Monday, July 03, 2006

Troika Ranch Technology-infused Work

Troika Ranch is at the forefront in the field of technology and dance. When I first encountered Troika in 1996, they were performing "The Electronic Disturbance" at The Kitchen in NYC simultaneously with people in California. I didn't realize the treasure I had discovered in the form of light bulbs, suspended-in-PVC-frame monitors playing video, and the like. I didn't know what to make of it at first, but I knew I liked it.

I joined the company in 1998 when they were perfecting the MidiDancer technology developed by one of the artistic co-directors, Mark Coniglio. He had designed this system of bendable sensors placed strategically at the joints of the dancer's body connected to a battery pack that the dancer would wear. The signal could then be transmitted to the receiver at the computer. Using the software Coniglio developed called Isadora, configurations could be made to allow the performer to control sound, video, or lighting by the bend of an elbow or knee. Velocity of movement could also be used to control how the effect was realized. In "The Chemical Wedding," there was a section where laser pointers were placed in the wings directly across from a sensor so that as the dancer made her way through space breaking the beams of light, she would control the soundscape as well as stage lighting that would flash on and slowly decrease in intensity. This allowed the dancer to improvise the timing of the choreography during performance to create an organic experience. In another work, "Boxes," two dancers used inclined boxes with sensors on the step to add a rhythmic soundscore and control video images.

Another unique application of technology involves live video capture and playback within the piece. The dancers have to be so sure of the choreography and comfortable both with the other dancers and with the technological elements, that in performance they can freely respond to their input and the output they are generating. The latest advance in Troika's technology use is trading in the MidiDancer sensors for a video capture system. The dancer is filmed live, a computer program analyzes the limbs, and then effects can be generated from that data. When more than one dancer is on stage, the program analyzes the entire view of the camera as if it were one body, making for interesting results. I look forward to learning more about how to use this technology myself at Troika Ranch's Live-I Workshop this summer.


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