LAWRENCE – An innovative University of Kansas performance that intertwines contemporary dance with video art is headed to New York City in March.
The piece, titled “human, next” is a collaboration between choreographer James Moreno, an assistant dance professor, and visual artist Benjamin Rosenthal, an assistant professor of expanded media. Covering new ground in the way that dance and digital media intersects, “human, next” examines a subject that isn’t often conveyed through dance: what it means to be human in a digital world.
“Dance is often described as the most human of performing arts because the body is the medium,” Moreno said. “So it makes things interesting when we question that and juxtapose real dancers with virtual bodies and ask the question, ‘What is humanity now’?”
The 12-minute piece, which premiered at the Lied Center in November, will be performed in New York City as part of the dance series the CURRENT SESSIONS: Volume IV, Issue 1. The performance, which will include four KU student dancers, will be March 8-9 at the venue Wild Project in the East Village. The CURRENT SESSIONS is a dance organization and presenting series that showcases innovative contemporary performances from up-and-coming and mid-career choreographers in biannual performances.
In “human, next” the dancers on stage interact with projected images of animated virtual bodies on the screen behind them. The score, created by Rosenthal, is composed of sounds from computer operating systems, including the familiar startup tone of a Mac. Throughout the piece, the live dancers and virtual bodies engage in shifting struggles for control. The audience is asked to question what is real and virtual.
“Those boundaries are becoming virtually indistinguishable, which we think is a really challenging conceptual position to negotiate,” Rosenthal said. “We are questioning if that matters and that the authenticity of an experience, whether it is real or virtual, may be effectively the same thing in our contemporary hybrid condition.”
Rosenthal and Moreno were admirers of each other’s work before the project. Rosenthal has exhibited his work internationally, and Moreno is a Fulbright scholar who has choreographed for the National School of Dance of Panama, Northwestern University and Repertory Dance Theater. Both men were looking for an opportunity to collaborate on a project that drew from other disciplines.
“This is not just another dance,” Moreno said. “It is a complex presentation of different art forms. And the ideas about what happens when technology and the human body intersect are not only treated abstractly but are inherent in the physical process of creating the work.”
The performance in New York City is the first phase of a four-part piece that will ultimately come together as an evening-length work. A new phase will be produced each semester. In phase II, Moreno and Rosenthal plan to incorporate video monitors that dancers will move around and interact with on stage. A parallel component to the ongoing project, Rosenthal’s single-channel version of the first phase of the work — "Human, Next: Phase One" — will premiere early April in a screening curated by artist Darrin Martin at Vanity Projects in New York City.
Following the New York City performance, the six KU student dancers who originated the piece at the Lied Center will perform it at the American College Dance Festival in Chicago.
The first phase of “human, next” was made possible from a grant through the KU Hall Center for the Humanities.