The Creative Process
I used several books as a source of inspiration to generate ideas to explore with the dancers in the studio : Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and The Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter and Craig Detweiler’s IGods: How technology shapes our spiritual and social life, in particular.
Both books relate to the influences of technology and social media on our daily life. We often think that the fast advancement of technology has a negative effect on human interaction but both authors agree that the nature of technology and internet is positive. Adam Alter explains in his book that technology isn’t inherently bad. It is how technology is being used and marketed that can cause the negative effects and Craig Detwetler talks about technology as the tie that binds us. He describes how social media and technology brought us to form countless virtual communities. How the Internet was created to bring people together from different backgrounds and distances, but he also warns us that this should not replace real human interaction.
Now that we are isolated at home, During the Covid-19 crisis, I couldn’t imagine how I would be able to stay connected to the world without it. The internet is an essential tool these days for all of our communication. We are connecting to our loved ones near and far, yet spending too much time on social media, for example, can lead into reading opinionated posts, or fake posts that can cause negative feelings and stress.
I was interested to play with the positive and negative effects of technology in the studio to find interesting material that can be infused from this contrast. I was also looking to create connections through movements that do not relate to technology but to simple human interaction and conversation.
For example – in Irresistible, Adam Alter describes society’s obsession with creating and achieving goals and how our devices are programed to alert us whether we succeed or fail to the point that we actively neglect other important aspects of our lives. This idea led to a series of improvisations from which we created movement vocabulary that is stressed, hectic, and abrupt.
During the first couple of months we rehearsed for both of the pieces stimulatingly. Developing ideas and finding inspirations to generate different movement qualities that will reflect on the different aspects of technology and communication and the contrast between the advantages and disadvantages it can offer.
In the first rehearsal I asked the dancers to take a walk in the streets of New York City without their smart phones. When they came back from the walk, they had to improvise the experience. It was interesting to see how the movement that came out reflected some anxiety but also a sense of peace and calmness. The dancers expressed the anxiety to want to look at their phones yet, as they continued to walk, they were able to observe the street in a different way than they had before and notice more details. They enjoyed this freedom they had for themselves, and not worry about receiving a call or a text.
To make the connection with the different stages of developments in technology, I started to bring the many devices I collected, and we improvised with those devices, testing what kind of movement and interaction each device can generate. When it came to some of the old devices it was interesting to notice that the dancers never used any of those before – such as a VCR, a typewriter a fax machine or a cassette player. The dancers are from the generation of new technology and born into the age of cell phones. The playfulness of the dancers becoming familiar with those devices as well as learning the functionality of each device generated many possibilities of movement and explorations.
Dancer Maclean Frey talks about his interaction with the old technology:
Throughout the process of the development of your work, I was able to think about the evolution of technology in a way in which I haven't thought before. My family, until recently, had always stored our old useless technology in the basement for no reason, and I had never really questioned it. The idea of taking something old and pointless and to and give it a new meaning was fascinating to me. We are all so quick to disregard anything once its deemed useless in our lives, and I believe the idea of not writing things off so quickly is something that I will take with me from this project.
Each performer created a solo in which they dance with their personal smart phone. We explored dancing these solos with and without the device which created a sense of absence and anxiety when the device was gone, the movement material was fascinating. We also explored dancing this material while using the various functions of the phone – texting, talking, listening to music, watching a video etc.
I also directed the performers to explore how they relate to each other if they were multi-tasking. We tried dancing and improvising while texting each other, calling on facetime and taking selfies. This created movement that showed our obsession for attention - on social media and/or with each other.
We had a collection of words that were a starting point to generate different qualities of movements and tasks such as – Interrupted, short circuit, quest, plan, striving, target, abrupt, sluggish, precise, calculated, organized, measure, procrastination, avoidance, realization, direction, evaluate and many more In some rehearsals I texted these words to the dancers and each had to respond in their dancing to the word, in any which way they liked.
We also worked on engaging in intimately. With all devices put aside we practiced telling each other stories about ourselves that revel something from our life. The idea was to share intimacy with each other in the simplest way – a conversation. Interestingly enough, this was a hard challenge for the dancers. Without the ability to hide behind any device or with movement, the simplest way of communication felt very vulnerable to all. We also practiced seating in silence with each other and slowly it became more and more comfortable and the dancers felt they could open up to each other to share some stories but also to share their silence.
We collected a lot of information, material and improvisation tasks that the dancers became familiar with. I built an order and a structure that will serve as a script for both of the pieces. Starting from the introduction of the devices and having all the technology active and slowly evolve into the silent conversation part. I wanted both pieces to arrive at a place where all technology shuts down and human interaction and conversation is all that is left. I started to create a narrative for each piece which consisted of a list of tasks for the dancers based on all the previous explorations. While the structure was set as an outline for the piece, the dancers still had choices to interpret the storyline in their physicality. I wanted to keep the piece open with possibilities within the structure, so there will be space for the dancers to express themselves and react to the moment rather that execute precise choreography each time.
Dancer, Israel Louis Harris describes the process:
It felt like there was a lot of information we already knew and had available to play around with. On the other hand, there was a lot of information we gained from playing around in space and with the objects. At some points it felt like there was too much information, and other times, not enough. Understanding and organizing all of this into a structure took a lot of time, but once the structure became more stable, I could really notice where the moments of freedom were effective, and where we needed more restrictions
I was also creating the visuals and sounds for the piece. I brought demos to the studio to explore how to project videos onto different surfaces and screens with the dancers. We used images of crowds in public places where everyone was on their phones, images of phones from the early 1900s to today, and Instagram feeds. We also explored with creating a live feed from one of the dancer’s phones through a projection. The soundtrack became a collage of familiar phone ring tones, alerts, text sounds and old sounds of a printing machine, typewriter and much more. It evokes a sense of nostalgia as well as familiarity.
Although both pieces shared the same ideas and narrative, they were each very different. And it was time to start preparing for each on its own.
For the (boxed edition) we had to start rehearsing with only two dancers at a time while the other dancers pretended to be the audience, interacting with the objects and the performers. It required a lot of experiments, trying to imagine how audiences might respond to being so close to the performers in a small room.
For the extended version I had to figure out how to find the way to make the piece more performative so that the audience can take in all the information and not be completely overwhelmed.
The shift in rehearsals between each piece was necessary but was also confusing for the dancers. In the end I think this helped them build confident in all the ideas and find their own freedom and personality within the list of tasks.