Queensland’s Expressions Dance Company has always led the way in terms of innovation and originality, but the company’s latest venture – Lumen Body – takes innovation to the next level.
In the company’s new production, visual and sonic worlds collide in a luminous collaboration between dance, animation, sound and outdoor installation. Performed in three different spaces, four dancers from the company interact with animated visual forms, electronic sound and live vocal performance.
Elise May of Expressions Dance Company choreographed the movements, while visual artist Michelle Xen’s physical sonic performance combines with Paul Van Opdenbosch’s experimental animations.
Simple geometric sculptures are illuminated by projected imagery that responds to the movement of the dancers’ bodies. Physical and digital objects, bodies and sounds talk to one another and tell visual stories in the illuminated space where three art forms merge and collaborate.
Dance Informa spoke with Expressions Dance Company’s Elise May about the production.
How did you come to collaborate with Michelle Xen and Paul van Opdenbosch for this production?
“I have had a creative working relationship with Paul Van Opdenbosch since we began working together whilst we were both engaged in our postgraduate research at QUT. We had the opportunity to explore Xen’s motion capture technologies, and together we used the data from the motion capture sessions to feed into our practice-led research. In the animation studio, Paul used this information to create beautiful, abstract moving images generated from the body’s movement. I also used the motion capture data as a kind of template to create choreographic sequences and also used Paul’s animations as inspiration for my exploration of performance design and installation.
I have admired Michelle Xen’s work for a long time, and this project presented the perfect opportunity to engage with her as a collaborator. She is a remarkable artist who has a following as a live performer and also as a visual artist. Not only is she extraordinarily talented as a musician and vocalist, but she is passionate, innovative and risk-taking as an artist, and this was something that inspired me to ask Michelle to be involved in the project.”
Did you draw inspiration from the other artists, or did they feed off your movements?
“Lumen Body is really the result of a series of conversations around the kind of work that we, as artists, are each inspired to create. It combines elements of our interests in performance, design and visual art but is also completely informed by the ideas and process of collaboration with these really interesting artists.
Paul’s visually complex animations harness the motion generated in the body in a really unique way. From the recorded data of my body moving through space, he played with various elements like gravity, spatial orientation, geometric shapes and fluid organic forms in a constant state of movement. For me, these forms compliment dance in a performance setting. They provide a visual language and connection with the choreography that is rich and descriptive. I have worked with the dancers in a choreographic sense with these qualities in mind. We have played in the studio, using various tasks and movement generators to create similar geometric and organic effects with our bodies.
Michelle’s electronic score was created in the studio whilst working with the dancers. This is a rare luxury as a choreographer, and I really loved the process of letting the sound and movement experiments co-influence one another and connect in unexpected ways. All of the elements in Lumen Body — the installation design, choreography, animation and music — all have this influencing effect on one another. As one area evolves, the other areas begin to take on these new characteristics. It’s a very interesting and organic way of working, and it becomes really exciting when all of the elements begin to merge together.”
This is a ground-breaking work that combines a number of visual and sonic mediums. Tell us more about what makes this production so unique.
“Like any work of art, there is an element of risk when creating something new. With Lumen Body, the process of devising the work has taken place across a whole series of new ideas and new combinations of elements. In the studio, we have generated movement that has been inspired by many different inputs; the visual, the sonic but also the architectural or sculptural notions that have arisen from the design have informed the ways that we construct the movement. A very explorative and experimental and possibly even playful approach has resulted from working with these combinations of forms. We engaged the skills of Richard Candy, an industrial designer, to work with us on the set design and build, and his understanding of art in public spaces has really helped to inform the way we approached the site-specific nature of the installation. What we have developed is connected very closely with the context of how it will appear in the environment in which it will be performed.
The performance is durational, so we will be in each site-specific outdoor location for an extended period of time; however, the performance is designed in 15-20-minute cycles of activity, so audiences for Lumen Body may drop in to observe or may simply fall across the performance in action. We hope to spark the interest of new audiences who may not ordinarily experience live performance but who may stop to watch one of our performance cycles. There is a lot of exploration to be had in terms of the combination of performance elements and in taking non-traditional approaches to the presentation of contemporary dance.
The Lumen Body team is interested in working in an experimental way, and in presenting work that engages audiences differently, but also speaks of our interest in innovation and in the new and emerging technologies that are becoming increasingly available to us. We wanted to create a work that audiences would engage with on visual and sonic levels and that would have sculptural design elements within the set, costume and projected imagery. The concept of ‘lumen’ or ‘luminosity’ arose from the animator’s early experiments that resulted in a beautiful, abstract, luminous visual language. This informed our desire to work with fibre optic lighting so that the work could be ‘self-lit’ and essentially generate its own sense of texture and glow. We wanted to find a way to bring our intersecting art forms together in such a way that would create a really unique experience for the viewer.”
Were the four dancers part of the creative process as well, or did much of the collaboration and creation occur without them?
“The conversations with the creative team have taken place over a space of months, whereas the time in the studio with the dancers was much more focused. This, however, has not meant that the dancers have not had a collaborative input into the work. On the contrary, the series of tasks and experiments that the dancers have been involved with have generated a movement language that is very unique to Lumen Body and has arisen from each of the dancer’s bodies in response to the other elements. I asked them to play within a set of parameters, and they have in a sense used their own choreographic skills to devise small sequences of movement that have been pieced together into the overall patchwork of the choreography. This is why it is really incredible to work with such skilled, creative ‘thinking’ dancers. They bring so much to the process, and that inevitably helps to shape the detail of the choreography. Michelle’s electronic score has also provided inspiration for the kinds of forms that we are creating with the body. In one section of the work, the dancers use Michelle Xen’s gestural movements in an improvisational mode to generate one of the sequences live in performance. My intention was also to integrate Michelle’s incredible physical presence into the choreography in a playful, experimental way.”
Lumen Body will be performed in three different locations. How will the different venues influence the piece and change the performances?
“The performances take place of three locations around Brisbane in July. They are predominately public spaces in which people gather, but they also offer different interesting qualities as sites for performance. In choosing the locations for our performances, we were not only inspired by the physical setting of each space but also by the types of audiences that each setting may attract. Each of the sites will each offer its unique qualities that will influence the way that a work is experienced in terms of its spatial layout, viewing possibilities and its proximity with the audience. These factors will obviously all contribute to the viewing experience in each location. We will be very interested to see how they will differ and also compliment one another as performance venues. We also hope that Lumen Body goes on to have a future life as a site-specific performance, and we will use the experience of these sites as information to further develop our understanding of how all of the individual elements come together in each unique location.”
For more information on Expressions Dance Company’s Lumen Body, click here.
By Rebecca Martin of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Expressions Dance Company’s ‘Lumen Body’. Photo courtesy of EDC.