Study #4

Performance Study #4: Dancer/Flautist Sketch, with ECG

 Study #4 is a 10 minute duet for dancer Laura Boudou and flautist Stacey Pelinka, and is intended as a rough sketch of ideas to inform our piece to premiere at Tangente Danse next April 2017. The study is performed with the audience sitting on the floor in the round, facing the exterior of the room. Each observer holds a hand-held mirror, which they adjust to view the choreography from an individual perspective.

The questions underlying this performance experiment are many, but center on an examination of:

  • the relationship between the performers and observers, in a context mediated by hand-held mirrors; and
  • the relationship between the dancer and musician, in a context mediated by the ECG click-track.

We shared this study twice, once for the fellow residents at Djerassi, and once at the Djerassi Open House for a larger audience. In both instances, we received feedback from the public that their active engagement with the dance, by shifting their perspective in the mirrors, led to a sense of immersion. Several people likened the experience to real-time video editing, in which they framed each subsequent shot. Choreographically, this scenario requires an unusual treatment of space, and exaggerates the always-present role of the audience in actively perceiving a performance. The movement vocabulary was created with Laura Boudou based on the experiments regarding breath and weight qualities, mentioned above. The choreography involved a lot of repetition, but with varied spatial patterns, to provide recognizable yet unfamiliar material for observers in their mirrors. If watched from a frontal view, with no mirror, the repetition might seem excessive, however the altered setup required alternate compositional choices.

During the study, the musician played from a simple score, while listening to the live ECG click-track to guide her tempo. Rather than listening to clicks, the beats in the musician’s earpiece were indicated by recorded breath sounds, with which she played in relation. The arc of the choreography was designed with attention to ways in which breath and movement would impact the heart activity of the dancer, and therefore the click-track generated in real-time from the ECG. The music of the flautist provided an abstract form of biofeedback for the dancer as she moved, creating potential for a feedback loop.

Importantly, our goal is not to reproduce the heart activity of dancer in each run, which is impossible on a local level. We embrace the uncertainty that variations in cardiac behavior insert into the temporal relationships in the piece. We are interested in encouraging a live negotiation between the plan (e.g. heart rate = tempo prescribed in the musical score), and the live situation (i.e. variations in heart rate construct a new temporal relationship between the dancer and musician, every time the piece is performed). Enacting this situated awareness requires a particular quality of listening between the dancer and musician, to be discussed further in the section on Listening Techniques.