Blocks of Continuality/Body, Image and Algorithm at the Dance Center of Columbia College

Heather Liberman

Blocks of Continuality/Body, Image and Algorithm

Depoliticizing movement for Koosil-ja means removing the significance from sixteenth century paintings. This allows Koosil-ja to focus her movement study purely on time, density, speed, and quality. A product of her study with Merce Cunningham, Koosil-ja/danceKUMIKO uses chance in the evening length piece, Blocks of Continuality/Body, Image and Algorithm. The piece investigates the relationship between the physical and virtual body through the use of a variety of technological tools.

While the multimedia world has infiltrated live dance performances, nothing compares to the utilization of technology found in the Koosil-ja/danceKUMIKO performance at the Dance Center of Columbia College. At least seven computers (mainly Macs) were stationed at the foot of the seating area, with the light of the screens exposed to the audience. Four panels hung from the ceiling above the stage, each separated into six equally sized rectangles. The soundboard and amplifiers were in plain sight, positioned downstage right.

Using an arrangement of four distinct parts, Koosil-ja contemplated a variety of themes. Beginning with the portrayal of the cycle of life, the first dancer crossed the industrial stage and began kicking the wall. Establishing a synthetic heartbeat, the dancer moved to center stage and the four panels light up with televised images. The televised images were critical to comprehending the movement, particularly because the solo performer never looked at the audience. Failing to divert her attention from the television screens caused the audience to draw their attention to the screens as well. Either still frames of magazine covers, videos of historic/cultural dance, or sixteenth century portraits, the televisions added a peculiar dimension to the performance. In recognition that people mimic media, the performer’s movement seemed delayed, jarred, disjointed, unpredictable, and uncertain. This call and response approach elicited juvenile shapes and a sense of desperation from the dancer to meet the expectations of the television.

Koosil-ja later described this movement study as stripping the dancers down from any training they gained throughout life, and instead allowing the audience to witness movement in a more pure form. This movement research became even more apparent when two additional dancers walked onto the stage. After a lull in music, each computer technician and musician announced when they were ready to proceed, and the dancers did as well.

Despite the addition of dancers on the stage, they did not relate to one another, rather only to the televisions. The images appeared on the screens in a random order, which required the dancers to mimic the portraits and videos, while they simultaneously attempted to match the random selection. Every three minutes or so, the music – a software enhanced version of the original music found in the videos, with the live musician, Jeff Gersh playing electric guitar over the track – would stop, and the three women would create a tableau. The absence of sound and movement drew attention to the way in which the shape of the women matched the video screens. Even when the dancers had to navigate around one another, they never acknowledged one another. The lack of relationship between the dancers evoked a haunting reality. Presently, human beings interact with technology with ease, while avoiding the person standing mere inches away. Not only did the dancers avoid eye contact, but the audience was absurdly drawn to the screens instead of the live performers.

The movement eventually stopped, and the original dancer was left on stage alone. Only one video played, depicting an incredibly well-trained person with impressive physicality working through a solo in a studio. The soloist on stage worked to mimic the movement on the video but eventually stopped moving altogether. Mentally glued to the screen, she said the words that correlated with the movement rather than actually dancing. The deconstruction of the human being to nothing more than words suggested that with the influx of reliance on technology as a source of inspiration, people could potentially become nothing more than media zombies.

Upon completion of the solo, the dancer left the stage and the entire organization of the piece was reconfigured. The musician moved to downstage left, and sat in a chair with a monitor connected to his head. Through use of his brainwaves, the mechanism sent impulses via Bluetooth technology to an EEG machine stationed upstage right. The three dancers suited up, in plain view of the audience, applying three Wii remote controls to their body. When the dancers announced they were ready, avatars appeared on three large drop screens. Each dancer stood in front of a different screen and demonstrated that their movement caused the avatar to also change shape – although not necessarily mirroring the dancer. Meaning, if the dancer lifted her arm, that could cause the avatar to walk. After properly calibrating the avatars, the dancers took the stage.

One screen depicted a woman trapped in a desolate, cement-laden house with nothing inside except a wooden bed. The second screen portrayed a man looking for something in a huge home, and the third screen showed a man slowly standing up. Meanwhile, the impulses sent from the guitarist to the EEG machine generated a rhythm that never felt timely or expected. The dancers, still reproducing the televised images, now caused the avatars to move as a result. Eventually, one dancer mimicked the avatar, which was moving because of the first dancer mimicking the television. Next, the third dancer copied the dancer mimicking the avatar. This snowball occurred for many long minutes, causing the tension and uneasiness in the room to build until finally everything stopped.

Just as life is cyclical, so was the piece. The woman kicking the wall established a rhythm and commenced the work, while the EEG machine completed the piece. The transition from human to machine has become so typical in the context of sustaining life, although the rate at which people rely on technology in order to live life has become alarmingly more commonplace.