Ready, Set, Go! Stopping Time in Its Corporate Tracks

Anna Beatrice Scott / University of California, Riverside

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Bodies at rest. Bodies in motion.

On the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War and in the midst of a Democratic Primary that feels like the actual run for the White House, it feels impossible (or perhaps frivolous) to speak about dance or performance as it is mediated via television and the World Wide Web. Another dance competition dial-in show feels like the massive disconnect that they represent; why waste time underscoring their inutility? The United States is presented with real opportunities to investigate, analyze and create new terms of engagement around race (Obama & Ferraro) and gender (Clinton & Obama; Spitzer) explicitly, and to a less, more well hidden degree, social class (collapse of sub-prime lending) and economics (Baer Sterns Bail-out). Each one of these immediately reveals an interrelationship to the other, but also to time itself; specifically chronometric time. These events and how they have been presented in time trickery-media underscore the unquestioned import of time and timing to all endeavors of so-called great social magnitude; truly time is of the essence in the successful management of dissonance in a tuned in and out United States. Through deployment of not only dance vehicles, but the positioning and training of bodies to be instant performances, broadcast televisual culture (that not only includes moguls/producers but “talent” and watchers/traffickers) forecloses the potential to destabilize chronometric time, the work clock, and move instead towards a placed sensation of events.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vA0DL_SrKy8&feature=related[/youtube]

Improv Everywhere Grand Central Station Freeze on Good Morning America Feb 28, 2008

It is in the current demand that we pay attention to the details (what is a Super delegate) and take time to savor and assimilate the spoken word (Obama’s “flaw” according to Hilary Clinton) that one can discover the break with the business clock. YouTube desks and specialists have cropped up in every major news outlet (at newspapers and television stations) to locate the populace again, even though vlog fragmentation is already occurring through internal video sharing in Face Book and MySpace, to name a few. Toggling back and forth between body-to-to-body, text-to-internet, TV-to-internet, bodyidea-to-swarm via SMS or web platform, one thing is clear: We do not want to keep up. We want to be up. And perhaps are up. Is there a refutation of broadcast television inherent in these moves? Might it be possible that our screened consciousness is transforming itself, hopefully, into an interface, plugging people into the sensation of time as distinct from the sensation of working on time? Are we not experiencing instead a profound acknowledgment of the necessity of body-based improvisation?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qd2VyVE2jhk[/youtube]

Grand Central Station Stop

At the height of US primary season remix this February, Improv Everywhere launched a “mission” in NYC that soon caught on around the world. “Global Freeze” as it has become known works through website and text messaging to create a swarm of individuals, which then must come together in person (imagine that) to receive their mission i.e. roles, cues, set and time directions. What makes them of interest to a journal on TV is that a great deal of effort and staging goes into the documentation of the events. With video cameras a common accoutrement of the pedestrian, it is quite easy for the organizers to deposit bodies and cameras all over the “arena” for later editing. The event as it occurs breaks into work clock corpo-reality momentarily throwing off other pedestrians, yet at the end, they elicit joy, or maybe just relief that the action is over and no one is coming to throw blood or yell, or demand that we get out of ___ right now, or that we vote for ____ or we’ll be sorry. It was just a prank, but a prank which pushes folks to experience place and time as distinct entities from work.

In these dreadful dance shows like Yo Mama Don’t Dance, it is evident that the choreographic experience is meant to be repetitious, not cyclical, in order to induce drama. Drama is not information, nor is it an actual experience of connection, though reporters would have us believe so as they force candidates into specific roles in order to sell us “the human side.” Repetition without difference is arrhythmic and soon induces stupor/breaks down of the interlocking rhythms that keep us groovin’ along, pretending to be on time to our destination. Repetition with difference can be moving when it co-creates with our cyclical selves.

Keeping time

We are not data packages, and yet we become that as we surf towards each other, towards meaning, attempting to keep up with the 24 hour media day. Our flesh does not vanish, or take on less importance as our FICO scores, zip and area codes, and IP addresses shift to accommodate more and more discrete sorting of our vital statistics. We are easily stranded in 20th century discourses on race and “sex” based on these merges and purges. Are we shut out, distanced from communication by media itself?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fZHou18Cdk[/youtube]

“Yes We Can” DipDive featuring will.i.am

Lefebvre in his recently translated Ryhthmanalyis: space, time and everyday life states that, ” [m]ediatisation tends not only to efface the immediate and its unfolding, therefore beyond the present, presence. It tends to efface dialogue” (48) (emphasis his).((Lefebvre, Henri. Rythmanalysis: space, time and everyday life. Stuart Elden, translator. London: Continuum Books, 2004.)) In the stoppages and the viral music videos and animated shorts supporting and/or condemning political candidates, I would like to think that effort is being made to overcome not only the work clock, but the 24 hour media day, which Lefebvre also lambasted. The body as instant, capital extractive performance has become a hallmark of screened culture. The Global Freeze and Yes We Can hotwire that frame, disrupting the extractive possibilities of a body cum performance (or is it a body-cum data merge) by seeking to elicit engagement from non-participants. Even as a passive consumer, these two events cause you to participate through their simplistic veneer, which is undergirded by very astute attention to details while embracing any and all variables.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3kYm3fsCHk&feature=related[/youtube]

Santa Monica, CA Freeze by GueriLAImprov Feb 2008

The details, the dropped heads and nervous giggles of the performers as they very quickly create a piece of agitprop in a format widely recognized as both cultural product and branding device excites me and disturbs me in the same ways that the stoppages in public places gets me thinking about privilege: these choreographies of power, but on the periphery, will they actually do anything? Why do I want or need them to do anything? There is so much to be done, so much to talk about and shift in the social sphere (notice I did not say public…we are still working on creating that). These brilliant mixes of mediation are reflections on a TV screen, one that has been turned off, so that we can better understand what is going on, and not get lost in the drama of a poorly timed pirouette…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ezMSGGXtho[/youtube]

Portland Freeze by Portland Mayhem Feb 2008

Image Credits:

1. Frozen Grand Central

2. Good Morning America

3. “Yes We Can”

4. Frozen Santa Monica

5. Portland Freeze

Please feel free to comment.




Revisitations and Constant Auditions: The Politics of Placing People

Televisual Wall

Televisual Wall

In the throes of writing a book, I’ve decided to maneuver with a major confluence tumbling through my writing: labor and technique. But I’ll turn around first. Watching my back is important.

The Phrase

The bodies bob back and forth just out of sync with the music, waiting for the start of the timer. Their players are scattered across the globe, articulating through screens, shifting perspective at will. They are auditioning, earning points for an opportunity to dance on one of the few main stages in this dance community. They love to dance. They play for free, but spend real cash inside the game for costume, make-up, hair and skin. There are bodiless bodies stacked inside the rhythm and moves from previous motion capture sessions; fleshless dancers skimming keys, eliding their epidermal realities; and a competition that is never broadcasted or announced outside of the circle of participants. On occasion, an unbroken chain of moves is proudly posted on video-sharing sites, against the game’s Terms of Use.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVh6dLujHmQ[/youtube]

Nexon’s Audition

I sit watching images, but not TV. I don’t own one. I watch screens, though. I am caught up in a struggle, but all I can think about is who will win the audition.

OK, Show Me…5678

At a day rate of $250 up to $450, dancers flood the industrial dance scene of Los Angeles, hoping to become stars, doing what they love best. Many would say what they were born to do. There is a lot of standing around. To get in the door. To audition. To show them what you’re working with. To get the camera to speed. To get into make up. To get the balls on for the capture. Ready? %^&*, I mean 5678. Constant bobbing back and forth, trying to keep the muscles warm and the choreography clear because this may be the 4th audition this week.

Dance seems to be hot right now. The body in motion without dialogue. Words are an issue. Talking bodies. Don’t think about it too much, it will show up in the dancing.

I watch clips of So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars on YouTube. Competitions. Grueling hours of preparation. Acquiring technique. Pushing out memories, evicting them from their corpo-realities, the bodies of the performer-competitors change the way they articulate: gait, shifts in the hips, tilts of the head, widening of eyeballs. They begin to converge across bodies. Technique. It takes technique and dedication to put on a good show. To get over a hundred percent out of your organism.

To fake it. To make it look good. To make the viewer believe. To entertain.

The Set

I never realized I lived in a company town until the Writers’ Guild went on strike. Everywhere, our daily Los Angeleno rhythms have been altered. Mostly there’s more space: on the streets, in the Trader Joe’s, and now, on the airwaves. It’s a daily vigil, waiting to see when it ends.

WGA Strike

WGA Strike

Well into 70 days, this strike has my attention, not because my viewing pleasure has been disrupted, but because dance seems to be positioned to help the AMPTP break the union’s resolve.

As a major money-maker for reality TV, and as the foundation of the new wave of on-line video games, dance could figure prominently in this battle for equity in the extension of televisual brands into the WWW as streaming commodities. While the Writers’ Union battles to protect the value of their handiwork across platforms, rumors fly about a missing pilot season and massive preparations for reality television programming. Given the popularity of dance right now, and a national fetish for competition, chances are good that more shows featuring the unknown dancer will crop up on screen.

On January 7th, Dance Wars, a Fame-throw back, (without the riveting Miss Debbie Allen, and, ahem, dialogue) was launched by ABC. How can they be this blunt without irony?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hpIfB_YfE0[/youtube]

Dance Wars

A missing pilot season is potential windfall for the muted, dancing body.

The major concerns of the writers’ strike dovetail with concerns of my own over motion-capture of dancers, labor laws, and copyright. The writers want a contract that accounts for and rewards their labor no matter the digital platform, while a dancer’s labor often disappears into the code of an animated object/being. Though it feels like two disparate issues, really it is one: how or what will we call labor, product, performance and entertainment in the age of the digital? Now that just about anyone can mashup existing intellectual property, how do we reward and protect creative labor while we insist on stripping it from the bodies that produce it?

The Audition

There is no dancers’ labor union. One must rely on a savvy agent to get booked enough to join SAG. Dancers are literally a dime a dozen out here. The profession itself makes it difficult to organize since young bodies are in demand and the work schedule hectic. Grover Dale’s Answers4Dancers.com, a clearinghouse to train young dancers to pay close attention to the business side of their feet, does not mention the writer’s strike. Given that Mr. Dale spent a good deal of time investigating a labor dispute on the 2007 Beyoncé tour and siding with the dancers, one would expect a pronounced position.

But there is a Dance War to be won. And that means more auditions.

Battling, competing is not benign in this format, no matter how frivolous the show makes itself out to be. Dancer-singers techniqued into automatons are deployed as placeholders between advertising. Distractions, what their live bodies produce is not seen and must remain unacknowledged: a place for agony.

The Performance

In Nexon’s Audition, dance moves are coded as data sets that are to be retrieved as a performance against a rhythmic phrase by combining predetermined key strokes. This Korean company has popular versions in Thailand, Korea and China, but the game only launched in the US in April 2007. What strikes me is not so much that there is a massive multiplayer on-line game that is in effect, yet another dance competition, but that it reveals that most contemporary dancing occurs as battle, and is only honored in that frame. Audition literalizes technique: a process of dismembering, literally taking the moving body apart, fixing joints as relational algorithmic equations and creating a database of possible moves that are then sourced as combinations.

Even the live bodies on the stages of SYTYCD, DWTS, DW are transmogrified through digital delivery techniques. Satellite transmission, text messages, key-stroked mutli-camera shoot become a tangible AMPTP thing: a performance vehicle. Are any of these people dancing? The gamer, the competitor? Grappling with the stress of time, and an ill-informed voting producer-audience, reality TV dancers deliver high drama, catastrophe, even ratings. Who needs writers for scripts when we have managed to memorize and traffic in manipulative sit-com and melodramatic techniques?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9wWtSarGzU[/youtube]

Marie Osmond faints on Dancing with the Stars

We do. Because when left to our own devices, to the technique, the chilly binary code, we traffic in agony, looking for diversions.

The Master Piece

Bring it on.” George W. Bush

Like turgid SUVs, these dance vehicles block our view of the power inherent in “techniqueing.”

Cast Pyramid from Bring it On

Cast Pyramid from Bring it On

Just on the other side of the tinted windows, we catch a glimpse of the cruelty riding shotgun to our insistence on perfection realized through disembodying technique. Out of sync with our desire for entertainment, this perfectionism exerts power over the vulnerable, the unwilling. Unknown dance sensations who spin dance crazes and styles, only to go hungry while other bodies prance around in mechanized versions of those dances; storytellers that are slipping into dispossession…we could change lanes, or channels, but our sense of the sardonic outstrips us. We think we know dance so we abuse in the name of fun. Those “cheerleading” men held in Abu Grahib holograph through each episode of battling dancers, tied to our competition-crazed televisual dance practices by the very positioning of their bodies for the photos.

The reality of unscripted television has reinvigorated a space for not only lackluster thought, but unin-corpo-rated action. I am not claiming that writers will save the day and a dance union will suddenly force us to claim our ineptitude. Instead, I am hoping we will examine our conspiratorial relationship with the moguls, as we call them out here, and take back our personal stories and dances, lest we continue to force others to entertain us at any price.

Agony, I could have meant it ironically.

Image Credits:
1. Televisual Wall
2. WGA Strike
3. Cast Pyramid from Bring it On
4. Cell block torture at Abu Grahib [WARNING: Link extremely graphic]

Please feel free to comment.




‘Screenifying’ Choreography: The New Parameters of Social Interaction as Envisioned by Bill T Jones’ Blind Date

Dancing Duck in Blind Date

Dancing Duck in Bill T. Jones’ Blind Date.

Overtures

Get all your ducks in a row. Everything is just ducky. We are sitting ducks.

Thoughts bubble as I contemplate the 5 screens of various sizes, a large hanging frame, and a narrow, long canvas/scrim painted with what appear to be a row of rubber duckies. Blind Date has not officially started, yet it has. The curtain is open and text scrolls, flashes and dissolves across the screens; but the ducks do not change. Smiling, they waddle irresponsibly. Danger, duck crossing. But they never do. Static, they are magnified and embodied as the piece continues. A dude forced to make a living selling Ducky burgers and three large carnival-ride looking plywood ducks began to proliferate the duck motif. Dancers enter and exit the stage in precision marches that meander and loose count of bodies. The ducks hang just in the balance, sitting. “ME!” yells a falling body on stage. Other dancers scramble to catch that person before she hits; before he hits; before they hit. Feathers are flying figuratively, but the ducks are still, jolly.

Screens fly out, scrims fly in and one panel stays; faces dissolve high middle stage. They look like anyone. The audience is left wondering whether or not these are not faces of people but victims. Grotesques now, the ducks have waddled off. A soldier is talking to the business man figure (played by Bill T. himself) about never-ending, borderless, indistinguishable war. I am jolted: we are all sitting ducks pretending that everything is just ducky, thinking that we have our ducks in a row so we’ll be fine when our turn comes to yell “ME!” We recite screenified platitudes, aping knowing gestures about war mongering as if that is all the social interaction required to make it stop. “Couch potato” is a thing of the past. There is agency in accepting one’s reality from a screen when one is a dumb ass sitting duck and it is an inability to figure out the choreography required of screenified interaction.

The screen has become a prerequisite facilitator of daily movement for the allegedly productive 21st century lifestyle. Screens are mobile, and increasingly tied to microprocessors. While there is a growing body of work analyzing screens and their ubiquitous presence in our lives, the work of Heidi Cooley is not to be missed, I’m interested in their musculature: their work, placement, messaging, and activity. I will attempt to think about the CPU, the message (image/data), and the messenger (corporation, person) as the appendage to the screen. Moving alongside Blind Date and a series of mundane tasks, I draw attention to the terpsichore set by the parameters of the tech’s body in conflation and contact with our own: the screenifying of movement.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YN_OMFETtY0[/youtube]

An amalgamation: bodies + images = screenified choreography

Why is it not Mediation?

Simply put, screenified interaction is a non-experience of subtle adjustments to the spinal column and weight distribution driven by the presence of screens. Human contact becomes exertion positioned in close proximity to a CPU and screen. The screen is meant to simplify the event. However, it situates avoidance and neglect as the baseline for social choreography by augmenting the transactional over the inter-relational. Absorbed into the calculations of a cash register while pacified by a video panel at the check-out line or mesmerized by a self-illuminating TV

Gas Station TV logo

The screened machine: Pump as it plays.

at the gas pump, the person inside the physiological expanse of the body quickly fights or accepts its new role: sitting duck. The helpful intrusion of the CPU’s lack–flesh and self-control–feints individual acknowledgment. “And by the grace of God, one day I will give this up!” howls Bill T Jones’ business man character, holding up his cigarette, cursing and pleading with God to rid him of his sumptuous curse.

It could be argued that the human-cum-consumer also has little if any self-control in “the point of decision making” when confronted with the mosh of “content” emblazoned across nifty panels owned and “fed” by companies like SignStory, and Gas Station TV. Blind Date shows that in the living room, the point of decision making about major political issues, people encounter difficulty with foreclosed choices offered as “selections.” The particular mixture of advertising and alleged news reporting makes it quite difficult to see the gun barrel pointing out of the duck blind. Crafting elegant and satisfying ways to have interaction during a transaction involving screens has become a time-consuming venture.

Enter a big box or major grocery store and a battalion of screens are deployed across the space. They look official and exude authority reminiscent of transportation terminals, but destinations are purposefully obscured. Seeking direction, you stand in front of a messaging screen waiting for an answer to a question you’ve long since forgotten. Unsettled, you find calm by meandering. Rediscovering “shopping event,” more things land in the cart, echoing their representations on screen. Time to pay: person or kiosk? Checkers are surrounded by screens, is there really a difference? The panel above the conveyor belt is rigged with a feed offering “news,” lest you notice the passage of time in your body. Your screens allow you to pay without cash and extend the panopticon around the checker who is conducting real-time inventory through a recessed screen. Her key pad often sits to her right, underscoring the assumption that the scanners are infallible. I can hear you laughing.

Multitasked and screenified, the checker’s focus and body are split across space, through time, and with rhythm. What was once a simple algorithmic march that closed face to face with heart muscles aligned, is now a dilemma that engenders passivity or malevolence. Quack. The video panels offer no real options: zone-out to the media feed; become agitated by the frequency range of small speakers; or rage against the distraction/intrusion from/into one’s own life. Isn’t it just ducky?

Well then . . .

Screens are encapsulations and projections. They are limits, boundaries beyond which we dare not imagine a passing image. Drawn in so close to something that feels exactly right, we instead adjust our neck in a futile attempt to avert our gaze, but the screen has swallowed us whole, not sutured us, or hemmed us in, but we could continue to think about stitches in order to make sense of the machine’s body copulating with our own. A quadrangle, the screen creates neat order, our muscles, and therefore our emotions, adjust accordingly. Our desires have absolutely no bearing on the cartography of the screen. Though we might struggle against its certitude at different junctures because we should know better, ultimately, it is that force of four corners which indicates that there is no need to run and scant little space for hiding–submersion is perhaps the only act permissible from the screen.

Ensemble piece in Blind Date

Ensemble number in Blind Date

Blind Date investigates what it means to assume one’s ducks are lined up, ready for action. Even if/when the action appears preempted by the projections, momentum redirects to the messaging flesh. No newcomer to screened dance, Bill T. Jones very early in his career harnessed the choreographic power of projected and televisual images. Indeed, a great deal of his work investigates the corpo-reality engendered by long stretches of TV watching. That he now positions this body as a very active force in our social landscape should come as no surprise. In fact, it is quite masterful as he leads the audience in the theatric space deeper into the cosmos of the “dummy box.”

Several rooms, empty spaces, echo chambers are effected by the screens. The lines on the floor which demarcate their absences as they fly in and out become screens, too.

Screen Text in Blind Date

Screen Text in Blind Date

They highlight the fact that a screen is an entrapment, an encasement, a casket, a parameter, a box, just a couple of meaningless lines unless something is projected across it. Sitting ducks, the bodies whir and toss themselves in clockwork precision gone askance, tuning back in with popular dances and formations one would see on YouTube. The dancers in counterbalanced extremities, reach just beyond the frame for contact more meaningful than the gesture itself. Mining habitual movement, movement meant to heal like yoga asana, cohesive movement like marches and line dances, Bill T. Jones reveals a culture deliberating itself, but under the mistaken idea that it can be done on a screen, without acknowledging the programmers ensconced in the feed, the code, lingering in the cpu’s fleshless body.

Image Credits:

1. Dancing Duck, photograph by Paul B. Goode

2. Blind Date: montage by Janet Wong

3. Gas Station TV

4. Ensemble number, photograph by Paul B. Goode

5. Screen text, photograph by Paul B. Goode

Please feel free to comment.




YouTube, Dance and Reform: The Body Caught in the Act

If YouTube functions simultaneously as common democratic archive and repertoire, as we have been told vociferously during the 2007 Presidential Debates, is it possible that its mode of production obliterates the “historical record,” at least our memory of it? The large numbers of participants (unevenly distributed among searcher-watchers, stumbler- watchers, subscriber-watchers, maker-watchers, subcriber-watcher- commentators, maker-watcher-commentators) make it possible to reinvent/reinterpret/recycle/retrofit the “past.” YouTube once offered the possibility of just indulgent memory–posting up clips of old movies, late night television, music videos, experimental tinkering with home movies, send-up videos, and mash-ups of favorite music videos–recollections of screenic impulses which flutter across our muscles, marking the way we walk, hold our head, gesture and dance: we are stop action animation of film and video gone by.

Copyright holders, not keen on witnessing their product cycling around without capital returning to them, have used the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act to force providers like YouTube to block the way that we remember ourselves. Currently, with the “broadcast yourself” logo, the advent of the vlog, and subscriptions, YouTube participants traffic in messaging like well-trained PR folks. Amoeba-like, the brisk, compressed video clip extrudes meaning from a simple performative: “someone should see this.” The implications of this operation for our corporeality and its concommitent memorialization of time are vast and unchartered.

I use it all the time in my lectures. How can I not? Really EVERYTHING is on there; at least it used to be before Google bought it out in late 2006. YouTube is the dance scholar’s dream come true. Prior to this ingenious assemblage of Macromedia’s Flash 7 and H.263 codec, dance scholars the world over would fret over format and compatibility of media, and then of platforms and programs once we entered the digital age. With the early 2005 advent of web-based video streaming, dance and dance scholarship are now flourishing, giving us a false sense of fluency in each other’s production.
From moving pieces by national unknowns, to much loved ad campaigns of the past,

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knW1hGwmEXQ[/youtube]

to funny post-it in-camera studies,

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_ZlK9897A0[/youtube]

YouTube brings dance to consumers in a way that broadcast dance competitions cannot. The range in genre and style is vast; the subject matter, unexpected. And as ticket price or time slot is not an issue, each has the potential to be equivalent in value to the next (if we discount the ads generated by the tags and the fact that most internet service providers charge extra for the bandwidth required to upload/watch steaming video) Short, intense, and provocative, dance bits on YouTube have made my life easier, but they occasionally drive me to stunned silence.

It is not just the riveting choreography, or the dorm party captured by a cell phone camera that harnesses my spectator’s eyes; the work that dance accomplishes on YouTube normalizes the aspect ratio of the frame, invisibilizes playing to/with/for the camera for future streaming. With ubiquitous archiving a common practice, are we already moving as if encased in our looming historical futurepast, framed for compression, awaiting, hoping for millions of eyes to examine our moves? Is our movement always already compulsory and commoditized?

Dance practice revolves around inspiration, dedication and regimentation; the latter often verging on psychological and physical terror. Choreography, writing with dance, can involve self-effacement in order for the resultant “document” to be more “legible.” Not all pieces are generated this way, but the large spectator driven works, especially for broadcast television and Broadway-derivative works function in this mode. The move towards legibility versus open-ended meaning necessitates a documentary mode, a method of conveying exactly the same message each time, regardless of venue, time, and even performing bodies. Curiously, this method evolves at two poles–and maybe more–the training of the performing body a.k.a. technique; and the archiving of the performance, or documentation.

Technique reconfigures the body of the performer for better expressivity/malleability but methods can and often involve an intense amount of pain.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHY85o2fxEA[/youtube]

Documentation of dance performances are achieved through either a notational system like Labanotation, or through moving images. Because notational systems require years of study to both learn how to write and read/reconstruct from the “scores,” most choreographers opt for film, video-tape, and now digital formats. Both types of documentation obliterate the performance qua performance, but for numerous reasons ranging from grant-maker’s requirements and the costs of global touring, performers and scholars depend heavily on video versions, often without any attention to representational issues. When posted on YouTube, the violence done to the body of the performer and to memory itself (the first archive of the piece is in the sinews of the performer after all) is quickly hidden by the experience of beauty, of the sublime, of the unexpected, of the reminiscent.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpKg53X_2J8[/youtube]

Oddly, music video and home movie footage are always already dance documentation. When they appear on YouTube, it would be more fruitful to think about them, however, as ephemera, in the anthropological sense. That is, it’s not so much the performance (yes, I am slapping myself) as it is the urge to save the performance, to share a memory without having to resort to words; to cut down the indexical challenge of witnessing. Yet this is not a format free from macro-social control. Self-expression through the selection of video clips is policed by the site provider, Google, as well as an array of record labels, movie producers, television executives, intellectual property lawyers and even among users themselves. Therefore, it is possible to exert ownership over the ways in which users “view” themselves, or construct their corpo-digital, video corporeality. This is memorial repression driven by market needs.

A disturbing example of the historicization of the immediate can be found in Ric Silver’s attempt to sue Google for copyright infringement on his dance, the Electric, using the DMCA.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NZwnm6B90M[/youtube]

Though he was able to secure a 2004 copyright on a Labanotation of a piece of 1976 choreography that dance ethnographers would say is not the Electric Slide as practiced by people today,

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1FIwBcnRQ4[/youtube]

he was countered sued by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2007 and lost, but he maintained the ability to say what is the Electric Slide. He now scours YouTube posting comments sending people to read his definition of the Electric Slide on Wikipedia. Through his solipsism and the grey areas of the DMCA, Ric Silver exerts wide-ranging social control over the way in which we celebrate and distribute reproductions of that celebration.

In this nexus, Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines’ performance of Michael Jackson’s standard-setting music video, Thriller, should’ve sent MJ into fits of copyright hysteria. But it did not. Foisted upon the prisoners by “security consultant” Byron Garcia as compulsory exercise, Thriller is arguably the one music video that any avid MTV watcher remembers. It trafficked in genre-crossing production values, illuminating the potential of the music video to stand alone as a work of significance. When the orange-draped bodies of the inmates at Cebu, all 967 of them, began to lurch to that familiar creepy, funky music, globally our jaws dropped.

Cebu Prison

Cebu Prison

Comments on the video ranged from the celebratory, congratulatory and inspired. It is telling, that few questioned the ethics of compulsory dance performance. Maybe because they only “see” the potential for fun from their own subject position. Again, projections of dance events posted on YouTube reveal more about the member than they do YouTube as an organization–though they are infamous for pulling videos when served DMCA-based take-down notices even when the work rides within “fair use” range. Byron Garcia posted several videos to show regimentation and population control that was result-driven to other security professionals. To get to that level of proficiency, he obviously worked them hard, with a reward dangling at the end of his stick.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMnk7lh9M3o[/youtube]

Lost is the immediate concern: that these men and women are participating in a poorly defined area of social control. They are YouTube stars now. Our eyes are burning. It makes it hard to see.

Video and Image Credits

1. “Gap Commercial – Khaki Swing” from YouTube
2. “Awsome Post-It Dancing Guys” from YouTube
3. “Pas de Deux – Cirque – équilibre sur pointes” from YouTube
4. “Thousand-Hand Guanyin” from YouTube
5. “The Electric AKA The ELECTRIC SLIDE” from YouTube
6. “Electric Slide, Anyone?” from YouTube
7. Cebu Prison
8. “Thriller” (original upload) from YouTube

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Not Yo’ Momma’s Cyborg: Transformers Meet More Than Your Eye

By Anna Beatrice Scott / University of California, Riverside

Production still from enewsi.com

Production still from enewsi.com

Gesticulations

Marketing campaigns, meant to enmesh our lives in cycles of desire and incompleteness are compelling experiential screenic devices/entities. They invite tactility through displays of a representation (often) of another corpo-imaginaria consuming a product or using a device in such a way as to trigger our automated response to facial gesture and locomotion styles. The advertisement references the kinesiosphere in order to situate itself as part of our everyday. Though we like to think that we have become immune to these 30 second stories, in fact, they are woven into our movement vocabulary, and often add new gestures to the palettes, sets, and drop down windows.

When the campaign evolves into hundreds of sequential 30 second spots strung together with CGI animation, tweening the breaks in choreography less a fissure erupt through the sutures, our body awareness, i.e. our corpo-reality necessarily materializes as character in the story. We become cybernectic through the manipulation of our gestures; they play back in front of us on the screen, made all the more sensorial by special effects displacing, replacing, and enticing an environment of interaction.

Considering the environment of interaction as a type of social sphere, even when projected or pixelated, gestures emerge as vital components of pre-conceptualized socialization; one driven by a physiological imperative to mobilize the human systems in space and across space, against gravity, but not much else. Our systemic misunderstandings of tone, inflection and bodily movement create the need for story, yet the foot treads marked by habitual action embed stories in the series of interlocking gestures themselves. The kinesiosphere is a way to think about the myriad subtle exchanges we have with other bodies of the external sort. Obviously we share air and water systems, but we share systems of kinemes that are organized into discreet sets across cultures and change as the body itself ages; and now, across mechanics, objects and species.

Trans-Iterations

To talk of CGI animation is in many ways to speak of ILM, Industrial Light and Magic. The developer of most of the code used to digitally enhance action sequences, matte transitions, conduct/create digital animation, ILM has developed a fleet of well-trained and highly skilled animation supervisors responsible for shifting our sense of the possible. In this article, I want to explore not ILM, but the translation/transmorgificaiton of gender and race as dis-created and re-imagined through the Animation Supervisor and the gestures which he chooses to deploy and animate.

The first thing he would tell us, is that much of it is not his choice.

Working in tight formation with an army of production assistants and marketing assistants, master minds like Scott Benza (Star Wars Episode III, Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Transformers), have to create a knowable unknown universe exciting enough to sell the product, and surprising enough to leverage as a brand vehicle. Perhaps this article is secretly about branding: gesture, race & gender.

Transformers (2007) is a rip roaring good time. I was struck by how little I groaned, or anyone else in the audience for that matter, at the blatant product placement, and the omnipresence of the Army and DOD. I actually enjoyed the awkward love interest, the greasy chic dream getting a little time, lubricated by the bond of a guy and his ride. Then I realized, duh, this is not odd: it is not that we have become immune to branding, or that we are too wrapped up in a “good story” to notice all the GM vehicles and Pepsico Products, branding has achieved its first sought after goal. We are coursing through an experiential market place like fish in water. The brand is our home. It is our mirror. It is our choreographer. The brand is the story. Without the brand, there is just simulation.

Branding has become our method of ordering, of differentiation of self from group, groups from other groups, us from them, you from me in a way that does not feel so alienating or repulsive. Dancing with the brand, living its dream, provides for cross-species interaction, not to mention death-defying females, wussy boys getting the girl and black men surviving through to the end credits. In Transformers, the brand is absolutely the story. The kinesiosphere of the cyborg as arrived, thanks to decades of Hasbro magic.

Transformers G1® Frame shot from answers.com

Transformers G1® Frame shot from answers.com

Toying with the Kinemes

Hasbro has been around in our homes it seems like forever if you were born after 1952 when their smash hit, Mr. Potato Head®, first hit the shelves. I personally can sing the Transformers© cartoon theme song, which made me treasure every word of Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” when I finally grew up and went to grad school. TRANSFORMERS! ROBOTS IN DISGUISE. TRANSFORMERS! MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE! Lego® on steroids, or a redux of Hasbro’s (in)famous GI Joe® action figure, the Transformer® toy was awesome and battle ready and totally for boys. Totally for pre-soldiers. I always hated the Easy Bake oven. Why couldn’t it transform. BAKING OVEN! ROBOT IN DISGUISE! BAKING OVEN! PIE GETS IN YOUR EYES! But I digress, or head towards the point.

Hasbro, or the Hassenfeld Brothers have been branding playtime for a long time, conquering comic books and Saturday mornings alike in extremely gendered specific ways. That they have leveraged this brand with General Motors and the US Army, into a CGI-driven action film should come as no surprise. Those of us called Gen X-ers when we came out of college into coffee shops and slackerdom (which includes fan boy Scott Benza), are more succintly described as “The Hasbro Nation.” Jammed into predetermined slots of gender reality, our gestures emmanate as much from our diurnal investigations of the humans in our household as they do the animated characters on our screens. And yes, we are also the Atari Nation.

Wait! We are the Tie-In Nation! Yeah, that feels about right.

But branding did not get it right until the 21st century. Now there are parents who don’t remember not being branded.

Big Boy Toys

Bumble Bee® larger than life from blogspot.com

Bumble Bee® larger than life from blogspot.com

The use of larger-than life models and CGI animation in the film brings together the childhood fantasy of having the toys actually talk and do their thing for you, without you “animating” them. However, since they are brought to life, they must move in ways that we can recognize as humanoid, less they be too strange to enjoy/emulate. The gestures employed by the robots, we are told through the narration, were culled from the World Wide Web, so in effect, they are mirroring “us,” aping us, for more “effective” communication.

And yet, they are just stereotypes.

Would an alien super culture select that about us? Rhetorical, but as a vehicle for a major toy company, car company, and military regime, this film must trade in base-line gestural patterns in order to maximize audience size and leverage all of the product tie-ins. Gestural sets in this film are very subtle since the animated objects are humanoid/android. We do not have to wonder too much at the distraction of a dancing fairy tale character or cooking rat. Coupled with the color and make of the cars, the viewer is given all of the clues that they need to “race” a robot.

Each robot, like their human counterparts, has an idiosyncratic way of moving through its body to communicate its desire, emotion, and station in the universe. The two most obvious were the yellow Camaro® cum Bumble Bee’s® “talk” through the radio using classic 70s easy rock and Star Trek quotes and Jazz’s® break dancing through any scene. Jazz®, break dance, Pontiac®, get it?

Specs for the Jazz® action figure from blogspot.com

Specs for the Jazz® action figure from blogspot.com

“Jazz”® as Pontiac Solstice® from blogspot.com

“Jazz”® as Pontiac Solstice® from blogspot.com

No hoopty, Jazz® is a modified Pontiac Solstice®, but he’s still a “real niggah” as evidenced by his seemingly uncontrollable urge to dance in the face of danger and “break verbs” in a way that reveals his complete inability to properly use Ebonics. The truly mechanized gesture, one that is itself a character in the film, is the transformation from vehicle to upright robot. What type of drop down screening happens in that transition? Does the direction in which the robot flips in order to become bipedal indicate whether it will be friendly or fire? Geek that I am, I have to imagine that the John Frazier and the guys who devoted themselves to building the physical robot for Bumble Bee® thought about these things as they conversed with the animator, Jeff Man about how to tween the rotations and foley in the clicks and whirs of gears shifting into organ-like stasis.

Both characters are voiced as male, as are all the robots. The female is located in the generator/interpretator, immobile, potent, creatrix and destroyer. Ah, and silent. What then, is the difference between the cyborg and the robot? Where is the cyborg on screen? Honestly, the soldiers, the hormonally challenged boy, the car-thieving girl, the code-breaking hot blonde and her fat funky guru are the cyborgs. Even more so, every audience member who’s ever sang that theme song in their pajamas bear the brand of the cybernetic.

Image Credits:

1. Production still from enewsi.com

2. Transformers G1® Frame shot from answers.com

3. Bumble Bee® larger than life from blogspot.com

4. Specs for the Jazz® action figure from blogspot.com

5. “Jazz”® as Pontiac Solstice® from blogspot.com

Please feel free to comment.




Dancing in the Distraction Factory: CGI, Captured Feet, and Box Office Magic

by: Anna Beatrice Scott / University of California, Riverside

The Backyardigans

The Backyardigans

I begin this article with a text, actually with the title of a text that mentions dance, but does not talk about it. When I first came across the book about MTV by Andrew Goodwin, I was excited by the possibilities, then after reading it, disappointed. What a waste of a great title, I thought through my dancer blinders! Too be fair, Goodwin was writing at a time when Dance Studies was more fragmented and less likely to concern itself with the banality of televisual dancing. It would have never occurred to him to actually investigate the ways in which the dancing body was being deployed in frame as his overall project seemed to account for everything by focusing on capital formations and networks. Yet MTV relied heavily on a proliferation of underpaid, anonymous dancing bodies.

Displaced, breathing, dancing bodies are the foundation of contemporary block-buster 3-D CGI animation. Now with screen credits, movement models enable the virtuosity of ‘animators’ to demonstrate the capacity for rendering reality and fantasy all at once. The rendered dance double is meant to draw our eye away from the objects on screen and into a sensorial experience of human story and song. A veritable wave of distracting choreography and gestures, 3-D CGI animation portends a shift in consciousness, not just capital.

By turning our attention to the representation of figures in frame (I think we may have passed the moment where we can comfortably talk about “bodies”), tracking their location in the controlled space of the frame, but being cognizant of the wider sphere in which action is accomplished or said to be in the process of being/unbeing (here we would necessarily think about the meta-choreographies which circulate with, through and around a televisual and cinematic production) we can enter into a more robust analysis of the self-systemizing place of the projected and broadcasted in our daily lives. How are specific parameters set for our own movement through cultural concepts and performatives by the viral nature of an object moving in our visual field, whether or not it is “actual?” Working from Goodwin’s title, I would like to open a discussion about the wave of CGI animation across screens of all sizes, and the convergence of “real,” “performance,” “archival,” “action,” “computation,” and “liveness” in the manipulation of actual bodies for capturing movement (dance to be specific, though I find the gestural equally if not more mesmerizing in these vehicles) and the resultant effect of unsuccessful simulacra, meaning “copiedness” always functions as veracity; it absorbs, retains and creates surplus value which is extracted to create “brand equity” through tightly controlled and highly enhanced “real movement” of our habitual repertoire.

Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo

The branding of human gestural patterns and artistic bodily productions (which themselves are easily and readily “copiable”) creates the case for copyrighting sequences as intellectual property, but for whom? To be clear, to “repeat” the performance one once needed the “original” cast, but now with DVD technology, dance teams can “render” “live” versions of the “original” in frame, which is not the original after all, rather its representation; the “original” belongs to the first set of bodies, or even to the visualizing brain the choreographer.

Savion Glover as the \'Stunt Double\' in Happy Feet

Savion Glover as the ‘Stunt Double’ in Happy Feet

Dancing objects and human bodies pose a particular problem to the idea of “original” and “copy” real/unreal/surreal as to learn choreography, to establish parameters within which movement will happen is to necessarily copy someone else’s ideas/concepts about motion, time, space, rhythm, weight, and dare I say it, beauty and entertainment. I am suggesting that the added layer of “laying a dance track,” “being the dance stunt double,” as Savion Glover referred to his work for Happy Feet, obliterates the artistic laboring of breathing bodies as it is displaced by the “life-like” motion of the animated object. But dance dubbing (or body doubles, not a new concept at all, think Flash Dance) also confounds our interaction with movement itself: dance is assumed to be particular to the person doing it.

Future amelioration/translation or copying of the dance double’s work with the intention of repeating it as computation for an animated object/animal/stylized humanoid troubles our assumptions about the precession of the real and hence our perception, especially through tactility, respiration and vibration. Our eyes maybe looking at a screen of some sort with various mobile thingamabobbies on it, but our biofeedback would reveal an experience of dance: that quickened breathing, sympathetic heart rate, rhythmic twitching of large muscle groups, and the occasional unfounded sense of elation. We are not so inured to the copy

“That’s the song from Shark Tale!”

“That’s the song from Shark Tale!”

A dance performance can be copied by rehearsing it over and over, without any intention of “putting your flavor on it” as we like to say in the studio when learning a move through imitating it from someone else. Taking a representation of a dance performance that was captured on tape/film/gigabytes back into “live, real time” does not necessarily mean that the performer is not making a copy. Moreover, in this age of the Digital Millennium Act, said performers could very well be infringing on the copyright (real, imagined or explicit) of someone else. Choreography is, after all, sequencing. But whose copyright? The videographer’s, the choreographer’s, the composer’s, the dancer’s? Now add to this 21st century morass the computational thing called 3-D CGI animation and you get a copy that is an original.

“Tweening is an age bracket of 12-15 year old girls!”

This original exists not as a series of hand-drawn cells, created by a flock of artists paid a salary to “disappear” their style into the look of the company that pays them (Disney, Hanna-Barabrera, Nelvana, Nickelodean, etc.) but as an amalgamation of sketches, sculptures, photographs, drawings, and “renderings” or string upon string of code. There are pods and pods of people working on the various layers of the rendering of the film or show in order to evoke “realness” in the realm of the imaginary. Meanwhile producers carefully attend to the “real” need for the “vehicle” or “product” to be “leverageable”: i.e. interminably “copiable” to ensure specific rates of return on the “gianormous” investment required to work within such a global industry.

The preproduction of a 3-D CGI animated feature, for example, rivals the preparations for an Olympic Village in its international scope, levels of activity, players and expenditures (not to mention its displaced laborers, hidden local costs, disruptive business practices, and masked political turmoil with “art”). Factory-like, it is amusing that artistry reigns over or is the raison d’être for all the copying; that which we have assumed to be de facto unoriginality.

Jada Pinkett as Gloria the Hippo

Jada Pinkett as Gloria the Hippo

Heads are measured and copied. Voices are recorded, measured and copied. Bodies are made to move in sometimes unnatural sequences (how do you dance like a penguin after all?) while the effort, shape, and position of the joints are measured, captured and copied. Entire group performances are recorded, measured, and copied. Statistics are used to generate the probable parameters for the motion of the character which will be represented by the merge of all these measurements and then…ACTION!

“Hanna-Barbiturates”

Is the action on a sound stage where breathing bodies are paced through partial sets as they were in the pre-production of Monster House somewhere in California? Or is it in a New York dance studio where dancers were casted based on the choreographer’s interpretation of the script like Backyardigans? Is it in a motion capture lab in Emeryville where body measurements are taken of the voice actor’s face, and gait to capitalize on his/her as in Shrek, or full body motion captured/extracted as in Happy Feet. Is the action in the board room as tie-ins for video games, Happy Meals, and pharmaceuticals are negotiated? Is the action on a hard drive in a computer somewhere in Korea, or does it only arrive there for color correction and detail work like making “hair” look wet?

The truth is, when action is enacted, it is no longer after the slate has been marked and camera is rolling at speed. Nope. Action across digitized x, y, and z axes is non-linear, multifocal, transglobal, and beyond the biped. Action is math. Computation is labor. Motion is measured and accounted for. Yet, without a referent, most of this simply does not read as believable–even though there is nothing believable about singing or dancing penguins, kangaroos, lions, giraffes, angel fish, lemurs, sharks, ogres or donkeys. Without all of the copying and archiving of data, there is no original artwork. Without that artwork there is nothing to leverage and brand, no vehicle to support a bevy of tie-ins, product placements, synergistic partnerships and well-trained legal teams. An array of archival work deployed as live, life-like activity plied into virtual, mobile shapes, has 3-D CGI animation made it possible for a democratic departure from the meat behind in the chair? Or are we afforded an opportunity to acquire a new gesture: the morph? the radical, visceral subjectivity transformer? I’m not so sure, but I don’t have time to think about it; I’ve got to get to my Second Life…

Image Credits:
1. The Backyardigans from www.ew.com
2. Finding Nemo from www.bestqualitywallpapers.com
3. Happy Feet from www.pro-g.co.uk
4. Savion Glover from www.nytimes.com
5. A Shark Tale video game still from cdn.channels.aol.com
6. Jada Pinkett as Gloria the Hippo

Anna Beatrice Scott is assistant professor of Dance History & Theory at University of California, Riverside.