Exploring the possibilities: dance and new technologies

Three days, three cities, three theatres and 48 participants. That’s the 2nd edition of the Dansathon, the European Dance Hackathon, which returns on November 19-21, 2021 in the RTBF studios at Média Rives in Liège, as part of the Théâtre de Liège’s IMPACT Festival (International Meeting in Performing Arts and Creative Technologies).

Initiated and supported by the BNP Paribas Foundation, the Théâtre de Liège is co-organising the event with the Maison de la danse in Lyon and Sadler’s Wells in London. It’s all about thinking about the dance of tomorrow. The idea is to bring together people from multiple disciplines to imagine the future of dance by combining it with new technologies such as motion capture, AI, VR, video games and so on.

In many ways it seems a natural progression from recent developments in digital dance, it’s form and presentation. The restrictions and theatre closures imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic has led massive strides in the field as artists and companies have look at digital media as a way of continuing to get dance out there.

Jonathan Thonon, Deputy General Manager and Head of European Projects and Innovation at the Théâtre de Liège explains that, through a sort of speed-dating process, the Dansathon puts people together who would not otherwise work together and so really produces cross-disciplinary work that mixes technologies in every sense of the term. The teams that form will then be provided with resources, technological tools and spaces to compete for a €20,000 grant awarded by the BNP Paribas Foundation that will help them to continue working on their creation.

Moments from Dansathon 2018

Thonon explained that the topic this year us the world in transition. “Imagine dance in a similar state of transition. It could be low-tech or high tech. We are living with machines, more than ever living through machines and through machines. The idea is to question this. Can we build better with machines or use those machines to get better tomorrow? Another topic is the question of distanced dance, a metre and a half between bodies. So, the idea is really to put this Dansathon into the world, this world, which is in transformation, and not to be completely disconnected from it and from what is happening.”

Alistair Spalding, Artistic Director and CEO of Sadler’s Wells recalls that the first edition in 2018 “was a bit of a leap in the dark for everyone.” But not only was it successful, its legacy continues as the winners are still working on their Digital Umbilical project, which continues to explore organic connections between individuals (dancer and audience member), and their amplification through the use of technology. By repurposing the technological tools of bio-data control and measurement, and inspired by factors of intimacy: proximity, warmth, sensing the pulse of each other, quietness, the project aims to create a unique, shared experience that is specific to the moment. Spalding observed that while the speed dating was very random in a way, it produced this very collaborative and creative group of people still working together. He’s hoping for similar miracles this time.

One of the other 2018 winners was Cloud Dancing, an immersive, interactive show that allows spectators to interact with dancers live, via their smartphones, or through virtual reality headsets to shape the choreography in real time.

Among the jury members who will help decide the prize winner is Alexander Whitley, who has been working with technology in his practice for some time. At the launch, he confessed to being fascinated with what digital tech can bring to conventional stage settings but also with the new platforms for dance that are emerging through that same tech. “It’s a vast terrain, full of challenges but also opportunities for artists interested in exploring its territories.”

He explained how the Dansathon gives creators space to take risks and come to understand the different kinds of creative process that emerges when tech is introduced into the mix. “I’m really excited to see the teams that come together and the ideas that emerge. It’s always fascinating to see how other people approach similar questions to the ones that I am preoccupied with. Hopefully it’s an opportunity to build new relationships and see the kind of bridges that can be built between different artistic practices – this kind of cross disciplinary practice which technology affords.”

This 2nd edition Dansathon has been a while coming. Serge Rangoni, General Manager and Artistic Director at Théâtre de Liège, spoke for all when he said how happy he was that it was finally taking place. He explained that they had been ‘ready to go’ both of the last two years but Covid put paid to it. He promised a special weekend that firmly puts dance in the field of new technologies, digital and media arts.

For more information, visit www.dansathon.eu.