All posts by John Toenjes

Alternate Reality performance at UC-Irvine

INTERFACE: Alternate Reality is a new work-in-progress that had its first incubation period during a three-week residency as a 21C Seed project at the Institute for 21st Century Creativity at the UC-Irvine Claire Trevor School of the Arts. This work builds upon our earlier works which use the LAIT mobile application system for live performance, Critical Mass and Public Figure, both of which seek to use the mobile phone as a means of increasing audience engagement with dance as an art form and theatrical experience. Alternate Reality is a work that incorporates game culture and game thinking into the conception of live dance performance. It seeks to find ways to modernize dance performance to be in line with contemporary culture that is heavily influenced by first-person user interaction and competitiveness and the goal-orientated thinking which that promotes. Many people, particularly young audiences, are used to taking an active role in the direction and outcomes of their entertainment activities. They’re used to using game controllers that help them navigate game structures. With the capabilities of our LAIT-based app, now called “Mosho”, we have been able to craft a live-action game structure that incorporates contemporary dance.

We crafted a plot where a ship (undefined: could be a spaceship, or a sailing vessel) had hit a maelstrom which scattered her crew into many different places and times, and now they all were existing resulting in alternate realities. The captain of the ship was looking to reunite them, and enlisted the help of the audience “players” to locate them and bring them all back to one reality. To reunite the crew, the players had to solve various puzzles that would yield clues, that would lead players to discover keywords by scanning AR target images. These words were then used to complete phrases about “reality” which had come from three famous personages: Albert Einstein, John Lennon, and the film director Tim Burton. The audience used the Mosho app to find the various locations of the crew, to solve the puzzles that were found at each game level, to scan the AR target images to uncover the keywords, and then text those keywords to the captain.

Below is video documentation of the work-in-progress showing. For even more in-depth writing about this production, visit Prof. Toenjes’ new CV site page about Alternate Reality.

Student reactions to Critical Mass performance

My colleage at the University of Illinois shared her beginning dance student responses to Critical Mass. They are quite enlightening as to the effect that this technology has on young audiences. Read on…

• The cell phone app was the most interesting piece of technology used in my opinion. I had never heard of dancer’s using a phone app to guide the performance and to allow you to act and react to the story line. I thought in some ways it could be distracting because of all of the sounds and images that popped up throughout the show BUT at the same time forced the audience to pay attention. I think many times people wander off into their cell phones during performances which is very annoying. What I noticed was most of the audience was drawn in because of the use of technology. They wanted to see what would happen during the performance, they wanted to see how the app reacted, and they could almost have cared less about their Facebook, twitter, Instagram and other modes of social media. Overall, I think the phone app was a success for that particular dance and improved the audience’s interest… I would have also liked to see more perspectives on social media. One area of interest for me, as a psychology major, is how much social media influences psychopathology. How has depression, anxiety, bi polar, Cyclothymia, dysthymia etc. rates increased with social media and what does that mean for our society? Perhaps I would have added a dancer that viewed social media as a means of creating illness not wellness. — Allyson B.

• The concept of social media and nuclear energy seemed fairly clear to me, or at least much more clear than the remaining 3 acts, most of which offered very little explanation. The first act had a lot of ideas that were executed extremely well, and the inclusion of the app really helped drive the point home. The audience choosing their favorite duet is more than just interesting in the sense that it engages the audience, it also seems to be referencing the judgmental nature of social media and showing us what people go through in order to be liked…It was a super cool performance though, and I really like what you came up with. I agree that the use of technology made the performance much more engaging, or at least novel. I remember much more of this performance than the other three in the show, even though it was the first one. — Nick O.

• The nuclear metaphor relating a radioactive meltdown to the breaking point or critical mass of Internet consumption of an idea or concept was quite astonishing. At all times I was drawn to the fabulous lighting, unique stage design, and thought-provoking monologues coming from my phone. To say that it was innovative does not do it justice. I am so completely blown away by the performance that I want to take the time to praise in explicitly in the first part of my reflection. I had never seen a dance performance like this, but it is safe to say that I am now a lifelong fan of contemporary dance because of ‘Critical Mass’. Going back to the concept being transferred to the stage, I appreciated the towering, almost god-like presence of the cube. The humor that was sprinkled in intermittently over the course of the show allowed for the critical mass metaphor to be presented without being too ‘overindulgent’ is the word that comes to mind. Without the humor, the good and bad of Internet consumption of social media domination would have been more difficult to ascertain.
The aesthetics of the performance, to me, we the electronic lighting that simulated the type of light that comes from a smartphone. The cube itself, flashing various funny picture and nuclear images, presented a strange but accessible format by which the audience received the information. The app, although it crashed many times during the performance, forced me to become fully immersed in the show. The initial immersion, in addition, primed me to pay closer attention to the following shows, elevating my enjoyment of them as well. The wonderful thing about the show, I feel, is that it is a good introduction to contemporary dance. — Jake P.

• Critical mass combined cell phone with the dance. The cellphone app was directly connected to the screen on the cube that people can post their photos and messages onto it. Another use of the app is to vote for the dance that audience want to see. Also we can hear the dancer’s thoughts about the theme of the dance –social media. The cube on the stage was also very novel, it had a door to let the dancers hide inside and come out, and each side of the cube had screens connected to the app. When the cube rotated, people can see different parts on the app such as images or dancer’s interviews. Critical mass to me is like a nuclear center, and the dancers were like the splits of the center. The dancers wore security clothes to represent the danger of the nuclear, and the app fully represented the social media. This dance is very unique and I think it has a bright future. Cell phones, ipads are inseparable parts in life, the combination of these technologies with dance could be the main stream in the future. — Jiayue S.

• The only piece that felt truly alive for my money was the first performance, “Critical Mass”. Prof. Toenjes’ piece offered an experience that was thought-provoking and consistently engaging throughout its entirety. Its paranoid setting was brought to life through the use of the costumes on the dancers that looked like they were in a radioactive area, through the echoes of glitch and static that would erupt at seemingly random intervals from phones in the audience, and from the chaos of having so many different elements happening at once, very reminiscent of the Mark Morris dances where the stage was filled with performers. — Matt N.

LAIT-based “CM2=E” app at the West Hollywood Dance Festival

LAIT was used at the 2017 West Hollywood Dance Festival to deliver interactive program notes to the audience. The app took the place of paper programs and displayed the title of the dance, the dance company, and other information about the dance that the choreographers wanted the audience to know. The audience could move freely through the program because LAIT now has quite functional buttons and menus that make it operate more like a typical app on a smartphone. This lets the app function on its own without the need for the stage manager to trigger cues all the time. This was a very successful use of LAIT in a different way for live performance.

Here are a few screenshots to give you an idea of how it worked:

WeHo program app opening screen
WeHo program app opening screen
WeHo screen 2
WeHo feature overview
WeHo program overview
WeHo program overview – interactive navigation of the program
WeHo program app dance detail
WeHo program app – dance detail

Critical Mass premieres soon!

 

Dancers rehearsing in front of the new cube, under construction in the background

We are hard at work on the premiere of the dance Critical Mass, which will occur on February 2-4 at the . We have a cast of eight U of I dancers, and of came back from Los Angeles to work with us once again on the conception and choreography. We are having to make the work for both audience who will be coming onstage as well as audience that will sit in the seats like a traditional theater, so we’ve have to redo some of the staging. But the is going to be central to this show, and showing off its many new capabilities! Tony Reimer, our programmer, has been hard at work, and he ROCKS!!

 

Mycelial–a new collaboration

We started a new collaboration with Chicago-based choreographer and director . The work is entitled Mycelial: Networked Bodies, which uses the incredible life-giving and as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of various fractured communities. To that end, we are working on having mobile devices running LAIT be able to be assigned to different groups, and to have those groups respond to specific messages in real time. Watch the video of the first week’s workshop:

LAIT featured in Chicago Tribune

The LAIT app was featured in an article in the Chicago Tribune, just in time to promote our Critical Mass production in April. The article talks about the app and how we are using it to advance the future of performance.

LAIT in Kama Begata Nihilum       Photo by Natalie Fiol

Read  the complete article here: