One concern of mine. At this point, there is no interactivity in the work per se. Of course, this is Troika Ranch's calling card, and so I put some internal pressure on myself to make sure it is present in every piece. Furthermore, I had come into the process with some very beautiful interactive graphics that I planned to use. These were similar to those seen in 16 [R]evolutions, but go much further in their sophistication. Yet, as much as I try, I cannot see a place for these graphics in the piece. The are beautiful -- not a place of violence. Peter and I theorized about these images, in that they move for a long time after being disturbed, and that this represented the echoes one feels after a violent event. But it just didn't "cut the mustard" as we say here in America, because they are beautiful, not disturbing.
I worry that somehow, with the very serious nature of this piece, that these kinds of interactive techniques might feel a bit like a joke. While I remain convinced of the importance of interaction, that it is meaningful for the dancers to use their instincts to change the timing and dynamics of the music. But I just don't know what it means in this piece yet... finding the right imagery and the music seems far more critical to me now than attempting to force the issue.
The one clear metaphor for interaction in this work is that, at some point, the people in this imaginary world reject the imposition of the loop (i.e., reject the violence) and push out against it. For them to start controlling the media could be a clear indication of this. But that moment has not come... yet.
I try to remember that we have two years before the premiere of this work, that this is the first pass. We have months of residency time at the Lied Center in Nebraska with our partners there, and focusing on the interactive technology is a big part of that research. The answers to the question about the interaction will probably just have to come later.
OK -- that's probably more writing than allowed in the blogosphere. But I had nearly three weeks of experiences to recount, so if you made it this far, thanks for being a trooper.
More to come...