Abstract FWO-research project (2012-2016): “The Motion Capture Imaginary: Digital renderings of dance knowledge”

Motion capture-based renderings of dance performance constitute a complex, but highly interesting cultural phenomenon at a time when motion recognition and haptic technology increasingly affect our society at large. Applications of digital motion capture technologies that aim to support the analysis and transmission of dance performance can be understood as an alternative way of bringing dance into the ‘orbit of writing’ (Rotman 2008). Despite the growth of these practices and their significance for the contemporary discourse on the digital transmission of dance knowledge, this phenomenon has not yet been thoroughly investigated from the perspective of dance studies. Through a close reading of recent experiments, both artistic (Gibson/Martelli, Open Ended Group, Motion Bank) and analytic (Motion Bank, Deakin Motion.Lab) that apply and explore computation of dance performance through motion capture, this project examines ‘corporeal computation’ of dance by analyzing different ways of making motion data speak. Informed by concepts from dance studies, performance studies, media studies, philosophy and computer science, this dissertation offers conceptual frameworks to identify ontological implications of the motion capture setting for the transmission of dance knowledge. To support this main analysis, comparisons are drawn with other apparatuses of dance capture, such as video and multimodal dance scores, and also with the emerging practice of performance capture in film and computer games. Foregrounding the value of dancers’ embodied experiences, the project argues that the pursuit to render motion data into accessible feedback calls for further investigation of topics that are typically part of the tacit knowledge of the dancer, such as the central importance of the breath. This study thus presents a critical evaluation of how the ‘computational sensibility’ in dance (Downie 2004) brought about by digital dance mediations, invites us to know dance differently.