Ghost in the Machine

Even when there isn’t a pandemic, many factors prevent performers from being in the same space as each other. Political status, lack of funding, accessibility issues are just a few factors that hinder travel even in the best of circumstances. What other new experiences can be born out of necessity when participants can’t be together in person? 

In collaboration with students from NYU Gallatin, Tisch Dance, and NYU Shanghai, we were forced to answer that question when one of our dancers in a pre-pandemic project got a gig that conflicted with our final performance.

Dancers: Ingrid Amelia Apgar and Brandon Kazen-Maddox. Co-Designer: Diana Xu. Presented as a part of NYU Tisch Dance & Technology final performances, May 12, 2018.

In the video above, the projection is the recorded body data of our absent dancer, Brandon, represented by swarms of particles. Before he left for his paying gig, we recorded his part of the choreography using the skeleton and body point data generated by a Kinect v2 for Windows. Using Kinectron, a browser-based development platform created by ITP alum Lisa Jamhoury and professor Shawn Van Every, we drew p5 particles over Brandon’s skeleton data. A Kinect sensor is tracking Ingrid, the live dancer’s movements and her speed controls the diffusion of the particles: the faster she moves the more the particles resemble a human form. Brandon is made corporeal by Ingrid’s movements.

In this case, having one of our dancers absent actually added a dimension to the performance that literally wouldn’t be possible if they were both physically present. For one, we would never have even considered using recorded data if we could have both dancers present. The nature and visuals of the performance would have been completely different. And even if we had used two live dancers in different locations, the final product wouldn’t have had the added wrinkle of evoking a body from the past. Brandon’s body, in this case, was transported across space and time. Ingrid’s movements resurrected a Brandon that no longer exists.