It has been a long time since I last posted something. September was a pretty full month: the conference Fabulation for Future (my very first conference as a speaker!), a 5-days-workshop about the programming language P5, the Festival Venere in Teatro in Venice and Wam! in Faenza, which I co-curated, and on the top of that the workshop following the Fabulation for Future conference. October was then dedicated to working and reflecting on the many inputs I received during the previous month. Not an easy task.
Recently I felt the urge to look back at what I had and how I felt before Covid-19. The situation I am living in now has cast an ambiguous and uncanny vail on the past. How was I practicing dance? How was I “visiting” dance, before Covid-19? How was the digital dimension perceived and practiced in the arts, before this wave of forced digitization engulfed my way of living in the digital?
In 2010 I had the chance to co-curate and co-direct what I still think to have been a pionieristic project about choreography and social media. It was – and still is – called DanceMe.
This on-line community composed by free-lancers choreographers, and which turned later on into a mobile app, relates nicely with a very strong, flexible and polysemic concept: the concept of frame. In the case of DanceMe it was inspired by what Goffmann refers to as a frame, an interactive context, an area of inter-subjective expression which is in some way shared by the participants. If we wanted to enrich and enhance this concept, and adding some inspiration from Latour, we could say that as participants we intended not only human beings but also the technological apparatuses in which they are operating: the video technology (and the related video-techniques), the app, the physical device they are operating with (and the related digital literacy), the connectedness they are relying on.
The concept of frame is not so much an addition to reality, as a device, or a group of devices, which supports reality. The mobile app of DanceMe is therefore a creative tool providing dance practitioners with a new frame for their work and with a device enabling them to (a) create an external record of their thoughts, (b) pass from the abstract conceptualization of an idea to its concrete representation, (c) make thoughts and intentions accessible for personal reflection, (d) provide a medium through which other individuals can interact, negotiate concepts and develop new ideas, (e) create an ongoing archive, where work can be stored and reaccessed in the future.
That said, I just rummaged through my digital wardrobe, and found two video interviews I made in 2017 with two artists I had the chance to meet thanks to DanceMe. It was a great occasion to hear some pre-pandemic opinions about the possible entanglements between dance, choreography and the digital world(s).
As Smith (2017, p. 523) reflects, “(s)ocial media technologies offer the potential to question how dance is delivered and experienced, as where it is experienced”. Interestingly enough, the question about the “place” is central in both interviews, but not from the side of the audience, as of the artist. Both Aya and Kat prize the “portability” of the choreographic process thanks to the mobile device. As if the emerging choreography would be something inside your pocket, on the bus and on the train with you. It would be with you everywhere. Aya affirms that the digital creative process on the app helped her to give birth to several smaller dance pieces, that she would later on edit together. Indeed, this metaphor of giving birth to a choreography helps me understand better the previous idea of “bringing” the dance with you everywhere: one gives birth, literally takes something out of their body, and this something will accompany them for a while, thanks to its presence in the form of videoclips inside the app. I must think at the Tamagotchi experience during the nineties…
I still remember a video that Aya posted on DanceMe along her creative process. It was filmed inside a train, she was travelling somewhere and she was filming the landscape she was seeing out of the window, a barren, hot and dry plain. Looking at her video I had my “wow” moment. I said to myself: well, we did it. Aya was practicing her freedom and her choreographic ideas through DanceMe. We just helped her expressing this freedom to create everywhere, bringing the choreographic process outside the rehearsal room and into the gaze of a train traveller. What was also interesting to me is that she would capture and make her process available in that very moment, through the video. Raw, as she says in the interview. “Raw” is a nice word describing the way social dance-media (Bench, 2010) plays with choreography.
DanceMe was also acting in that moment as “the ignorant dramaturg” Cvejić reports about (in Georgelou, K., et al., 2017, p. 205). The dramaturg is not, according to her “someone who observes a process from the outside and has the right questions to ask that will ‘improve’ or ‘fix’ the work; the one who ‘knows better’, and who can predict how the audience will react to a performance”, but rather “the ‘co-creator of a problem'”, producing “constraint that will act as enabling conditions for the work to be created”. In the case of Aya, the problem was how to deal with a creative urge arising in a place – a train – not devoted and not officially able to host her practice of dance. Her solution was to crystallize that precise moment into a video, showing an elsewhere, for us viewers and for her traveller.
Bench, H. (2010). Screendance 2.0: Social dance-media. Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, 7(2), 183-214.
Georgelou, K., Protopapa, E., & Theodoridou, D. (2017). The catalytic function of dramaturgy: Working on actions in choreographic processes. In Contemporary Choreography (pp. 201-214). Routledge.
Goffman, E. (1974). Frame Analysis, an essay on the organization of experience. Harper & Row.
Smith, S. (2017). Social media and choreographic practice: Creative tools for collaboration, co-creation and creative practice. In Contemporary Choreography (pp. 511-527). Routledge.