Dance and Digital Arts

Research has enabled a digital arts company (KMA Ltd.) to develop ground-breaking visual-movement ideas and expand their core business from web-based design and digital projection for popular music shows to other cultural industries. The research has brought the creative potential of the technology and new creative outputs such as theatre, film and art installations to an international audience, and generated new methodologies for collaboration.

Dancing in the Streets

White Squares in development in theatre space

How do you transform a city centre at night to enhance the experience of residents and visitors and to combat the public’s fears over safety and security after dark?

This challenge was set by the York City Council’s “Renaissance Project: Illuminating York,” and we took them up on it. We made it our goal to get pedestrians to engage with our interactive light installation—and to get them dancing without even realizing it.

People out shopping or on their way to restaurants and nightclubs found themselves followed by ghostly footprints, chased by brightly colored butterflies, playing football with balls of light, or linked together by a “cat’s cradle” of colored lines. As they moved within the light projections, participants found that they were literally dancing in the streets!

Between 2006 and 2008, Professor Sita Popat and Dr Scott Palmer from the University of Leeds worked together with KMA Ltd. as a project partner on the ‘Projecting Performance’ project.

Building on previously experimental workshops run with KMA Ltd in 2005, which explored the relationships between people and digital projection technology in dance performance and interactive art works, the AHRC project focused on looking at performance techniques as design processes. Designs developed with the research team have also been critical in influencing the work commissioned by KMA Ltd. Examples include Congregation (2010: Shanghai Expo, China; Tate Britain, London), a large-scale ambitious interactive moving light art installation, and their design for the feature film The Knife that Killed Me (Autumn 2013, Universal Pictures). Kit Monkman, KMA Director, testifies that the film “owes its ground-breaking visual style” to the research collaboration. He reflects “I cannot overstate our gratitude to the lead academics Sita and Scott, and the University of Leeds for encouraging and aiding our creative - and therefore economic - development.”

Dancer Rachel Sparks duets with digital imagery controlled in real-time by Tom Wexler (KMA Ltd.) Credit: Photograph by Jessica Rowland. Copyright University of Leeds and KMA Ltd.

This subsequently led to Lloyd Newson, Artistic Director of internationally acclaimed London-based DV8 Physical Theatre becoming aware of ‘Projecting Performance’. Following attendance at one of the experimental workshops, Popat and Palmer were asked to run research and development workshops with Newson which led to KMA being commissioned to design the digital projections for DV8's internationally touring production To Be Straight With You (2007, toured 2008-9). KMA's design for DV8 significantly raised their international profile in the arts world in 2008-9 when they toured in Australia, German, USA, UK and Canada. Over 70,000 people worldwide saw the production, which won the Grand Prix de Danse, Syndicat Professionnel de la Critique de Theatre, Musique et Danse (Paris 2009).

Written by: Susan Hanshaw

For more information on the project visit: Projecting Performance

Gateway to Research Project Links: Projecting Performance: Interrelationships between performance and technology, dancer and operator (September 2006 – January 2008)