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Dance-Making on the Internet: continued..

The M@ggie’s Love Bytes Performance

The following section is a description and analysis, based on the frameworks already established, of the live performance of M@ggie’s Love Bytes as experienced by Popat both in the theatre and on the Internet. In its failure to fulfil the promise implicit in the above analysis, M@ggie’s Love Bytes exposes problems that informed Popat’s Hands-On Dance Project as a model for future research.

Figure 3: Text sample from chat window, M@ggie’s Love Bytes performance, 23 January 1999

Throughout the performance, viewers via Internet videoconferencing took part in a discussion that was displayed in a ‘chat window’. A ‘chat window’ is a box on the screen in which viewers can have a conversation by typing and reading comments (see Figure 3). The choreographer and musicians joined in the chat, and the audience could see the chat window on the screen behind the dancers. Some of the participants had been specifically invited, and these had pre-prepared sounds or images to send as part of the performance. Amanda Steggell, as choreographer, cued these using pre-arranged words or signals, but also received offerings from other participants. She mixed the sounds via the equipment on her desk, and opened and closed images on the computer desktops that were projected behind the dancers. Steggell estimated that fifty percent of the sound was sent by participants over the Internet at this particular performance.

The significance of participants’ input to the dance product was not as great as expected, as while some of the dance was improvised, large sections were pre-choreographed, with audio cues to indicate when the dancers should begin a particular section. Steggell managed those cues from her desk. This gave the dance a greater sense of form than a freely improvised session, which aided viewing over the Internet. However, it reduced the possibility for direct relationships between the sounds that were submitted by the participants and the dance. Also, because the studio was arranged so that the dancers performed with their backs to the screen, they could see little of the visual stimuli and the chat window anyway. This did not seem to deter the participants, though, and there was a continuous informal banter between participants and artists throughout the show.
Comparison between live event and previous analysis
As expected, M@ggie’s Love Bytes is indeed a very informal setting and thereby is a supportive and non-judgemental environment for the participant. The motivation to create is in its immediacy, as the Interviewees identified from the description. Technological skills are required to download the correct software for viewing via the Internet. Dance-specific skills are not necessary, as the participant does not take part in the choreography. Abb’s cycle of creativity also occurs as suggested, with the participants taking part in phase one, watching phases two and three and having the ability to offer even more feedback than predicted due to the continuous chat.

Figure 4: Screenshot taken during M@ggie’s Love Bytes performance, 23 January 1999

What was apparently not happening was any involvement of the participants in the dance itself. An interactive event in terms of chat and sharing of sounds and images was in progress very successfully. However, while many of the participants obviously enjoyed sending and commenting on the sounds (see Figure 3), no comments were made about the dance via the chat window. This is possibly at least partially due to the difficulty in viewing the dance via the slow video-feeding connections and small video window (see Figure 4). It is also likely to relate directly to other issues raised earlier in this study: the participants may not have had sufficient dance knowledge to be able to discuss the dance, and they were not encouraged to do so by the choreographer. The extreme informality of the situation would have rendered any serious discussion of the dance inappropriate.

The M@ggie’s Love Bytes model offers a wealth of potential for participation in the creative cycle, if rearranged so that the dance becomes the central element of the interaction. It evidently struggles with the current limitation of widely-available network connections, in terms of bandwidth and compression, which affects data size and throughput. This reduces the size, quality and speed of the video image. But perhaps it struggles more with the desire to maintain an informal atmosphere that negates a serious conversation about dance, even if the participants do have sufficient dance knowledge to proffer unsolicited comments. The possibility is there for discussion and involvement that could be managed to suit the knowledge and perceptual abilities of each participant, through direct communication with dancers and choreographers. Through watching, listening, offering questions, comments and stimuli, those with knowledge of dance and those without could learn about dance and be involved in the creative process, and also challenge the choreographer and dancers to question their choreographic approach.

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