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JiaXuan Hon: Can dance be ‘hacked’ with technology?

Jia Xuan Hon at Dansathon Jia Xuan Hon at Dansathon photo: Marcus Jamieson-Pond
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In dance, the body is explored and examined on all levels. From the individual to the collective, from its practical functions to poetic meaning in motion, from an act of self-expression to political commentary, encompassing all types of bodies, ages and cultures.

The definition of dance has gone beyond entertainment. There are scientific and cultural studies into dance, alongside extensive research into its mental and physical benefits.

On the other hand, the fourth industrial revolution is currently taking place, which the World Economic Forum described as the “blurr[ed] lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres” in 2016.

Consumer technology is finally moving beyond screens into immersion. In the near future, we will not only use our fingers, but all our body functions – visual, auditory, voice, full-body actions, haptics, smell – to interact with our (artificially intelligent) devices.

Dansathon 2018 at Plexal, London
Dansathon 2018 at Plexal, London. Photo: Marcus Jamieson-Pond

Think of sci-fi movies such as Blade Runner 2049 or Her – some of those technologies are not far from reality. It is time the incredible wealth of knowledge and wisdom that dance has was shared and put into use beyond the arts world to shape society more generally.

With this in mind, we put together a three-day event called Dansathon, the first international dance “hackathon”. It brought together dancers, technologists and designers to imagine new ways to create and experience dance.

Initiated by BNP Paribas Foundation, it was done through collaboration between Belgium’s Theatre de Liege, Sadler’s Wells in London, and Maison De La Danse in Lyon, with a gathering held in each city.

Hackathons originate from the technology industry. Over two or three days, participants “hack” existing systems to create prototype solutions to challenges. It is about innovation, breaking the routine and making space for fresh ideas.

During Dansathon there were 30 to 35 individuals in each city who formed teams on the first day. We provided them with an overall methodology, based on various creative sprints, experts, technology and manpower, and let them get on with it.

Dansathon 2018 at Plexal, London. Photo: Andreea Tufescu Photography
Dansathon 2018 at Plexal, London. Photo: Andreea Tufescu

After three days, fragments of five projects were presented. The winning project in London was Digital Umbilical, a one-to-one performance that explores intimacy in the digital age. In the piece, technology worn by both audience member and performer was used to create a soundscape from the breath of the dancer and the pulse of the spectator. It created a connection between the two, using technology to tap into the physical, emotional state of others.

Other projects to come out of the event included an app that transforms daily routines into a story, an installation to inject the joy of dance in public spaces, a tool for use in choreographic processes and a playground looking at transforming the perception of body through data and dance.

In all the projects, dance stood side-by-side with technology, harnessing the power of both. The process of making, performing, and experiencing dance has been redesigned and reimagined.

The winning project receives a grant of €10,000 from the foundation and support from Sadler’s Wells. In the next six to 12 months the ripple effects of the event are to be captured, especially now that more dance and technology projects are sprouting. This is only the start.

JiaXuan Hon is an independent producer, currently producing for Sadler’s Wells and dance company AΦE.

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