Rhizomes is a live performance work exemplifying our MA research into compositional techniques for combining live dance with animated/moving digital scenography. I created Rhizomes with my collaborator Brian Curson digital artist and software designer. Curson is also a choreographer and dancer. He was intimately involved in the creation of Rhizomes at all levels. We have been working together since 2000 on combining digital scenery with live dance, and have created two pieces NT_001454 (2001) and Rivan (2002), and one other research project (VRIP 2001).
Our research initial aims were described in Stuart (2003):
Our current research is to delineate a set of compositional techniques that allows dancers to appear to move within this diegetic world depicted by the VE whereby both dancers and VEs are ‘in compositional balance’ with one another. As secondary aims we are looking for techniques where the audience are encouraged to suspend belief in the theatrical experience and the virtual choreography enhances the physical choreography by moving the perspective of the audience, and invoking the kinaesthetic sense of the viewer.
The research conducted over twenty-one months (September 2003 to May 2005) in three distinct phases, has generally met these aims. Our greater aims have been to create performance work where the audience not only 'suspends disbelief' and feels transported into a new world, but also takes an audience on a 'narrative' journey including illusion of the impossible happening onstage and a sense of fast filmic-like 'editing' and pace with intercutting between scenes and jumping back and forth in time. These greater aims have not yet been met.
This thesis draws primarily from the research conducted in the final phase where we created a performance 'work-of-art' Rhizomes.. The first two phases provided a vital framework from within which to create.
PHASE I (see Stuart December 2003, March 2004a and May 2004b; and see video of PREFLUX, The Temple Duet, The Graveyard, The Typewriter in Stairs Model , The Typewriter in Maze Model, and The Graveyard / Typewriter Intercut) :
In this phase we investigated basic relationships between the live dance (whether improvised or choreographed dance movement (Pc)) and the movement of the virtual 3D model (Vc). We used theory and research into the concept of ‘presence’ by virtual reality investigators (e.g. Lombard and Ditton, 1997; Riva et al. 2003) as a perspective 'tool' to:
a. discuss when the dancer appeared (to us) to 'inhabit' the virtual model
b. focus on the audience's perspective and their potential sense of 'presence' within the 'work of art'
c. help us define our own aesthetic and create several short vignettes.
PHASE II (see Stuart, July 2004; and Curson July 2004; and FLUX):
In phase II we investigated improvisation rules for both dance (Pc) and moving digital scenography (Vc) and looked at a higher structure of relationship between Pc and Vc i.e. structure of connections and relationships between scenes. We created a 10-minute improvisation from a research focus: 'FLUX'. We used hypertext theory to help us reflect on this research (e.g. Bernstein, 1998 and Landow, 1997) and made reference to other artists such as Cunningham and Kaiser who have created performance art with flexible structures (Kaiser 1999b, 2001a, 2002b).
In this phase we created a 35-40 minute performance 'work-of-art' Rhizomes III with a complex 'hierarchy' of levels of networked structure. Phases I and II provided not only a framework of understanding about how we could combine the digital with the live dance, but also a basis level of some creative elements upon which we intended to build. For example, we used elements of some of our previous 3D models, and some choreographed dance phrases when creating a new set of models and physical movement. The software too was developed further from the previous phases. In this Phase we wanted to create a fully developed piece, but out of a range of previously created and newly created 'bits' which had seemingly little initial connection to each other. We intended to create a piece with variable structure like a hypertext or Deleuzian Rhizomatic web and perhaps provide a framework for audience interaction. The audience interaction and gross variable structure did not happen, because the whole piece was much more complex to create than we had initially forecast. Rhizomes III very much reflects the current state of our research into combining live dance with animated digital scenography, and provides Curson and I with clear directions for future research into creating a fully realised professional production, that fulfills our vision of entwining the live with the virtual to create illusions in dance onstage. But Rhizomes III was not such a piece.
We created some tightly choreographed movement of both Pc and Vc as well as kept a degree of improvisation within scenes and also in their running order (in the final version of Rhizomes, Rhizomes III, the running order of the scenes was set, but their duration and content was somewhat variable).
To construct Rhizomes we had:
1. 6 weeks of practical research (broken into 3X2 weeks over 5 months).
2. Three third year dancers from University College Chichester: Jemma Sawyer, Rachel Elliot, and Stephanie Doig
3. More than 6 virtual models; each with a huge range of movement and compositional possibilities: Avatara, GSVII, Surreal World, Trees, Swiss Cheese, Escher, Entangled Stairs, BCR (all of which we used in Rhizomes III), and The Stairs, The Maze, Aphrodite. The Temple, GSVI, Powerhouse, Tree and Gate, and Spaces (which were all used in the 21 months of research).
The models we eventually used were those which best supported the Pc I was concomitantly developing with the dancers, either through metaphoric resonance or a visual aesthetic of balanced lines of movement (Model names are either literal interpretations of their content or reflect the inspiration from which they were developed and were used purely for reference between Curson, myself and dancers).
4. Various recorded tracks of music for research, too many to mention, were chosen to fit audibly comfortably with each other and yet provide a suitable ambient background for the relationship between Pc and Vc. We would have preferred live improvised music, but this is another complex layer which we hope to incorporate in the future (see Programme III for final music choices in Rhizomes III)
5. We created 17 scenes (see Rhizomopoly)
The physical movement was created from a range of seed ideas using:
1. A narrow repertoire of my expressive movement from Phases I & II,
in Rachel's GSVI, Jemma's Avatara, Stephanie's BCR, Trio
Kneel Slap Roll, Escher Duet 1& Escher Duet 2
2. Shapes and quirks in Stephanie's 8 Shapes, Rachel's Schizo phrase, Jemma's Transition Phrase, and Entangled Interquirk
3. A spatially held travelling movement I created, from which the dancers then created a set of new but derived movements for Trio Pendulum Swing
4. Free improvisation for Stephanie's Wild Improv, but directed to break the boundaries of the stage and play with the relationship between Pc and Vc.
5. Recombining small movement fragments created by the dancers into a greater whole for Stephanie's Trees and Surreal World Duet (not used in final piece) of Rachel and Jemma.
1. The visual composition of some scenes (improvising Pc
2. Who was onstage
3. The relationship between Pc and Vc
4. The duration of the scenes
5. The sequence of the scenes and intercutting between scenes
6. The music in the scenes
7. The transitions between scenes for both Vc and Pc
8. The 'narrative' within scenes, whether this 'narrative' was literal, metaphoric or more an emotional felt relationship between Vc and Pc,
9. The 'narrative' between scenes (again 'narrative' is used loosely, I use this word as my intention is not a purely abstract Cunningham-like connection of elements but rather to portray a journey and build with emotional support any emerging 'narrative' .
At the end of the first two weeks we created a baseline draft of Rhizomes, which was performed as Rhizomes I at De Montford University (see Programme I). We noted how important the transitions were in making 'sense of' or giving a 'narrative' (even nonliteral) to a piece.
Deleuze and Guattari's (1987) work on the concept of Rhizomes had significantly influenced us and we decided to delve more deeply into investigating interconnections and networks of relationships.
After our first 2 weeks of practical research we felt that hypertext theory (researched in phase II) was not quite comprehensive enough for the complex nature of our work. In Phase III we used Complexity Theory to help stimulate and guide us through the creative process (see also Rhizomopoly & Rhizomes II). Rhizomes was inspired by Complexity and has helped us embody the concept of complexity, reflect upon Complexity, and helped us develop the idea that Rhizomes itself, we suggest, as is most art-work, a Living System. Rhizomes III was not created to portray Complexity Theory directly to the audience.
We have asked the audiences of Rhizomes to fill out Questionnaires. The results are not part of this dissertation, but it is worth mentioning that a significant proportion of our audiences do report a kinaesthetic sense of movement as they watch our work.