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Dance-Making on the Internet: Can online choreographic projects foster creativity in the user-participant?
by Sita Popat & Jacqueline Smith-Autard

Abstract:

Interactive Internet artworks invite audience members to become involved as user/participants, as the creative process unfolds. Through analysis of selected Internet projects, the authors discuss the potential for facilitating an interactive, creative experience for participants, in the process of making dance. This study was carried out in 1998/99, as the preparatory research for Popat’s doctoral studies, but the findings remain relevant, as there have been few developments in the field. The only exception to this is Popat’s empirical research, the Hands-On Dance Project, which addresses the issues raised in this paper.

Introduction

The Internet is an increasingly pervasive medium utilising multimedia technologies in global communication and information-sharing. In keeping with its past exploration of media, dance is examining the possibilities of this platform. However, most of the dance on the Internet is presented on the World Wide Web and screened in the form of dance video, created with the constraints and possibilities of video in mind. This use of the Web offers no new opportunities in terms of movement form and content, beyond those already being explored by videodance artists. Indeed, the cheaper and more commonly-available hardware and software for video capture and compression places great limitations on the feasible quality and length of video presentations on the Web. If it is not to take hours downloading via a modem, each video clip must last only a few seconds and be presented in a window that is considerably smaller than the screen. Cutting-edge technology and faster Internet connections improve the quality, but they are expensive and still not common in the home environment. Why, then, should dance artists be interested in the Internet or the World Wide Web as a dance platform at all? The answer lies in the communications technologies implicit in them, and the possibilities for exploring creativity through interaction with the viewer.

This study was carried out between October 1998 and March 1999, as the preparatory research for Sita Popat’s doctoral studies into interactivity and creativity in dance-making on the Internet. Although some time has elapsed since the original research period, the study still remains relevant. Few additional projects have emerged in this area and, aside from Popat’s research, none of them differ in their approach from those described below. The findings presented in this paper led to the development of Popat’s empirical research project, the Hands-On Dance Project, which addresses the issues raised in the analysis.

The Study

The focus of this study is the level of creative involvement that the participant experiences in the process of dance-making via the Internet. It asks whether an interactive dance-making Web site can provide a creative experience for people with widely varying levels of dance knowledge. Given the limited number of examples of this type of project, it is clear that generalised conclusions cannot be drawn from a study of this size. However, it does identify issues for consideration in the design of further interactive Internet dance-making projects, and provides a basis for on-going research in this area.

Between October 1998 and March 1999, Popat conducted a survey of interactive Internet projects that involved the participant in the dance-making process. Only five Web sites were discovered that fell within these parameters. In order to consider the experience of the participant, three projects were selected: Stephan Koplowitz’s Webbed Feats presents Bytes of Bryant Park, Richard Lord’s Progressive 2, and Amanda Steggell’s M@ggie’s Love Bytes. These three projects exemplify the three main approaches to interactive dance-making on the Internet. Webbed Feats uses the Web site as a base for the collection of data, which is then used by the choreographer to create the dance in the absence of the participant. Progressive 2 provides pre-recorded movie segments that the user can arrange on the Web site for his or her personal viewing. M@ggie’s Love Bytes Web site is the asynchronous base for a series of Internet performances, in which participants may become involved synchronously by logging on at the correct time and taking part. Each of these three projects has been analysed to discover if a model exists currently which provides an optimum situation in terms of the creative experience of the participant.

Other projects that involve the participant interactively in creating dance are The Interactive Dancer and Roberta Shaw’s Dance for the Fiberoptic Planes, but these both follow similar approaches to those Web sites selected above. Richard Lord has produced several interactive dance projects on his Web site, but those where the participant physically interacts are similar in nature to Progressive 2, so only this project has been chosen for analysis.

The analysis of M@ggie’s Love Bytes in this study took place in two stages, as the piece only exists in real-time performance. Initial analysis was based on the description available on the Web site. The work was then viewed over the Internet and in the live theatre performance. The analysis has been presented in this study at both stages, as there were some conflicts between the anticipated situation and the actual performance.

Methodology for Analysis

In order to consider the participant’s experience in the interactive dance-making project on the Internet, five people were asked to participate in all three Web sites. They were observed in their interactions with the Web sites and then interviewed to determine their experiences, with emphasis on their feelings of creative involvement in the process and product. As Webbed Feat’s Bytes of Bryant Park had already taken place, the interviewees were taken to the original site and asked to participate as if the performance had not yet occurred. For M@ggie’s Love Bytes, the interviewees visited the Web site and listened to a description of the process, but did not see the performance. Each interview was conducted as a discussion immediately after the participant had interacted with the projects. Open-ended questions were used that varied according to the observations of the participant’s personal interactions. Four main headings were used as guidelines for the interviews:
supportiveness of creative environment in each project
motivation to create
personal evaluation of product created through participation
preparation given by previous knowledge of dance or Internet
All interviews were conducted by Popat, and detailed shorthand notes were taken by her during both observation and interviews.

To consider the criteria of how knowledge affected the experience, the interviewees were selected to provide a variety of backgrounds in dance knowledge and experiences of using the Internet. For consistency in other areas, all interviewees were British, Caucasian, aged between twenty-one and twenty-eight, and all attended university at an undergraduate level. Interviewee A was a professional dancer/choreographer with Internet experience. Interviewee B had no dance experience, but some Internet experience. Interviewee C was a professional dancer, with very little Internet experience. Interviewee D had some dance experience, and a large amount of Internet experience. Interviewee E had no dance experience and no Internet experience.

Table 1: Interviewees’ Dance and Internet Experience

Interviewee Dance Experience Internet experience
A Professional Some
B None Some
C Professional Little
D Some Large amount
E None None

Initial analysis of the Web sites was based upon the observations and interviews with participants. This was supported and clarified by further analysis of each project using the model of Abb’s creative cycle. Abb’s creative cycle is concerned specifically with the artist’s relationship with the medium, and with the developing artwork. He proposes five phases that the artist and the artwork pass through together in the process of creativity:
Phase 1: the impulse to create/stimulus
Phase 2: working within the medium
Phase 3: realisation of final form
Phase 4: presentation and performance
Phase 5: response and evaluation
Hanstein presents a similar model in her analysis of the four modes of artistic participation, where choreographer functions as artist, dancer, audience member and critic. Hanstein’s modes correspond closely to Abb’s phases, both suggesting that the creative process involves a series of stages in which the artist and the artwork interact with each other. This corresponds with the way in which the participant in an interactive dance-making process on the Internet must interact with the material on the Web site. Analysis using Abb’s cycle exposes the communicative nature of interactive dance-making, which is shown to be central to the participant’s experience through the final analysis of Popat’s experience of viewing M@ggie’s Love Bytes as a live Internet performance.

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