Mike Huxley. School of Performing Arts.
De Montfort University,

Ideas need to be explored.

Audio Statement (aiff 141k).

The Performing Arts and 4D Design: New Frontiers (1).

Michael Huxley

School of Arts and Multidisciplinary Studies

De Montfort University, Leicester, UK.

We are at a time when borders and boundaries between old disciplines, theories and practices are being dissolved or breached. Recent conferences in the performing arts in this country and North America have shown that what some took to be fixed notions of performance, art, technology and design can be interrogated and redefined. (2) This is also reflected in the way the new discipline of performance studies is being laid out. (3)The inclusion of performing arts as a discipline within today's conference marks yet another landmark in this process. (4)

From my own perspective there are three current areas of debate about the notion of performance that might be seen as having a relevance for this conference. The first-invisible theatre-reconsiders the very idea that performance is defined by the traditional relationship between a performer and an audience within a predefined performance space. The second- computer choreography-reconsiders the long held belief that dance is something designed by and performed by human beings. The third- post modern analysis-casts new light on what it is that performance says anyway. These have recently been addressed through both theoretical and practical research strategies.(5)

However, although these are cutting edge debates that have fuelled current research practice, they are rooted in ideas which are twenty, thirty even forty years old. Yet it is from the collision of these ideas with ideas in design, multimedia, systems analysis, the new technologies, that new ones-those that need to be addressed at the millennium-will come.

My opening questions for this conference are not to do with future, not the past. They are:

* What are the new frontiers?

* Where do we locate the borders between new disciplines that have yet to be identified?

* What are the new conceptual and practical challenges that we now have to face?

That's three openings! It is questions such as these that will help define and lead research over the next few years.

Let me give a short illustration of where we might be heading. New thinkers about performance have, over the last twenty or so years, been in conversation with those in computer aided design and one of the results has been computer-aided choreography.(6) This has fed new ideas into dance in one direction and into CAD in the other; however, it has been within a very formalist framework, best illustrated by the choreography of its most eminent exponent, Merce Cunningham. Yet live dance performance in Europe has gone in quite different directions, driven by theatrical rather than formal concerns, especially in the work of Pina Bausch. It is quite clear that their ideas of the creative process are diametrically different. The former works to detailed schema which can map onto computer programmes. The latter works with no less detail but acknowledges a much more haphazard notion of process (7).

It is this area which is of particular interest to me-the way that dancers make decisions during the working process. Recent thinking on the use of computers to emulate creative thought (8) seemingly brings the two fields of computer programming and artistic process together in a different way. Here one new frontier is that between how people make creative decisions in the moment and how computer programmes make `creative' decisions in the moment. There could be a whole new idea of what computer choreography is in the 21st century. We already have music performances on the internet. What might dance performances created across the net be like?(9)

However, there is a further `dimension' to this. The decision making part of the creative process might allow for comparisons between art making and computer generated decision making, but, in live performance, the decision making process is not detached from the performers themselves. This is especially the case in dance and there are two key issues that have yet to be addressed by those who work with computer choreography-firstly, none of the extant programmes bear any true relationship to how dancers operate anatomically; secondly, in creativity in live dance we are dealing with how real people (with all their flaws and idiosyncracies and habits) act in the real world (10).

I posed three main questions. It would be asking a lot to expect answers to them in the space of a day. However, it seems to me that we have here such a rich diversity of approaches to the idea of 4D Dynamics that there is every chance that we can address them.

From my own perspective, that of working with dancers, there is a sense that although the frontiers and borders have changed the conceptual and practical research challenges that we face are remarkably similar to those that have been discussed for the last century or so because, in the end, they are to do with the human condition.


1. This paper was delivered in an abridged form at the conference for the opening plenary session `Some questions for 4D Design Research'.

2. See, particularly, Border Tensions: Dance & Discourse Proceedings of the Fifth Study of Dance Conference, 20-23 April 1995, University of Surrey, Guildford, England.

3. Especially in the work done recently at the Tisch School of Performing Arts, New York University and, in this country, in the establishment by De Montfort University, Centre for Performance Research and Dartington College of the new journal to be published in 1996, Performance Studies.

4. Following, as it does, the successful discussion of dance as an aspect of 4D Design at the first Design Research seminar organised by Alec Robertson here at De Montfort University on Feb 10 199; Huxley, M. Performing Arts Research: New Dimensions in Dance. 4D Design Seminar: New Opportunities for Multidisciplinary Research. De Montfort University Leicester, 10 February 1994 and in Design Research Newsletter #52, June 1994, pp. 3-5.

5. for a fuller discussion of what constitutes performance see Huxley, M. and Witts, N.

( March 1996) `Twentieth Century Performance' in Huxley, M. and Witts, N. (eds) The Twentieth Century Performance Reader, London: Routledge.

6. See John Lansdown's paper for this conference `Computer-generated choreography revisited.'

7. compare, for instance, Cunningham.Merce (1968) Changes: Notes on Choreography, New York: Something Else with Bausch, Pina and Schmidt, Jochem. (1978, 1984) `Not How People Move but what Moves Them,' Pina Bausch - Wuppertal Dance Theater or The Art of Training a Goldfish, trans. Patricia Stadie, ed. N. Servos, Koln: Ballett-Buhnen Verlag. 227- 230.

8. see, for instance, Gelertner, D. (1994) The Muse in the Machine: Computers and Creative Thought. London: Fourth Estate.

9. The 1995 Dance Umbrella Festival has a web page http:// www.illumin.co.uk

10. For a fuller exposition of the background to this with reference to dance see Huxley, M. R., Leach, M., and Stevens, S. (1995) The Integrity of the Whole: the Application of the ideas of F.M. Alexander to Contemporary Dance Practice, IInd International Congress on Dance and Research, Vrije Universiteit, Brussels, July 9-13 1995.

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