Artist duo Adrien M / Claire B do not create typical backdrops for dance performances, but instead transform the physical stage into a living virtual environment with many surprising visual planes. For Pixel—entraits, above, they immerse a troupe of eleven dancers skilled in breakdancing, body-twisting circus movements, and hip-hop, in spectacular digital media, from showers of light to ice rinks.
For Adrien, a computer scientist and a juggler, and Claire, a graphic and stage designer, Pixel—entraits is a continuation of an experiment in combining the poetics of the human body with projection-mapped augmented realities to weave optical illusions and new fictions. Earlier performances included Cinematique, on rediscovering childhood fantasies, and Hakanaï, on the space between the borders of imagination and reality. “Our job is to compose non-figurative stories with abstract, minimalist graphic shapes, using motion as a central writing tool,” they told us.
We spoke to the creative duo about the experience of choreographing a digital canvas, the inspiration for Pixel—entraits, and future projects:
The Creators Project: What was the inspiration for the dance? How did the idea grow?
Adrien M / Claire B: We have been working for several years in live dance performance mixed with digital arts, creating shows, performances and installations. We built software that allows us to manipulate graphic shapes as if they were real. This tool is called eMotion, and it's an app for creating interactions between graphical objects and real word information. It’s an experimental tool, coded in Objective C, with a physics-based animation system. In other words: it is an editor that allows you to define a graphic world composed of objects (like points, lines, images, videos), to specify how they move, with a combination of physics parameters and to organize the way you will interact with them (sound, Kinect, Wii Remote, Leap Motion, etc.), in real time.
The idea to mix our work with hip-hop dance came together when we met dancer and choreographer, Mourad Merzouki. Optical illusion was a principle we shared. We enjoyed offering our ideas and principles to the dancers and researching with them on interaction principles.
Could you describe the creative process of combining dance and projection mapping? What were some of the challenges?
The creative process is driven first by the setup. We have chosen to use projections on a transparent screen made with tulle, and the ground, because these two axes give a great way to build space illusions and anamorphosis.
The second parameter is the interactive digital environment in which we determine how the body of the dancers enters the picture, how the digital marries the material, and organizing coincidences. We never put sensors on the body. We are controlling the digital materials with our hands— with iPads, Leap motion and wacom tablets. We work with high tech tools in a sensitive, handcrafted way. In short, we play puppeteers. The main challenge is to work with multiple dancers at the same time and to find the way to interact with them.
What story did you aim to tell with your work?
Our job is to compose non-figurative stories with abstract, minimalist graphic shapes, using motion as a central writing tool. And we try daily to reveal the new language that belongs to the new digital medium we use. We’re always looking for what can be expressed by this medium that cannot be expressed by another medium. We like to think that augmented reality is an imaginary space that allows you to see the dance in a different way. It’s another reality, and we want to play with it.
What do you hope people take away from the performance?
We like create to trouble, and provide sensation, with a magical effect of sorts. We want people to forget the border between real and virtual, material and imaginary worlds, and we want to surprise the audience.
What are you working on next?
We are working on a new show with flying dancers meeting images in the air! And also new installations based on Pepper’s ghost optical illusion, and always the evolution of our software tools.
Below, check out more stunning photography from Pixel - extraits, and view the full gallery here: