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Costume Choreography II – Istanbul 2008

Textiles, interaction, movements, light and sound: This is no regular choreography!

Diffus was invited to the Amber 08 body-process-art festival in Istanbul and presented an interactive dance performance at Talimhane theatre for the closing session of the festival.

The costumes with embedded light patterns made out of electroluminescent material are reacting to each others proximity and variation of distance. The distance is evaluated on the fly with the help of built in ultrasound sensors. We defined four zones of proximity, each with their own set of pattern language. The dancer were able to use the flowing evolution of patterns as a visual cue for adapting their gestures and inspiring their choreography.


 Artistic Experiment Project

Collaborative project

We were four people travelling from Denmark meeting four people in Istanbul. In Turkey we collaborated with two contemporary dancers, a designer and a PhD-student in interactive performance. The aim was to continue to work with the ideas developed in the first costume choreography shown in Copenhagen in 2008 and refine patterns and interaction possibilities. The communication device developed for the CCII was made by 2 by 4 ultrasound speakers and two receivers. This was incorporated in the costumes and thereby the costumes were always capable of calculating the distance between them. The distance was translated into light patterns meaning that the patterns were changing differently if the distance was ten meters than if the distance was 40 centimetres. 

The importance of light

Light has always had a central role for stage design. It is lighting that directs the audience from one location to another and from one stage of mind to another. Lighting points the way to the audience’s attention. And through movement in lighting such as change in intensity, colour, form or direction it is possible to create action and enhance or shrink the performance space. Lighting is normally considered the final unifying force of the stage composition together with scenography and costumes. Our goal is to unify these elements or make them ‘talk’ together: The costumes have light embedded and ideally the scenography has too. The light intensity from external light as well as in costumes and scenography has an impact on the wireless and analysing communication system that almost like a puppet-master is controlling the performance. And movements from the dancers as well as interaction from the audience change the light and sound.

The way we use light is as patterns embedded into the texture of textiles, this seems to reconciliate material and immaterial elements of the design into one tangible and evolving experience. When light becomes texture in our costumes it also means that light becomes an integrated part of the artefact, used for its abilities to create surface structures and not necessarily for its affordance to produce ambient lighting effects. Textural light appeals therefore first to our tactile senses, as an analog technology before we perceive it as ambient source of immaterial self-illumination.

Interplay between analog and digital

What interests us here is the interplay between ‘analog’ and ‘digital’ properties of a composite material resulting from combining traditional materials like textiles and immaterial substances like light patterns. For this purpose, we often ‘downgrade’ the substance of light to make it appear as tangible, textured and tactile as the analog material in which it is interweaved. We achieve that by making the light patterns visible while avoiding the EL wires and films to appear on the surfaces. Light patterns are therefore always mediated, blurred and filtered trough a semi translucent surface of ‘analog’ material. The way our senses perceive those two materials gets very similar when light patterns get integrated into material in a homogeneous manner instead of simply be superposed or juxtaposed.

Since light patterns are intimately embedded into an ‘analog’ material, we tend to be surprised when textiles react as a digital device, allowing for example real-time interactions. Our senses and intuition are surprised when a material offers radically new properties compared to those they normally are known for. Such hybrid material, allowing types of uses and states which are opposed to its seemingly affordance, offers tremendous possibilities for story telling and design experiments.

Bauhaus inspiration

The aim with CC is to merge the embodiment, volatility, choreography and instruction of the theatre with sensor based technology and this light-textured fabric. Through CC we have created a performance, where the choreography of the costumes has the leading role. The costumes acts like protagonists rather than ’just’ as support for other leading theatre elements. The inspiration for this approach came partly from Oskar Schlemmer, who was the leader of the Bauhaus scene in the Weimar-republic, Germany from 1924 till 1929. He focused in his performances on the costume design and made with his ”Das Triadishe Ballett” from 1922 almost a ballet for costumes.

With playful elegance Schlemmer explored aspects of the art of theatre that until then only had a secondary and supporting role. His work was based on the human figure as a model determined by mathematical and geometrical formulae and his performances was a fusion of the three elements dance, costume and soundscape. Schlemmer analysed and isolated the primary gestures in the movement of the human body, reduced them to a basic set of elementary forms (the ellipse, straight line, diagonal, and circle) and designed first his costumes and then dance steps based upon these forms. This was used as an exploration of the relationship between the moving body and abstract space based on the idea of man as machine and the body as a mechanism. The ballet was choreographed to reveal and investigate the relationships between the figures as well as to the space around them. He saw this abstract ballet as free from the historical baggage of theatre and opera and therefore able to present ideas of choreographed geometry and man as dancer, transformed by costume and moving in space.

It is this tradition we wanted to build upon striving to investigate and understand what consequences, possibilities and limitations new technology have for the scenic expression. The major difference due to the distance in time is that were Schlemmer connected his ideas of man as machine with the industrial age of precision and repetition we want to work with the characteristics of the contemporary machine, the computer, with its skills of variation, customisation and connectability. Instead of having a fixed and repeatable choreography formed by the costumes we work with movement given by the costumes. The costumes become instruments of light and sound that have a specific tune but can be played differently each time.

Interactive scenic expression

CC was a way to investigate new forms of ‘instrumental and embodied interaction’ and understand what possibilities technology based on interactive textiles combined with dynamic EL-patterns have for the scenic expression. Further we want to expand our research toward the urban space, everyday clothes, artifacts and architectural or sculptural forms.

Design and concept: Hanne-Louise Johannesen and Michel Guglielmi (Diffus Design)
Programming and engineering: Asbjørn Holland Christensen
Choreography: Tomomi Yamauchi
Sponsered by Danish Arts Counsil