In 2003, a serendipitous meeting at a Winston-Salem health food store between a dancer and a computer science professor was the beginning of an unexpected collaboration of artists and scientists. Since then, choreographer Karola Lüttringhaus of the alban elved dance company and Wake Forest professors Jennifer Burg and Yue-Ling Wong have been working together to create novel dance productions that weave together art and science. The goal of this collaboration is to introduce science and mathematics to dance lovers in a way they might appreciate; share the beauty of motion with those more likely to bury their noses in computers and math textbooks; and excite audiences in general with newideas and innovative choreography. The role of Burg and Wong has been to suggest themes related to computer science and to weave digital imagery, sound, and poetry into modern dance performances. The images and poetry are presented in digital form, projected on a large screen behind or beside the dancers.
The main dancer/scientist collaborators are:
Three other important participants in the 2003 and 2004 productions:
Below is a description of the 2003 and 2004 collaborations.
Excerpt from "Fibonacci and Phi" program
The first production emerging from this collaboration was entitled "Fibonacci and Phi," staged in December 2003 at the Scales Fine Arts Auditorium, Wake Forest University. This piece explored the intriguing ubiquity of the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio, Phi, in the beauty of natural and artistic creations.
The poem "Phi" provided the thematic background for the performance. It was recited in short sections associated with different scenes during the dance performance .
Audio link to the poem Phi, read by Rhan Small
are these haunting messages,
how do we decipher
hears the golden music best,
child has eyes still bright and true,
child knows worlds hold worlds inside,
children don’t have words for this
ancients mathematicians sought
ratio they called it,
see a message etched
fern unfurls its growing leaves
I try to read a message
In the face of a sunflower
But I’m blinded by the spirals
Spinning left, and spinning right.
spirals leave my dazzled grasp.
message whispers softly
am told that these mute messages
cannot write the number,
would happen if we could
we mark the musical intervals
we trace the seashell’s spiral
cannot take the measure
cannot say Your name
The production included eight digital media elements:
The opening digital movie was created by Annie Lausier and Victoria Strokanova, two Wake Forest students majoring in computer science and minoring in digital art. The movie captures the images – beautiful, disturbing, and provocative – that fill our every waking and sleeping moment.
The sunrise images for this scene were created from portions of a Mandelbrot fractal. In the dance, Naomi triggers the sunrise scene by moving through laser beams of light that send a MIDI-formatted message to a computer backstage, signaling it to display a new image. The movement-to-MIDI converter, designed for the company by Andy Turner, consists of a laser and photocell switch grid set up on stage. The laser beams are broken by the dancers’ movements, sending a message to a computer that can trigger either a musical sound or the display of an image or text. This allows the choreographer to interweave musical or visual output with dance. The imagery and MIDI-response for Naomi's dance were designed and implemented by Jennifer Burg.
The Mandelbrot Fractal Duet uses the classic Mandelbrot fractal as its backdrop. In the duet, the dancers again use the movement-to-MIDI converter to trigger the computer to zoom in on the fractal, as if they are navigating through its infinitely self-replicating space. Each time the dancers zoom in, the fractal’s pixel values are recomputed at a finer level of detail, covering a smaller portion of the complex number plane. Thus, the resolution and clarity of the image remain the same. The computation is done by in parallel by a Linux cluster.
The color palette, MIDI-to-computer interface, XWindows graphics display, and parallel computation of the fractal were designed and implemented by Jennifer Burg. The Fractal Duet was an interesting challenge in real-time parallel computation and an opportunity to test Wake Forest’s Linux cluster of parallel computers. Each time the dancers move through the movement-to-MIDI laser beam, a signal is sent to the cluster, physically located in downtown Winston-Salem. The parallel processors divide the work of the repetitive computation of pixel values and send the pixels back to a desktop computer backstage – for a resolution of 1024 columns by 768 rows of pixels. The real challenge was to be able to do this fast enough to animate the fractal with real-time computation. With a gigabit ethernet connection to the Linux cluster, myrinet network/switching technology within the cluster, and a desktop computer with a fast graphics video card, the time to redisplay the fractal was reduced to less than 1/10 of a second. This makes it possible for the dancers to create the illusion that they are driving through the fractal, in the end descending into one of its black holes.
The paper "Cluster Computation in Step with Real-Time Dance" by Jennifer Burg and Tim Miller, presented at the 17th International Conference on Parallel and Distributed Computing Systems, describes the technical aspects of the parallel fractal computation.
This piece, created by Yue-Ling Wong, has the dancers “dancing in the virtual snow.” This scene incorporates anaglyphic 3D animation viewable by the audience through 3D glasses. The stereo visual effect makes the snow appear to be falling on, in front of, and behind the dancers, expanding the dimension of the performance space. Although most of the animated snowflakes are in the form of small snowballs, once in a while a special lacy one appears. These lacy snowflakes were adapted from the collection of Wilson A. Bentley, reported to be the first person to photograph a single snow crystal in 1885 by fitting his bellows camera with a microscope. During his lifetime, Bentley captured over 5000 snowflakes on photomicrographs.
In "Dancing with Mannequins," two 3D mannequins lead a dance with human partners. Although the mannequins’ movements are based on “motion capture” data, their movements become original and unexpected during the performance by means of Yue-Ling Wong’s design. Taking a signal from dancers backstage who are operating a joystick and the computer keyboard, the upper and lower bodies of each mannequin can move independently of each other. Each of the upper and lower bodies can dance forward or backward in its own timeline and at its own speed. To make this truly a human-computer interaction, live dancers on stage try to keep up with the mannequins. This interactive dance explores the nonlinear re-creation of dance phrases by deconstructing and recombining pre-choreographed movements in real-time into new forms of expression.
Trees are another example of a fractal structure found in nature. Again, you see the self-similarity in a tree — a twig growing from a branch resembles the branch itself, and both the twig and the branch resemble the shape of the whole tree. In "Picnic Under the Fractal Tree," a simple fractal tree is constructed beginning with one trunk, which then splits into a number of branches, each of which repeats the same process of splitting. During this scene, words become part of the tree's foliage. Each twig grows a word, a phrase, or a leaf. When the shedding of the foliage is triggered, the audience sees words start to fall off the twigs. As each person’s eyes jump from word to word and follow the words’ paths, the words combine to form a poem. Each audience member may construct a different poem by following different words in a different order. To involve the audience in the creative process, individuals were asked to contribute words and phrases for the fractal tree as they entered the theatre before the performance. Before the picnic scene, these words were input into the computer program. Each fractal tree randomly selected words from the collection for its foliage. The scene was created by Yue-Ling Wong.
Implicit in the logarithmic spiral are both the Fibonacci sequence and Phi. The size of the square through which the spiral is traced follows the Fibonacci sequence. The spiral can also be constructed by a succession of Golden Triangles – isosceles triangles in which the ratio of a side to the base is Phi. Because it is constructed upon the irrational number Phi, the logarithmic spiral spins infinitely to its center, never converging to a center point. The logarithmic spiral was created by computer science major Annie Lausier.
The galaxy fractal for the final sequence was designed and programmed by Jennifer Burg and converted to a digital movie with the assistance of computer science major Jimmy Lin. The image is based on a Julia fractal, which differs from the Mandelbrot fractal computationally in the initial and constant values that are used in the equation. For the Galaxy Fractal, a spiral-shaped Julia fractal is set in motion to give the audience the feeling that they are traveling into it. Burg designed the fractal using Julia fractal calculations enhanced with a star-like effect. The digital movie was compiled from 2000 image files that were generated by a fractal computation program, imported into Adobe Premiere, and saved in QuickTime format.
The paper "Dancing with Fractals and Antique Snowflakes" by Burg and Wong gives more information on the "Fibonacci and Phi" performance.
The second collaboration of Lüttringhaus, Burg, and Wong was a two-part performance entitled "The Bridge," presented in December 2004 at Wake Forest University. The first part, called "A Link with the Darkness," involved three-dimensional stereo projections created by Yue-Ling Wong. The second part, entitled "Une Journée Abstraite," explored concepts of languages -- both human and computer -- and the limits of what can be expressed and computed.
Here is the program of "The Bridge."
Brainstorming for "Une Journée Abstraite" began in January 2004. Our inspiration came from recognizing the multi-lingual nature of the dance troupe and collaborators – with speakers of German, Italian, Hebrew, French, Chinese, and English. We decided to tackle the theme of human and computer languages and the related issues of computability and expressibility. We even talked about Chomsky's hierarchy and Gödel's incompleteness theorem. Was this really something that could translate into a dance production?
alban elved dance company is known for its innovative choreography and
daring experimentation with new modes of expression. Each of their
performances is distinctively different, stretching the limits of modern
choreography, expression, and dancers' athleticism. Tackling abstract
concepts of computability as the theme of a dance production would be daring
enough in itself. To this, Karola added two more novel elements:
spoken dialog; and a 15-foot tall steel structure on which the performers
hang, climb, and dance.
The spoken script of "Une Journée Abstraite" evolved from a number of sources: pseudo-poetic lines I wrote for Karola in the form of questions submitted to a computer and the computer's responses, lines suggested by North Carolina School of the Arts professor Marty Rader; and paraphrases from Albert Camus' The Fall. Karola "deconstructed" my pseudo-poetic lines and reconstructed these lines, along with the other input, in the end creating dialog in the manner of the French "theatre of the absurd." Dancers spoke alternately in French, Italian, Hebrew, and English. The computer spoke in its own voice.
-- The liar; dynamic and enigmatic; played by Karola Lüttringhaus
-- Insecure, curious; feels invisible to others; played by Andrea
-- Interested in computers and abstractions; played by Lena Rose Polzonetti
whimsical; played by Naomi Greenberg
Above all, "Une Journée Abstraite" was a dance performance – innovative, daring, dynamic, and powerful. What I describe below, however, are the concepts of computer science that were interwoven in the performance, both thematically and visually.
"Ollie's World" (click image)
"Turing Machine Dance" (click image)
Aside from the pseudo-poetic dialog between computer and humans that I suggested for "Une Journée Abstraite," I wrote two poems for the piece. The first was entitled "Day." The poem attempts to describe how beautiful my days seem to me. I found that I couldn't do this, and the inadequacy of my words became the point of the poem and its companion poem, "Day, Reprise." My original conception was to have "Day" recited in French, with the English translation offset in the audio. In the final version of the piece, "Day" was recited by Naomi in a whimsical, off-hand way.
Link to the poem "Day"
Day read in French and English
"A Puzzle" (click image)
"Day Reprise, Conclusion of Une Journée Abstraite"