Thoughtworks Arts


Dancedemic World Premiere at Battery Dance Virtual Festival

Posted by the Thoughtworks Arts Team
Thursday, 10 September 2020

As part of the 39th Annual Battery Dance Festival, Art-A-Hack’s Special Edition COVID-19 2020 “Dancedemic” had its world premiere on August 21st in a live-streamed event.

The live performance was a two-part showcase featuring world-renowned dancers from Battery Dance’s immigrant fellowship program, Hussein Smko (Iraq/Kurdistan/US) and Razvan Stoian (Romania/US).

Behind each dancer’s performance was the work of a team of international creative technologists, with members from the US, Brazil, London, Ukraine, Estonia, India collaborating remotely. For six weeks the teams explored how live-biometrics and audience input could re-conceptualize choreography and dance production.

The dancers wore open source EmotiBit body-worn sensor devices creating a live data feed for teams to work with.

A screen shot with Razvan’s augmented performance on one side and a grid of virtual audience members on the other
Razvan Stoian performing on eˉlektron’s streaming platform

During these six weeks the teams worked under isolation and lockdown, and investigated how those unique conditions reframed issues around immigration and migration, and used those findings as a main theme in the performances.

The live performances used EmotiBits to measure the biometrics of the dancers, which triggered interactive visual and sonic environments. Both the augmented performance and raw footage of the dancers in their studios were displayed on eˉlektron’s custom-built, multi-channel streaming platform.

Teams Razvan and Hussein

Though united in theme, stream, and dance, the presentations were vastly different. Team Razvan highlighted the contrast between inner and outer emotional states, focusing on the shifting structure of linguistic meaning between Stoian’s native Romanian and adopted English.

Hussein Smko dancing on a rooftop, and (inset) a picture of a person wearing a biometric device
Hussein Smko with an EmotiBit biometric device

Team Hussein worked with storytelling, drawing on the dancer’s dramatic experiences in wartime Iraqi Kurdistan producing a powerful presentation incorporating memory, loss, and aspiration.

Battery Dance repositioned the framework of a traditional in-person festival to outfit the demands of the pandemic, preserving the safety of its audience members and dancers by making the festival entirely online.

With Art-A-Hack’s partnership, the first-ever biometric remote collaboration performance was produced - an exceptional example of how challenging times can breed innovation and collaboration.

Art-A-Hack’s “DANCEDEMIC” was funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State and supported by Thoughtworks Arts, Thoughtworks, Battery Dance, EmotiBit, and eˉlektron. You can learn more about how this year’s Art-A-Hack actualized in the Open Call that closed in June.

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