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Dance-Making on the Internet: continued..

Webbed Feats’ Bytes of Bryant Park

The Webbed Feats performance of Bytes of Bryant Park took place in 1997 in Bryant Park, New York. This piece was choreographed using ideas and stimuli provided by visitors to the Webbed Feats Web site, which functioned for thirteen weeks prior to the performance. Visitors to the site were invited to participate in five simple tasks. One of these was to provide some poetry or comments in response to pictures of the park, another to supply a sixty-second soap-box text on the subject of life in New York. A third section required the participation to submit text for a play based on Faust, while a fourth asked for a sentence on parks in general, and props or instructions for four dancers. All four of these tasks provided highly-structured forms, into which the participant could type.

The fifth task involved fifteen images of a dancer in different poses, from which the participant could choose five images to be strung together. The Web site then animated those images for the participant to see what he or she had made. Spaces were provided for the participant to type in instructions on quality or story-line. It was also possible to submit music, image and video files by email.

Participants whose submissions were chosen by the choreographer were notified by email and they were credited in the performance programme. The dance was choreographed by Stephan Koplowitz, using the participants’ submissions as stimuli. Some of the dance was improvised around the submissions during the performance. Musical submissions were combined into the soundtrack, and images were constructed into a montage for screens in the park. The dance was performed in New York, and photographs and short video clips were put onto the Web site for participants who could not attend the performance.
Analysis of Webbed Feats’ Bytes of Bryant Park
Supportiveness of the creative environment:
Webbed Feats struggles initially to involve the participant as it gives a feeling of being highly evaluative. Ideas are chosen for inclusion, rather like a competition or examination. Interviewee A, with professional choreographic experience responded “I don’t want to write anything that would sound stupid.” Interviewee B’s response was “What do they expect of me?” Interviewee E, with no dance knowledge, could not understand why the choreographer was asking for stimuli, and asked “Can’t they think of their own ideas?”

Motivation to Create:
The choreographer chose the theme of parks, which the interviewees found rather bland and uninspiring. They were mostly unfamiliar with the more specific themes within the piece, such as Stein and Goethe, and the strong link with New York was also alienating. All interviewees felt greatly distanced from the dance-making process, as they did not know at the time of completing the task if their input would be used in the performance.

Personal evaluation of the product:
As the performance had already occurred, there was no opportunity to see the product of the participants’ interactions. However, all the participants knew that they would not have been able to travel to New York, and Interviewee E was “disappointed” that all she would have seen of the performance was images and short video snippets. Interviewee D’s response to the site in general was “Is that it?” He said that he wanted to “see more” in terms of images and video.

Preparation given by previous knowledge:
Webbed Feats requires a basic knowledge of the Web and use of a computer mouse, as do all three sites. In dance terms, it uses a large amount of technical language, which some of the participants found threatening. However, it only requires practical dance knowledge in the Promenade section, which offers the dancer figures for sequencing. While knowledge of dance would make the choices more informed, it is not strictly necessary, as visual skills or even multi-choice methods could be employed. The other four sections are all in the form of written submissions, and as such require reasonable literary skills, but apparently no dance knowledge. However, Interviewee E, with no dance experience, was unable to see a connection between a written submission and the physical activity of dancing, so perhaps this assumption cannot be made.

Progressive 2

Progressive 2 consists of nine small video windows in three rows of three, which fit easily within the computer screen as a group (see Figure 1). In each of the windows there is a video of a single dancer performing in a room. All the video clips are apparently of the same dance in fragmented form, so that the dance does not flow smoothly but misses out the transitions between movements. Fragments of the same movements appear in more than one window. Participants may stop or start the individual videos by clicking on them with the mouse and seeing what effect each decision has on the overall screen.

Figure 1:
Screenshot of Progressive 2 (http://www.webdances.com/pro2.php3)

Analysis of Progressive 2
Supportiveness of creative environment:
In constructing the dance from the available material, all decisions are solely made and viewed by the participant, and therefore all evaluation is intrinsic. Interviewee B said “I like to be in control” and he enjoyed what he called “playing around”. Interviewee C also liked the control, describing is as “like being in charge of editing dance for camera”. Both Interviewees B and C enjoyed seeing people moving on the screen, but Interviewee E found the fragmentation made her feel dizzy.

Motivation to create:
Motivation varied largely according to knowledge of the dance medium. Interviewee E, with no dance knowledge, complained “my eyes can’t rest on anything”, and she quickly chose to leave this site. Interviewees A and C, both with professional dance experience, enjoyed the editing process, finding form in the movement. Interviewee B enjoyed what he described as “playing” but stated that “the novelty soon wore off”.

Personal evaluation of the product:
This was not relevant, as there was no definable finished product. There was no option to save an arrangement of the windows, or create a beginning or an end. All participants found this frustrating.

Preparation given by previous knowledge:
Progressive 2 cannot be fully appreciated without at least a basic knowledge of form, as form can only be created where it can be perceived. Interviewee E’s comment that “my eyes can’t rest on anything” indicated her inability to find any form in what she saw. Interviewee D also stated “I did not know what was going on.” Interviewees A and C, both with dance experience, were quick to note the relationships between the frames and began to discover unison, canon and more complex forms. However, these skills can also come from knowledge external to dance, as shown by Interviewee B who managed to perceive simple forms such as unison in spite of a lack of dance knowledge. By requiring some knowledge of dance, Progressive 2 risks the alienation of participants with no knowledge, and yet it offers a greater challenge to those with more knowledge.

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