Theater/Dance and New Media and Information Technologies

/, Theatre/Film, Blesok no. 22/Theater/Dance and New Media and Information Technologies

Theater/Dance and New Media and Information Technologies

These are understandable fears and reasonable speculations – especially from a competitive, market economy, ‘survival of the fittest’ perspective. However, I feel that there are indications that ‘live’ performer will not be replaced in either the near or distant future by the ‘virtual’ or electronic actor or dancer… and this has to do not with survival of the fittest, but with the survival of something whose value may be in the process of being recognised anew… such may be the case, I propose, with the ritual of attending live performance.
We are historically in a transition phase which is partially signified by an infatuation with the ‘new media’ worlds of virtual reality, interactive multimedia, cyberspace, hypertexts, global villages, etc. There are already indications that the period of hype is settling down. The initial euphoria for virtual reality is already partially over as indicated in Chapter 7 of Brenda Laurel’s updated version of her book Computers as Theater. In 1991, Amsterdam based De Balie organised a Summer Festival in 1991 where it was proposed that the ‘body’ has “turned out to be the weakest link in technology”. A publication associated with the festival titled Wetware focussed on this theme of the obsolete body, the “human remnant which is left behind in the electronic era”. There have been many such conferences and publications produced in the first half of the last decade of this century from within communities experiencing a period of infatuation with the digital revolution.
For some it may never have been in question, but in the context of developments in ‘new media’ and digital technologies, the value of material place and physical human contact is reasserting itself. It is easy enough to imagine the internet as a ‘public’ space – as indicated by the formation of many digital communities and cities around the world. However, the speculation that we might replace ‘real’ human contact with virtual contact seems to be evaporating. In 1984, William Gibson wrote a book in which he is credited to have coined the term ‘cyberspace’. Many embraced Gibson’s vision of a virtual world in which all human capacities both mental and physical could fully function as a realisable vision of the future. However, Gibson himself has acknowledged recently in an interview that the world he imagined has not come to pass and it is likely that it never will. His latest book of fiction, Idoru, is still extremely futuristic – but the notion of the body as simply ‘meat’ has been adapted to fit within more humanistic dimensions.
Indications of this shift can be found in other fields. In a letter to the International Herald Tribune (29 April 1998) entitled “The ‘New Economy’ Likes Old Community”, Neal Peirce cites the recent work of leading economists who are saying that new technologies are NOT causing the predicted dispersal of working communities to remote, (lovely) rural areas from which they can conduct their business. Rather, the impact of new technologies is now seen in the fluid and adaptive nature of the ‘new economy’ which functions best and most creatively when people can come together face-to-face… even if only for short, intensive periods.
These are indications of the process of cultural transformation where social change interacts with technological developments. In my opinion, we will see society beginning to sort out its priorities and, perhaps in reaction and resistance to the notion of virtuality (and the nightmare of information overload), the value of our physical and material public space will increase. And we should not forget the growing global support for environmental and ecological efforts to save the future of the physical world.
My proposal here is that as the infatuation with virtual reality and cyberspace diminishes, we will re-embrace live performance events and re-congregate in the material buildings and places which exist for them. In societies overwhelmed with the problems of too much data, theater and dance will function as a ‘content-rich’ and information filtered events – which will contribute to their survival. These developments will help to partially re-invigorate live performance forms – but by no means can we sit still waiting for this to happen. Dance and theater must simultaneously be working to re-invent themselves as relevant to a society looking for new constellations and configurations of meaning which make sense for today.

Reinvention and New Art Forms

The re-invention of live performance can take place from inside its existing forms and from outside in the development of new art forms and disciplines. As surely as with photography and film, new media technologies will give rise to new art forms (the British Film and Television Academy is trying to get a jump on this by creating a new category for awards in the area of ‘interactive multimedia’). Just as with photography and film, these new art forms will have an impact on theater and dance. In addition to the interactive multimedia, there are already interesting new developments in the area of communication and networked artforms, inspired by the internet.
These new art forms will demand other modes of perception which will alter our ways in which we restage Shakespeare or mount a new choreography. New technologies will also alter the modes of production of live performance. As I mentioned before, the more or less direct application and implementation of new media and information technologies in live performance is being explored by artists working with telematic performance spaces, computerized scenographic and lighting design, computerized choreography and performer controlled stage environments, holographic actors/ dancers, etc. However, the fundamental time/ space conditions for the public ritual that is theater and dance (arrival at and for a specified time and space as determined by the maker) will not necessarily change.
It is likely that we will continue to see live performance using increasingly mixed-means – a multidisciplinary performance art in which independent media, dance, film/ video, sound, scenography, texts, etc. come together to create more relevant and dynamic spectacles. Whether this is more dance or theater may become increasingly unclear. Definitions may be left up to the programmers, producers, journalists and critics who usually help determine categories for the public. I suspect we will see less strictly text-based theater… and a more physical one. Possibly ‘dance’ will increase in value. Johannes Odenthal, former editor of Ballett International, on the work of artists such as DV8, Jan Fabre, Meg Stuart, etc. writes: “Contemporary dance, or better, dance-theatre, gives (the) deconstructions of current images and concepts a dramatic actuality that contemporary theatre can hardly achieve”.
There will, I believe, be new forms of dramaturgy developed which will be relevant for the mixing of these media, and there will also be new creative organisations which evolve more fluid ways of working with companies of performers, audience and community development, support for the growth and development of the makers/ directors/ choreographers, etc. – organisational forms like Victoria in Gent. In education, such new forms are being developed at DasArts – an advanced training institution for artists which is associated with the Amsterdam School of the Arts. DasArts is actively seeking more relevant educational contexts for young artists and is indicative of directions in which creative thinking in arts education might evolve… away from the ‘institution’ and more towards fluid and adaptive circumstances.

AuthorScott deLahunta
2018-08-21T17:23:43+00:00 October 1st, 2001|Categories: Theory, Theatre/Film, Blesok no. 22|0 Comments