Milwaukee Ballet embraces Innovative technology
Luc Vanier’s plays with motion capture and funky shoes in Innovative Motion
When Milwaukee Ballet’s Innovative Motion opens a four-day run Thursday at Pabst Theater, choreographer and UW-Milwaukee assistant dance professor Luc Vanier will probably be even more anxious than usual. His piece, Sur_Rendered, premières that night, and he’s all too aware that anything can go wrong. Dancers will be outfitted with infrared lights that interact with cameras to create live motion-capture images on three surfaces—it’s kind of like playing with a giant a Wii, only with a lot more artistic credibility. Anyone who’s ever had a computer crash at precisely the wrong moment knows the inherent danger of using this kind of technology in a live setting, particularly in front of hundreds of expectant audience members. The lingering anxiety raises questions: What’s our relationship with technology, and do we really control it? Or do we just give in and work within its confines?
As Vanier points out in his notes on Sur_Rendered, only 10 percent of human movement is a conscious response; the rest is intuitive. By stripping the dancers of their certainty and comfort, Vanier pushes the conventions of ballet and opens doors. The dancers control the animated movement on the screen, but they might have to learn to move in different ways to achieve it. And it’s not just the dancers—Vanier’s piece requires LED lights because normal lights interact with the dancers’ equipment, and costume materials need to work with the technology, too.
Vanier has another, more sadistic take on surrendering to technology: One dancer wears an overgrown pointe shoe—basically a boot glued to a big piece of pink foam—as a sort of comment on the painful footwear. He calls it The Boot, but the comment on pointe shoes doesn’t stop there. “We have a tendency to always want to hide technology. We’re using the pointe shoes more as stilts. We slam them, we use them to do things that you normally would not. Normally, dancers can’t make noise in pointe shoes.”
The night’s not all comments on pointe shoes and crazy motion capture technology, though. Two other bite-size ballets round out Innovative Motion, including a new work from Timothy O’Donnell, winner of Milwaukee Ballet’s 2009 international choreographic competition, and Salvatore Aiello’s Clowns And Others. To learn more about Vanier’s experiments with motion-capture images in dance, go here.