The Science Inside a Dance: What Can Choreography Do for Scientific Research? William Forsythe and Ohio State University Team Up to Find Out

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Streaks of light arc between dancers, topographical maps chart the peaks and valleys of motion, and 3D animation captures movement as geometric shapes. These are not scenes from some futuristic dance but glimmers of a future for dance that choreographer William Forsythe envisions, where choreographic thinking reaches into scientific fields, from geography to architecture to computer science.

These images and the scientific data that supports them come from Forsythe's new interactive web project, Synchronous Objects for One Fiat Thing, reproduced, created in collaboration with Ohio State University's Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD) and its Department of Dance. A virtual exhibition space and an interdisciplinary research tool, Synchronous Objects is just the first step in Forsythe's larger vision for a "motion bank," an online realm of digital media that will house a wide range of movement research. The project is meant to inspire new ways of understanding choreography, not just as an artistic tool but as an analytical one. It officially launches on April 1 at http://accad.osu. edu/synchronousobjects.

Forsythe and some 30 researchers and designers from OSU, The Forsythe Company, and elsewhere began working on Synchronous Objects in 2005. They grounded their research in three main questions: What are the organizing structures behind a piece of choreography? How can these be made visible using interactive screen-based media? And what is the best way to communicate them? In search of answers, the project team spent thousands of hours breaking down a single dance, Forsythe's One Flat Thing, reproduced, into quantifiable data, and creating a visual literature of the work.

Norah Zuniga Shaw, one of the project's creative directors and professor of dance and technology at OSU, calls One Fiat Thing, reproduced a "choreographic resource," a sample of movement under investigation for properties that could aid research in non-dance fields. "The use of One Fiat Thing, reproduced as a research tool was not about repertory or reconstruction," she says. "It was about generating new creativity."

A simple analogy might be to think of One Fiat Thing, reproduced as an organism powered by many complex systems on a microcellular level. When we view the piece--in which dancers drag, jump over, and crouch behind 20 steel-edged tables--we see only its exterior. We don't perceive the intricate inner workings that drive it. The web project team set out to discover, analyze, and chart the work's "deep structure," the scientific and mathematical mechanisms churning beneath its artistic surface.

Visitors to the Synchronous website will see graphics, computer-generated traceforms, and animations outlining the work's properties: its 20-plus "themes," or recurring movement sequences; its more than 200 "discrete cueings," or visual signals the dancers give to one another; and Forsythe's notion of "visual counterpoint," a complex layering of movement. The sites interactive tools let visitors play with elements of the dance and create alternative outcomes. …