Exhibit Blends Performing Arts, Technology

By Jason Mednick

11.24.08 -- If you can’t make it on “Dancing with the Stars,” try dancing with technology.

Visitors to the UC Irvine division of Calit2 had the opportunity to move to the beat with performers projected on video screens – or create their own choreography – during Dance-IT’s four-day run Nov. 6-9.

Gian Mario Maggio
Undergraduate choreography class members try out the booth during Dance-IT's four-day run.
(Photo: Daniel A. Anderson)

Participants enter a kiosk and select from video clips of expert dancers demonstrating dance styles from Afro-Cuban and Japanese to Mexican folkloric and hip-hop. UCI dancers include undergraduate dance majors Armando Yearwood and Summer Bowie creating the hip-hop and modern sequences, and dance graduate student Gabriela Estrada demonstrating her expertise in the Mexican folkloric dance clip.

Once participants choose a style, they record themselves dancing with the expert, and their performance is looped and integrated into an on-screen montage with other clips recorded by Dance-IT.

“Sometimes, people choose a style right away because it’s one they know, but then they see another on the screen, give it a try and see it can be really exciting as well,” says John Crawford, associate professor of dance, who helped create the exhibit. “In the process, people learn about a wide range of dance traditions from all over the world, including some with which they might not be familiar because those styles are not a part of the mainstream media we tend to consume.”

Crawford co-developed the project for San Francisco Ballet’s 75th anniversary. As part of the celebration, the group examined how technology and performing arts might work together in the future.

UCI’s strong reputation in the arts and technology convinced the ballet company to collaborate with the campus. The group also was drawn to Crawford’s expertise in blending performing arts with digital media technology.

“UCI is one of the few universities capable of creating a project combining this level of technical innovation with professional-level expertise in the performing arts,” Crawford says. “It was a chance to engage the public with dance and the performers themselves. That’s what captivated me about reaching out to this audience.”

Crawford, a Calit2-affiliated researcher for the past five years and director of the Calit2 eMedia Studio, credits the institute for supporting his vision.

“Calit2 exists to make this kind of work possible,” he says. “It is very exciting to work in a high-end telecommunications and information technology research center that also has a strong mandate to support creativity and the arts.”

Dance-IT video