Wired for movement
Columbia College plugs in to the future of dance.
You don’t have to read a 3,000-word review of the latest smart-phone platform, pored over as fastidiously as a Haneke film, to realize how deeply technology has drilled itself into the cultural consciousness. Botched user interface transitions in a car’s dashboard firmware have become as ripe for ridicule as an egregious misuse of accessories on Project Runway. In tune with this state of the art, the creatives invited to participate in “Science, Technology and Dance”—running this weekend through March 20 at Columbia College Chicago—aren’t asking themselves whether the virtual exists in the real world. They’re using the medium of performance to negotiate the terms of that relationship while we still have time.
Although Phil Reynolds, executive director of the school’s Dance Center, says it’s more of a “curatorial thread” than a festival, the opportunity to see and compare Koosil-ja/danceKUMIKO, Troika Ranch, Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, William Forsythe’s Web project Synchronous Objects, OpenEnded Group and Chicago’s Luftwerk amounts to nothing less than a summit on the subject. (An appearance by Australia’s Chunky Move would’ve been a nice addition, but the resultant overload probably would’ve caused us to short-circuit.) Reynolds wasn’t just looking for pieces tagged “multimedia,” either: He and Bonnie Brooks, chair of the Dance Center, wanted to show creations where tech “is manifest in the work and in the choreographers’ research processes.”
McGregor is a prime example. In collaboration with biologists, psychologists and cross-pollinated artists such as mad scientist Scott deLahunta, the London-based choreographer has shown a voracious appetite for the source of phenomena like phantom limbs (in 2002’s Nemesis) and muscle memory. His research is mostly left under the hood, though—McGregor’s dances are sexy, cold abstractions in the vein of Forsythe’s middle period, as opposed to the active experimentation of Koosil-ja. There was a lot of chatter in the background when we talked to that young Japanese-born dance maker in New York. We asked if she was at a party.
“No! We’re in rehearsal.” The work she’s premiering at the Dance Center Thursday 4, Blocks of Continuality/Body, Image and Algorithm, is still being assembled; it’s not surprising we caught her at work. As opposed to being a finished product that’s resuscitated “verbatim” for every performance, Koosil-ja is deep in the process of building a highly systematized environment in which the “show” is witnessing her dancers interact with its parameters. “Once the network is established, I’m looking for where the body begins and ends,” she says. Blocks presents, for the brave dancers inside its world, an intricate challenge for the mind—following multiple sources of input in real time via video projection—and body, which is required to track and mimic that input using Wiimotes and nunchaku attachments strapped to limbs. “She’s probably one of the more experimental artists we’ve presented in the last couple of years,” Reynolds says. “I’m not entirely sure what to expect.”
Despite the complexity of Blocks’ rule book, though, Koosil-ja’s aims are simple. “It isn’t about what I’ve found,” she says of her process. “It’s about the question I’m raising. I’m not hiding the Wiimotes—you can easily see them—and I’m not telling the audience, ‘Watch this, watch that.’ I’m just exhibiting the world that I live in. My cell phone extends my body in space and time. It splits it two, three, four ways, so when it came time to decide whether I wanted to incorporate technology into my work, it was more unnatural not to use it somehow.”
Koosil-ja/danceKUMIKO opens at the Dance Center Thursday 4; accompanying exhibit “Digital Incarnate” runs through April 2.