_______________________________________________________________________________________ The Proposal
Bruno Azeredo (Mechanical Eng.), Armand Beaudoin (Mechanical Eng.), Philip Johnston (Dance), Kirstie Simson (Dance) and Hank Kaczmarski (Beckman) from the engineering department received a Focal Point Grant from the Graduate College at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for this project that looks at bringing together the disciplines of Dance, Music and Engineering.
Philip Johnston and Kirstie Simson from the UIUC dance department are both principle investigators on the project and will be working along side BrunoAzeredo (engineering), professor Armand Beaudoin (engineering), Dr. Melih Sener (biophysics) and music composer D.M.A Camille Goudeseune (Beckman).
The opportunities to merge science with art are few and far between. The separation between what many view as opposite fields of study – engineering and dance – is prevalent at the University of Illinois, and at other institutions of higher learning as well. The manner in which each of these fields are taught unfortunately leaves little room for overlap. While dance instruction focuses on body movements, artistic expression, and musicality, mechanical engineering instruction teaches movement of rigid bodies based on a fundamental set of mathematical and theoretical description. However, both fields of study overlap in their use and study of rigid body motion, each with fundamentally different approaches to the topic. This Focal Point project proposes to overcome that and introduce dance to scientists in a framework with which they are familiar, while assisting contact improvisation dancers in their creative process of interacting with sound and music. As a result, two commonly disjoint university departments will come together as a proof-of-principle that such approaches to instruction are both possible and beneficial to the University of Illinois academic infrastructure.
The project uses small traceable points sewn onto the clothing of the dancers to track the movement of arms, legs, heads, and even small motions such as finger tips. This technology, called motion capture, is readily available at the Beckman institute. Engineering becomes an important tool to interpret a myriad of data points that are produced in real time while dancers perform. This data is manipulated with algorithmic methods such as Principal Component Analysis from Mechanical engineering which deciphers the orientation of the dancers relative to a reference frame. Another attempt from the engineering crew is to decipher the degree to which contact improvisation dancers are entangled and their bodies overlap by applying algorithms used by biophysicists at Beckman led by Dr. Melih Sener in the study of the allosteric transformation of proteins. The similarities between the dance and science are the driving force for implementing and translating the movement into meaningful data.
Upon deciphering events in a dance, this data is handed over to Beckman researcher Dr. Camille Goudeseune, D.M.A and computer scientist, to produce sound and music that are controlled or modified by the movement and the elements or events deciphered by the engineering data analysis. The sound is fed into the dance almost instantaneously in real time and the dancers are able to interact with it in whatever way they might find interesting. One of the points of interest about this project is that through discussion we decided to base the whole project around a creative process that would culminate in a performance. We chose to do this in order to leave a lot of room for experimentation.
We decided that we would take one week in March when we would share our interest and exploration in real time with a live audience through lectures, Q&A's, interactive demos and performance. The dance element will be improvised, and we have invited 3 colleagues from Europe who are all highly experienced improvisational artists; Artist-Scholar Dr Simon Ellis from Roehampton University in the UK, and dancers Marika Rizzi and Alvaro Morrell from Paris. There will be a week of research with the engineers and music composer, that will culminate in a performance on Friday 29th March, including performers Kirstie Simson, Philip Johnston, Simon Ellis, Marika Rizzi, and Alvaro Morrell. During the week prior to March 25th, the team plans to do equipment set-up and test, rehearsals, and practices that are open to the public.