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e-Dance | Arts and Humanities E-Science Support Centre

e-Dance: Relocating Choreographic Process

The e-Dance Project investigates the impact of Access Grid technologies and collective memory on the documentation of practice-led research in dance. Access Grid is used collaboratively for creation and analysis of distributed performances.

This case study describes work in progress and will be updated as the project evolves.

Project partners
Project team
Project information
Description of aims
Description of methods
Description of outcomes and issues
Significance for Research
Future Work Enabled
Evidence of Dissemination Activities
Further information, bibliography and links

Project partners

  • Open University, UK
  • University of Bedfordshire, UK
  • University of Leeds, UK
  • University of Manchester, UK

Project Team

Principal Investigator:

  • Helen Bailey, Faculty of Creative Arts, Technologies and Science, University of Bedfordshire

Co-Investigators:

  • Simon Buckingham Shum, Knowledge Media Institute, Open University
  • Michael Daw, Research Computing Services, University of Manchester
  • Sita Popat, School of Performance and Cultural Industries, University of Leeds
  • Martin Turner, Research Computing Services, University of Manchester


Project information

Funding bodies

The e-Dance project is funded by the UK AHRC-JISC-EPSRC e-Science Initiative (the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Joint Information Systems Committee, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council).

Type of project

Dance e-science

Application area

Performing arts, collaborative performance, documentation, 3D visualisation, dissemination.

Project duration

1 September 2007 – 31 August 2009

Project website

http://projects.kmi.open.ac.uk/e-dance/

Type of project

Dance e-science

Keywords

Live performance, dance, choreography, digital multimedia, telematics, Access Grid, collaborative hybrid environments, motion capture, visualisation, projection, recording, annotation, documentation.

Application area

Performing arts, collaboration, distributed performance, documentation, 3D visualisation, dissemination, virtual research environment.

Description of aims

The e-Dance project addresses some of the key problems in live performance and choreographic studies, and aims to investigate:

  • How to capture and document the incremental development of ideas and their material manifestation in the creative process within practice-led research?
  • How to establish a mutually beneficial dialogue between dance and e-science?

Central to this project are two key interdisciplinary research questions which pertain to the intersection of performance and e-science:

  • What unique opportunities does the distributed Access Grid environment provide for developing new approaches to choreographic composition and processes? Within this context, how can we find new, appropriate and meaningful methodologies for capturing and modelling practice-led research? In improvisational, embodied investigation, the mode of engagement is generative, pre-verbal, intuitive, experiential and fluid. This militates against types of cognitive engagement necessary for analysis, critique and reflection. The problem is acute in the context of performing arts, and dance in particular, being also pertinent to other ephemeral arts.
  • How can choreographic knowledge and sensibility help to shape e-science infrastructure and practice to make its applications more usable within the field of performance arts practice-led research, as well as the broader Arts and Humanities context? In order to support creative processes better, the Access Grid interface has to offer a spatial and aesthetic alternative to the standard desktop, as well as access to a wide range of computing and network resources that are required in performance. The use of advanced visualisation tools and other means of representation of spatial and temporal structures and discourses has to accommodate the fluidity of concepts as they transverse the two domains.

Description of methods

The e-Dance project uses video conferencing technologies, motion tracking and other digital tools to facilitate interactive, multimedia, distributed performance, i.e. staged in more than one venue and employing a variety of traditional and digital means of expression. The use of the same tools and infrastructure is investigated for documentation of dance performances and more generally to support practice-led research in this area. The description of technical development that follows has been provided by the Research Computing team of the University of Manchester and is adapted here from http://www.rcs.manchester.ac.uk/research/eDance; the same description is also available at http://wiki.rcs.manchester.ac.uk/community/eDance/SoftwareDeliverables.

The e-Dance project has proposed "software developments to facilitate multiple stages of dance, from initial ideas to the finite performance, and throughout the lifecycle of the practice-lead research. The project responds to the needs of performing artists in a cinematic context of Access Grid, it investigates the methods best suited for the documentation of the performance process and dissemination of research results. These software developments include the support for enhanced video features within the Access Grid; flexible and powerful video annotation for performers; enhancements to support the planning of dance pieces in virtual spaces, and the capture of rich, multi-level annotations and session metadata; tools to enable performances to feature rehearsal and past performance records; editing and conversion software to allow Access Grid recordings to be presented in common media formats; and an interface to data Grid technology to host the potentially huge amounts of recorded material generated by the performance and documentation process in an Access Grid context.

Description of outcomes and issues

Enhancements to Access Grid Video

The needs of performance artists using Access Grid as a medium are not well served by the current inflexibility of the video tool. Therefore, the e-Dance project aims to ensure that the Mbone tool VIC (used for video within the open source Access Grid toolkit) supports arbitrary video resizing, full screen video, chromakey-like functionality and other similar enhancements. Drawing on earlier work in this area, notably the developments implemented by Darren Edmundson of the Australia National University, [REF] and the integration into VIC's common code base proposed by the SUMOVER project [REF], e-Dance is performing additional integration tasks to ensure that this infrastructure meets the needs of the dance community.

Enhanced ScreenStreamer Software

The Access Grid software called Memetic was originally intended for streaming in real-time and recording of a meeting that is held on multiple sites. Its development is being guided by the specific needs of dance. This development focus on ScreenStreamer, which is a tool for streaming a user’s desktop to other participants in an Access Grid session that is recorded along with other video and audio in the session. Although this tool was designed to expedite the meeting process, it has potential application in this domain, such as in the streaming of pre-recorded material into a performance. It has been proposed to extend this tool and improve it to offer better performance and usability, especially for its anticipated usage scenarios in this domain. Specific developments are improving performance by the integration of more efficient codecs (e.g. H.261, H.264), the exploration of platforms other than Java Media Framework, and user interface enhancements such as the selection of particular windows to stream (as opposed to the whole desktop).

Choreographic Planning Tool

Any representation of choreography must be capable of expressing the three spatial dimensions plus a fourth for time. Further complexity is added by networked physical spaces, with all the possible interactions between them of performers and media. It is anticipated, therefore, that the cognitive demands of planning and rehearsing such pieces may be considerable, and could be relieved by interactive representations that help choreographers and performers visualise event lines. Ways of organising icons representing performers and multimedia fragments are therefore being tested temporally and spatially within Compendium, a hypermedia desktop visualisation tool (Fig. 2). Three-dimensional, zoomable user interfaces (ZUIs) are one design option that is being considered. The development in this area depends on finding means to exploit effectively the principles of spatial perception and cognition, i.e. in a way that is useful to the end-user in terms of their learning and within an acceptable response time when the software is run on standard laptops.

Portable Video Mapping Studio

Artists working in locations other than Access Grid nodes would benefit from a better tool to record, replay, annotate, argue about, and disseminate video. A digital video player will be integrated into Compendium to create a self-contained ‘Video Mapping Studio’ which can be used on a non-networked laptop. This would enable the user to import movies in standard digital video formats such as AVI and QuickTime from their cameras; Compendium can be used to annotate video as the material is being performed, and subsequently; these private resources can then be synchronised with a Memetic server, to enable remote access, annotation and replay capabilities.

User Interface to Support the Performance Process

Documenting the process of rehearsals and performance will be greatly served by current capabilities of Memetic and Compendium. However, these tools were designed for more formal meeting-like contexts. The user interface of these tools is being enhanced to be more appropriate for the needs of the practice-led dance community. User interfaces are being developed that can capture performance and rehearsal metadata and rich, multi-level annotations that meet the needs of the performance art domain.

Support for Memory Input into Performances

Memetic and Compendium are being used to allow performances to feature rehearsal and past performance records, so allowing research into the blurring of the boundaries between performance and documentation. There are user interface and other areas of development required for both Memetic and Compendium to enable this functionality.

Memetic Support for Common Media Formats

The dissemination of performance work is an important part of the research lifecycle. Whilst the RTP format of Access Grid media streams that is stored by Memetic is appropriate for real-time collaboration systems (the format is also used for H.323 traditional videoconferencing), it is not readily suitable for, for example, showing as part of a PowerPoint presentation or to record onto DVD. The conversion of RTP to common media formats (such as AVI) is not simply a technical development, as there is an editing process required (Access Grid sessions have multiple – often many tens – of video and audio streams that must be condensed to a single feed to be played by Windows Media Player, or QucikTime. Editing functionality is therefore being developed as part of the Memetic software to convert the RTP streams to a format playable by common media players. To enable this, the development of a highly usable interface is a priority.

Interface to Large Data Stores (SRB)

A typical Access Grid session generates large amounts of media data. For example, a session involving three or four sites each with three or four video streams, a single audio stream and a desktop sharing session may generate about 4GB per hour. As Memetic records all of these data, a large hard disk capacity is required for the server. In this project, Memetic is used to record whole days of performance rehearsals between multiple sites that may also include the transmission of other media streams, such as pre-recorded video. These types of scenarios potentially entail massive storage requirements beyond what is reasonable from a single Memetic server installation. It is proposed to allow Memetic to take advantage of heterogeneous data resources available on a data Grid and thereby overcome scalability issues, as well as implicitly offering a solution to problems of backup. We will use Storage Resource Broker technology implemented on resources provided by the National Grid Service. There are interesting technological issues arising from both the storage and subsequent playback of recorded media streams that are not stored locally. Because timings for data retrieval over a network are not guaranteed there are issues for the smooth playback of a remotely-stored recording that may require solutions such as the caching of data on a local disk."

Significance for Research

The effect of application of e-science technologies to dance may be fully appreciated through the comparison with more traditional methods for creating, participating, appreciating, analysing, disseminating and documenting a performance. The use of visualisation and motion capture technologies pioneered since the late 1980s. The famous performances of digital dance such as those by the US group, Troika Ranch, using Mark Coniglio's Isadora tracking software, and later, Merce Cunningham's Riverbed collaborations (from 1997), named so after the software used, and Bill T. Jones's Ghostcatching (1999), paved the way for technological and artistic innovation in live performance. Typically staged on a single site and relying on local computer infrastructure, these were localised phenomena concerned primarily with artistic and conceptual issues in corporeal and virtual performance. Building upon these experiences, the e-Dance project is expanding the creative possibilities of choreographers, performers and producers by enhancing the range of digital tools at their disposal, and by staging performance in a hybrid (physical and virtual), distributed (local and global) collaborative environment. Telematic communication and interactivity enabled by Access Grid and other technologies have widened access to and participation in live performance. The project has also opened performance to new practice-led research by providing enhanced tools for distributed collaboration in real time.

The impact of e-science technology on choreography and dance is reciprocal. The technological developments guided by the needs of dance practitioners and researchers, are likely to extend the potential of grid technologies to the benefit of other performing arts, and the Arts and Humanities in general. In particular, e-Dance is demonstrating the need for Access Grid to consider enhanced aesthetics in interface design; enhanced flexibility in converting and accommodating video formats; extended usability of software used to stream pre-recorded material into a performance; and to enhance the potential for storing large data sets of dance records.

Some of the technical developments described above are part of Portal Access Grid (PAG), which aims to allow the use of the Access Grid through a web browser. Interoperability will be ensured by making streams accessible to both the Open Source and proprietary Access Grid clients (VIC and inSORS).

Future Work Enabled

The e-Dance work in progress has already indicated the benefit for other communities of practice and research. The development of web interfaces and enhanced functionality of digital tools for distributed collaboration and documentation of cognitive and artistic processes will be of particular interest.

By recording and archiving dance at its various stages, from initial ideas to the final performance the e-Dance project is closing the gap between performing practice and archiving, opening the possibilities of these records to be available – if they are kept maintained and preserved – to future research.

Evidence of Dissemination Activities

Full list at http://projects.kmi.open.ac.uk/e-dance/

19 February 2009: Demonstration at Repository of Access Grid Collaborative Events Workshop, Kilburn Building, University of Manchester, see http://www.rcs.manchester.ac.uk/community/confevents/RACEWorkshop and http://projects.kmi.open.ac.uk/e-dance/category/event/manchester-janfeb-2008/.

September 2008: Presentation at AHM 2008 workshop, http://www.allhands.org.uk/archive/2008/programme/proceedings.html.

Further information, bibliography and links

e-Dance website, http://projects.kmi.open.ac.uk/e-dance/

e-Dance project page on the website of the Research Computing Services of the University of Manchester, http://www.rcs.manchester.ac.uk/research/eDance

Helen Bailey, James Hewison and Martin Turner, 'Choreographic Morphologies: Digital Visualisation of Spatio-Temporal Structure in Dance and the Implications for Performance and Documentation', Proceedings of the Electronic Visualisation and the Arts Conference (EVA), ed. by S. Dunn, S. Keene, G. Mallen and J. Bowen, British Computer Society, London, 22-24 July 2008, EVA Conferences International, pp. 9-18.

Helen Bailey, Stuart Dunn, James Hewison and Martin Turner, 'Choreographic Morphologies: Interdisciplinary Crossovers in the Use of Digital Visualisation Methods in Dance and Archaeology', Visualisation in Archaeology: Online Research Showcase, [October 2008], http://www.viarch.org.uk/content/research-summaries-detail.asp?ProjectID=12

[NN], 'Traditional subjects, new technologies', JISC Inform, 24 March 2009, http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/documents/inform24.aspx#traditionalsubjects

Helen Bailey, Michelle Bachler, Simon Buckingham Shum, et al., 'Dancing on the Grid: Using e-Science Tools to Extend Choreographic Research', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, Theme Issue — Crossing Boundaries: Computational Science, E-Science and Global E-Infrastructures. Forthcoming. PDF version available at http://projects.kmi.open.ac.uk/e-dance/2009/01/20/dancing-on-the-grid-article/ (This is an updated version of the paper presented at the All Hands Meeting, Edinburgh 2008.)

Related project

JISC STARS
http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/einfrastructure/stars.aspx
http://stars.ilrt.bris.ac.uk/

_____

© e-Dance Project, May 2009.

Back to e-Science Initiative projects page


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