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Troika Ranch and Telepresence in “Loop Diver” via Dance-Tech.net

posted Jan 30, 2013, 10:26 PM by Ellen Pearlman

Troika Ranch and Telepresence in “Loop Diver” via Dance-Tech.net

Dance-Tech.Net’s website

Loop Diver is a seminal work by the dance company Trokia Ranch.  ”The source for the dancers is a video piece cut and edited with many loops that try to recreate as close as possible the video,” they stated. In this work the company deconstructs human motion to behave as if it were in a freeze frame going backwards and forwards, something dance mechanics and choreography rarely focus on.

Though it has been performed before in different contexts, including a PBS documentary, this time it was streamed live on Dance-tech.net from Berlin, Germany. Approximately 85 people tuned in from Hong Kong, Sweden, Andrews Air Force Base, Brooklyn, Bern, Switzerland, Santa Fe, Sussex, UK, Amsterdam, Cape Town and Liverpool, among others, as well as the live audience from Berlin.

While live streaming of events, including commenting by individuals is now common place, I wanted to rethink this performance in terms of cameras, sound, movement and lights. If the future belongs to high speed networks and distance collaborations, what could be lessons learned from this broadcast? 

Fade in and fade out of two cameras, and live time comments during Loop Diver

A square image does not impart depth, and the sense of flatness was pervasive. Because the performance was dimly lit, a lot of detail was lost for the remote audience that could be sensed by a live audience. Long shots are helpful to establish place, but lose intricate details. Shadow, usually so important, becomes dead space. The poetics is drained and instead there is an inky squidness, as if  immersed in the depts of the ocean, performing in front of the headlights of a submarine. 

In this situation music becomes even more important, especially when using audio headphones with a laptop computer, or even smaller remote viewing device. There is no sound of the dancers actually moving, since pre-recorded music was the main sonic reference. Occasionally dancer’s voices could be heard because of amplified  hanging mikes. The camera’s perspective is the only gaze allowed, and in that sense patterns of costumes and close ups are effective in keeping the eye engaged. When the body is bifuricated by the lens, the sense of humanness decreases, and involvement tapers off.

Face tracking mechanism inside a camera - annoying or interesting?

Occasionally one camera would create a frame around a dancer’s head, an unintended consequence - yet it was strangely compelling as well. 

Loop Diver lit by background stage set

As Ken Goldberg wrote in “The Robot in the Garden: Telerobotics and Telepistomology in the Age of the Internet,” “are we being deceived? What can we know? What can we rely on for evidence?”, a question that dates back to Plato and the beginning study of epistemology. Having an intermediary such as live telepresence just heightens the urgency of the inquiry.

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