The In-Finite Possibilities of Digital Dance
How one dance company is making the most of technology to create and share its work


JAD Dance Company aims to integrate dance with technology, from incorporating user-generated content into their choreography to live streaming performances.

Frances Leak asks Artistic Director and choreographer, Joumana Mourad, about the inspiration behind the company and their future plans. Who are IJAD Dance Company? We are a fluid collective of people who collaborate to take the latest technology and find ways of integrating it into performance work. The word IJAD is Sufi and means ‘meant to be’ which is how we feel about the inevitability of technology integrating with art, so if people find what we’re doing odd – our latest project asks the audience to turn their mobile phones on and tweet throughout the show – we just say, ‘it’s meant to be’. We’re primarily Contemporary dancers but we use a wide range of dance styles in our work and get inspiration from user-generated content as much as possible. The core members are myself, with a Contemporary dance background and strongly influenced by the work of Raqs Sharqui, Neoclassical and Physical Theatre, a part-time general manager, and the trustees. The In-Finite dancers are Robert Shaun Mennear, Morgan Cloud, Viola Vicini, Alice Gaspari, Helena Casari, Naomi Tadvossian, Emily Spiggs and Sally Marie. How and when did the company form? I started the company in 1999 for a variety of reasons: I wanted to use technology to achieve complete synthesis of the real, virtual, visual and the physical and create a fully


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What is ‘In-Finite’ all about? In terms of the content, In-Finite is about secrets – not just about revealing them, but exploring how they feel and what effect keeping them has on your body. We wanted to create something which was political, social and cultural. The performance is interactive and site specific, which begins inside a multi-layered building, where the performance moves from one space to another, taking the audience immersive experience and make contemporary dance more accessible for all. The actual dance is just part of what we do; how we communicate through film, design and visual media is equally important. I felt it was important to set up the company because of the lack of female choreographers in a female-dominated profession. I feel that we still have a way to go in creating gender equality in dance as well as role identity. I’m also of Lebanese heritage and while the company is not politically or religiously affiliated, I was keen to represent the Middle Eastern people. This is because, at the time, there were very few artists creating work in this area on the international Contemporary dance scene and I felt it important that the region has a voice – not only to be representative, but because, even today, the only images the West sees of the area are of violence and conflict, which is only part of the story. We are culturally vibrant and creative, intelligent and peaceful people. By creating high quality work which is appreciated because of its artistic merit, I hope to help the movement of artists who are practicing now to change opinions. In-Finite is also a global conversation and experience embedded in digital reality which we achieve by filming on six cameras, broadcasting online and holding public screenings in other countries. Then we ask the audience to use social media to share their thoughts and interpretations as they watch the performance. The name In-Finite was chosen for the two clear meanings each separate word has and also because it has infinite through a collage of sensorial journeys swarming with rich experiences.

“We ask the audience to use social media to share their thoughts and interpretations as they watch the performance”

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possibilities in terms of where it can be explored with regard to location and where it can be broadcast to. As well as the ‘outside’, the infinite refers to the inside of the self – the place we keep those things untold, tucked away. What inspired you to incorporate social media in your show? It’s already being used by the whole world! If art is a reflection of life, then of course it should be a part of it. I like the way social media is making the world more democratic. This is why I base my performances on content from the public and ask people

“I base my performances on content from the public and ask people to express what they think through social media”

to express what they think through social media. I want to create a conversation which happens around the world, simultaneously, about meaningful issues. This way, we can create art which resonates with everyone. If you watch the rise of social networks you start to see a ‘digital self’ being created. For some, this is a conscious step, but not for all, yet it still happens. Social media is a step which helps to combine two realities. How did you come up with the idea of performing ‘secrets’ that were donated online? As with most of our work, we chose a theme that was universal. Everyone has a secret and it feels a certain way when you think about it. Different secrets twinge or tingle at different parts of your body. When you express them – even if it is on a piece of paper you tear up – you feel different. They are very, very private, yet they interact with the outside world in a very interesting way on the body, mind and spirit. It was this internal/external flux, which I found intriguing. It has been very interesting working with social media, which

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is all about sharing and promoting yourself – the opposite of a secret if you like. It has been difficult at times getting people to share. Some people will only do so if they have no contact with you whatsoever, others will only share face-to-face. I felt it was important to gather secrets online because technology enhances everyone’s ability to participate. How many secrets did you receive via Twitter and what has the response to the project been like? You say ‘secrets’ and people are intrigued and want to see what the scandal is. You then ask people to explore the secret inside them, even without sharing, and most people clam up. For those who have had the bravery to share a secret, anonymously or not, many have found unexpected results. We’ve had about 160 secrets online in text format, but quite a few more expressed through video and photograph. Do you think the arts are doing enough to capture the creative possibilities of social media and technology? On a creative level it suddenly opens the doors to amazing collaborative opportunities. Artists no longer have to be in the same country. Just think of the cross-cultural possibilities. It is an amazing way to work together across nations and cultures and to access and listen to stories of people who are not represented and vocalise them through art. It is very exciting and we want the fever to spread across the art world for a new era of experimentation. What other forms of technology have you used in previous performances/projects or would you like to use in the future? We’re currently using Google Maps, leaving trails of art in Can a streamed performance be as powerful as a live performance? I think the importance here is not to try to recreate a live experience. It will always be different. What we are trying to achieve is a meaningful, powerful communication within the digital realm. One of IJAD’s long-term initiatives is called Sensography. In my mind a dancer and a performer are two separate things. The former is about technical and artistic merit; the latter is about interaction with an audience, which I don’t think too many training academies focus on. Sensography is the ability not just to form a connection with the live audience, but to have a relationship with a viewer through a camera, something not too many people have trained in or even think about. We want to open up access online to everyone, and hopefully those people will also come and see it live for a different experience. If you only had one Tweet to define yourself, what would it say? Curious, creative, communicator, excited to create interactive physical and virtual performative worlds where audiences can enter freely #worldinspiration! significant places and we’re actually holding a workshop at the Artaud Forum 2013 on how social media can be used in political protest as part of performance art. We’ve used lots of film and sound interaction as well as tracking control systems. We are keen to look at children and technology as there are starting to be cameras and tablets designed specifically for children. I’m interested in looking at how happy we are for children to start interacting with technology, and what their creative output is. It will also be interesting to see what happens socially when we introduce these children to performance online and to other children from around the world in this way.

“We want to open up access online to everyone, and hopefully those people will also come and see live performance for a different experience”

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The Social Media Dance
How the dance world is developing digitally
its tweet seats is to “engage theatergoers on social media, and build extra excitement for shows,” while the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis aims to encourage deeper interaction with their performances. A flurry of social media activity can also help with ticket sales, as Andrew Goldberg from the Adrienne Arsht Center says, “If you get a Tweet from a friend, ‘You’ve

got to check this out!’ you’re more likely to go check it out than if we tell you.”1 The trend may be catching on in the UK with Norwich venue, The Garage, announcing in February this year that it has designated a section in its gallery for tweeters. However, just 10% of participants in an online poll by The Guardian in March 2012 indicated an acceptance of live tweeting at the theatre.2 With the urge to instantly share experiences with the s a hugely vibrant and diverse medium, dance lends itself easily to the world of technology and social media. Perhaps most importantly, it’s something wider world just too urgent for some to wait until the interval, perhaps tweet seats are inevitable and do, at least, help to minimize disturbance to other theater-goers by herding the tweeters together. Although it doesn’t intend to introduce an area for live tweeting, Boston’s Huffington Theater is planning to introduce a ‘Twittermission’ where the performers and production team conduct a Q&A during the interval and the responses are projected onto screens in the lobby. As a visual medium, dance is particularly suited to YouTube and other video sharing sites, as well as Pinterest where a quick search for ‘dance’ brings up an amazing array of images. More than 250m photos are uploaded to Facebook every day and over 829,000 videos are uploaded daily to YouTube.3 As a specialist dance channel, DSI-London.TV allows online viewers to see exclusive videos of Ballroom and Latin events with interviews and profiles of leading lights in the world of Dancesport. In March last year, the Royal Opera House in London first streamed Royal Ballet Live, offering a live fly-on-the-wall view of a full working day with their dancers. It was shown on their YouTube channel and The Guardian website and garnered 200,000 views. A behind-the-scenes aspect can be a key element of a company’s social media profile, allowing them to increase the range of information they push out online. Rather than a straight sales offering when tickets for a show go on sale,

Top: Diablo Ballet choreographer Robert Dekkers and dancer Hiromi Yamazki creating The Web Ballet


that everyone can take part in, watch and appreciate whatever their age, location or background. Emilia Spitz and Linda Uruchurtu, joint founders of website The Ballet Bag and creative studio Lume Labs, have been named among the ‘100 Best Arts Tweeters’ by The Times. They told us, “Dance is an amazing medium, not only because of the rich pool of content out there, but also for its potential for true audience engagement. Most of the work we’ve been doing in arts consultancy has been targeted at dance organisations and dance individuals to help them connect with audiences through social media, and we’re always amazed at the synergies between dance and creative technology.” There are many examples of how dance companies and individual dancers and choreographers have embraced online outlets such as Twitter, blogging and YouTube, from Sergei Polunin’s tweets last year about his sudden exit from The Royal Ballet, to Diablo Ballet’s mission to create a Ballet via social media with The Web Ballet (more recently christened Flight of the Dodo). Diablo Ballet has also adopted the growing enthusiasm among US performance venues for ‘tweet seats’ by introducing live tweet nights at performances. The Providence Performing Arts Center says the goal of

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anticipation builds through interviews with principals in rehearsal, the latest photos of costumes, and the public are able to gain previously unheard of access to the key players. Citing backstage tweets by New York City Ballet’s Ashley Bouder in the New York Times, Gia Kourlas argues that Twitter is “starting to change the public face of ballet (…) making ballet dancers human.”4 Tapping effectively into social media can also bring dancers to a massive potential audience, many of whom they would not be able to reach through traditional methods. San Francisco Ballet’s principal dancer, Maria Kochetkova has more than 187,000 followers on Twitter and the company estimates that 11% of their website traffic comes via the 300,000 people who follow them on social platforms. survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project recognised the all-important need for arts organisations to allocate resources to digital strategies, stating that, “Organizations will continue to need to adapt and incorporate digital technologies into their programming.”5 This underlines the increasing tendency for dance companies to do much more with social media than just post news about ticket offers or add a video preview to YouTube. A growing desire to creatively merge digital Marrying dance and technology even further are DanceDigital, a UK-based company that seeks to “catalyse the development of new choreographies in digital environments” and offers support to artists and technologists to create and develop new performance work, and Movement Media, a New York-based agency that helps dance artists integrate digital technology and create works for the screen. Although resources need to be effectively allocated to the use and expansion of social media, outlets like Twitter and Facebook are free and there are many sharing and tracking tools that can help you make the most out of your online activities. However, a recent
1. ‘“Tweet Seats” in Theaters Spark Battle Between Technology and Tradition’ by Christine Dimattei, WLRN.org, 1st March 2013. 2. ‘Would you welcome ‘tweet seats’ in theatres?’ The Guardian, 6th March 2012. 3. 48 Significant Social Media Facts, Figures and Statistics, www.jeffbullas.com 4. ’Ballet Stars Now Tweet as Well as Flutter‘ by Gia Kourlas, New York Times, 29th March 2010. 5. ‘5 Things the Dance Field Should Be Talking About’ by Marc Kirschner, Huffington Post, 10th January 2013.

Left: The Twitter profile for dancer Maria Kochetkova

“Organisations will continue to need to adapt and incorporate digital technologies into their programming”

‘MT’ at the start of a tweet does not mean that someone has tried to type ‘RT’ too quickly! It means ‘modified tweet’ and can be used if you want to tweak something in the tweet – perhaps you want to add another hashtag or use a link that you’ve created to track click-throughs. It can be a good way to share a tweet that lets you add a little something of your own while still acknowledging the original authorship.

with dance has already revealed huge possibilities and, with so many companies jumping on board, it will be interesting to see what the future holds. Sarah Clarke

us Don’t forget to follow on Twitter! @ISTDdance

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International Dance Festivals
From youth dance in the UK to Street Dance in France – how dance is feted all over the world


egistration is open until 30th April for the international celebration of dance that is Dance Proms 2013 and, with Danza in Fiera in Florence

and MOVE IT in London taking place as we go to press, we thought we would take a look at other international dance festivals across a number of different dance genres.

The Euro Dance Festival – Germany From 14th to 17th February, the Euro Dance Festival took place at the Europa-Park near Freiburg in Germany. Over four days,
Top: Kizombia workshop with Cyméone Mopoa Top right: Latin performance by Franco Formica & Olga MüllerOmeltcheito Far right: After-show party – Breakdance Above: Latin workshop with Jürgen Schlegel

“Dance is a universal language and we believe it should be shared as freely as possible”
included Marcus Hilton, who holds 16 Ballroom World Championship titles, Arunas Bizokas and Katusha Demidova, reigning Ballroom World Champions, Franco Formica, who holds three Latin World Championship titles, Eider and Luisa from the worldrenowned BNF, Gonzalo Alonso and Mariel Robles for Tango Argentino, and Jordan Frisbee and Tatiana Mollmann, the manifold US Open Champions and reigning Classic Division Champions, amongst other leading professionals in each dance genre. In January 2014, as an ‘offspring’ festival,

the world’s best dancers ran numerous workshops and courses in a range of styles including Latin, Discofox, Salsa, West Coast Swing, Tango Argentino, Lindy Hop, Hip Hop and Breakdance. Matthias Blattmann, Festival Director says: “One of the main goals of the festival is to allow dancers from all skill levels, styles and ages to mix and share their passion for dancing as well as their knowledge. After all, dance is a universal language and we believe it should be shared as freely as possible.” Well-known trainers attending the festival

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the ‘Ladies Only Festival’ will also offer three days of fitness, dance, health, beauty and well-being exclusively for women. www.euro-dance-festival.de Juste Debout – France In France, the biggest celebration of Street Dance takes place at Palais Omnisports de Paris on 10th March. Juste Debout is an international collaboration of Street dancers, gathering more than 3,000 dancers selected after a three-month international tour, who then compete in seven different styles of Street Dance: Breakdance, Locking, Popping, Hip Hop New Style, House, Experimental and Top Rock. The event itself was founded by Bruce Ykanji, with the first competition taking place in 2002, at which 330 participants took part. Today it is the largest Street Dance event in the world. Every year Juste Debout opens with a spectacular show of various Street Dance styles and this year the opening number mixed light and dance. When not watching the competitors battle, spectators are able to dance alongside the biggest names in Street Dance in one of Bercy’s largest studios. Juste Debout’s jury includes Bruce Blanchard from Belgium (Hip Hop), Hit Master Fish from the USA (Popping), Mamson from France (House) and Locking Woong from Korea (Locking). The UK competitors who made it through to Flamenco Festival London – UK The Flamenco Festival London celebrates its 10th anniversary at Sadler’s Wells in March this year. Proclaimed by The Daily Express as “an eagerly anticipated annual fixture,” the festival includes performances of Flamenco in both its traditional and contemporary forms and attracts a wide variety of audiences, from Flamenco enthusiasts to those who are new to the genre.
All top three photos are competitors at Juste Debout Middle: Ballet Flamenco Andalucia Above: Ballet Flamenco, Traje Negro, performed by Eva


this year’s final are: Badness Crew (Locking), Young Soul (Hip Hop), Holistic & Shawn (Popping), Mogwai & Neo (House) and Ed Spoons (Top Rock). www.juste-debout.com/fr_FR
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This year, eight productions feature in the main house, including a special gala featuring Antonio Canales, Carlos Rodríguez, Belén López and Jesús Carmona. Eva Yerbabuena performs the world premiere of !Ay! while Farruquito, who is regarded as one of the most faithful representatives of flamenco puro, presents Abolengo with guest artist, Karime Amaya, the grandniece of renowned Flamenco master, Carmen Amaya. Rocío Molina Company performs the magnificent Danzaora while choreographer, Rocío Molina collaborates with video artist, Yoav Segal and two Hip Hop artists, Sébastien Ramirez and Honji to produce choreography with a blend of dance styles.

“‘An eagerly anticipated annual fixture’, the festival includes performances of Flamenco in both its traditional and contemporary forms”
Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía’s Metáfora is performed by 19 dancers with a contrast of classical and folk elements of Flamenco, featuring traditional castanets, fans and bata de cola dresses. This year also sees the debut of Tapeos, a series of short performances in a range of dance styles and music, selected from entries submitted via YouTube. www.sadlerswells.com/show/FlamencoFestival-London-2013 Jacob’s Pillow – USA America’s longest running dance festival at Jacob’s Pillow, which includes 350 dance performances, talks, classes and exhibits.
Len Lopez, Gala Flamenco

15th June to 25th August sees the return of

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The 81st year of the festival will include the world premiere of New York City Ballet star,
Below: Gabrielle Salvatto and Anthony Savoy of Dance Theatre Middle left: Ballet BC at Jacob’s Pillow Festival Bottom left: Workshops at ImpulsTanz Festival Bottom right: Shantala Shivalingappa at Jacob’s Pillow Festival

companies and new works that will only be seen at Jacob’s Pillow.” A highlight of the festival will be Compagnie Käfig’s performance at the Ted Shawn Theatre between 26th and 30th June. The all-male cast features self-taught Hip Hop dancers from Brazil, with choreography by Mourad Merzouki from France. AGWA uses water as a symbol of precious resource and their stage design features hundreds of plastic cups for the dancers to find innovative ways to dance around them. To close the festival, the Martha Graham Dance Company will re-stage Graham’s interpretation of The Rite of Spring, in honour of its 100th anniversary. www.jacobspillow.org ImPulsTanz Festival – Vienna For Contemporary dancers, there is also ImPulsTanz festival, founded in 1984, which has become one of the largest festivals of Contemporary dance in the world. Over the course of five weeks, more than 100,000 visitors and 500 renowned international choreographers, dancers and artists met in Vienna last year to celebrate Contemporary dance at ImpulsTanz 2012. This year is the 30th year of the festival, taking place from 11th July to 11th August. Programmes include the Choreographic Platform Austria, which creates a platform to present work from emerging Austrian artists, and Prix Jardin d‘Europe, a European dance prize awarded to emerging choreographers.

Wendy Whelan’s project Restless Creature, as well as the premieres by Contemporary Ballet choreographer, Jessica Lang, Tap artist Michelle Dorrance and a new work by European master choreographer, Nacho Duato, performed by the Martha Graham Dance Company amongst others. The newly revived Dance Theatre of Harlem will perform at the festival along with Compagnie Käfig, whose performance last year was one of the main highlights of the festival. “If audiences dive into the range and variety of Festival 2013, it will be an exciting and incomparable dance experience,” states Jacob’s Pillow’s Artistic Director and Executive, Ella Baff. “The best part about a festival is the opportunity to explore and see


new artists and dance styles as well as enjoy beloved classics and favourites. I hope our visitors will discover new companies such as Sharon Eyal’s intense and provocative L-E-V from Israel, and other new productions. Each festival we strive to bring the best of international dance, dedicated to presenting


“Each festival we strive to bring the best of international dance”


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All photos are taken from U.Dance 2012. Photos feature competitors from a range of different dance genres

The festival brings newcomers as well as internationally reputed choreographers and dancers such as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Akram Khran, Jan Fabre, Ismael Ivo, Marie Chouinard, Wim Vandekeybus and many more. www.impulstanz.com U.Dance – UK The UK’s National Youth Dance Festival, U.Dance 2013 takes place from 19th to 21st July in Leeds. U.Dance is run by Youth Dance England alongside Yorkshire Dance and a range of other partners for young people aged 11 to 19 and disabled young people up to the age of 24. Performers will be selected to show their work at venues such as the West Yorkshire Playhouse, the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre and the Riley Theatre. Performances vary from group dances to duets and solos with different length pieces and different styles of dance and youth dance choreography. (applications are now closed). Youth Dance England is also looking for new dance films made by or featuring young people, to be screened at U.Dance 2013. These films must be less than seven minutes long and must have been filmed in the past two years. www.u-dance.org/main.cfm With such a wide variety of dance festivals taking place throughout the year in all corners of the world, there really is no excuse to not attend one this year! Whatever dance style you prefer, whatever level you are, there’s something for everyone – even if it’s just as a spectator. If you would like to This year there is a new performance strand for longer and more developed pieces, called ‘New Dimensions’, which allows dancers to have a more experimental approach to choreography, with fewer limitations in terms of the number of dancers and the length of the piece. The piece may include up to 30 dancers and it may last up to 20 minutes long take part yourself in an international celebration of dance at the Royal Albert Hall, then don’t forget to register for Dance Proms 2013 and submit your entry by 30th April. Please see the Dance Proms advert on the inisde front cover for full details. We hope to see you there! Frances Leak

“‘New Dimensions’ allows dancers to have a more experimental approach to choreography”

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