Large white sheets, hoisted up on tripods, nearly covered two of its walls. Various video cameras, stage lights, and projectors situated in a square-like formation on the floor were connected by lots of wires that led up to a main computer. Music blared from surrounding speakers.
I was immediately pulled into a crowd of people starting to dance in the room’s center, when I walked into Scripps College’s Richardson Dance Studio the evening of March 2.
Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer, artistic directors of Bridgman|Packer Dance, danced freely as they waited to begin their video and dance workshop.
After brief introductions and a presentation about their background, Bridgman and Packer had the attendees — about 10 5C students, including me — warm up with a dance exercise. We were each supposed to “push and pull” the invisible space around us with all parts of our bodies, sharing that space with others.
I pantomimed shoving the air in front of me toward my partner, then she kicked it back at me in return. All of us lined up and took turns dancing in this manner across the white backdrop.
Bridgman and Packer, who had choreographed and performed dances for decades, began their unique endeavor of incorporating video into dance in 2001.
Packer said the company’s work examines “the human experience of what we’re doing here, why we’re here, and what one’s personal identity is in terms of gender, in terms of what is expected of one in life.”
Bridgman and Packer use what they call “video partnering” in their routines, in which the pair dances while interacting with life-size videos of themselves onstage. Sometimes a camera will film them during mid-performance and playback the footage onstage in delayed time segments, or in concurrence with the other dancer.
Packer said they came up with the idea of mixing video with dance in 2000, after performing in an opera that incorporated shadow puppetry.
“What happens when you get closer to the light and farther away from the light, that it distorts the size and shape and possibilities of body,” Packer said. “We then took those ideas and choreographed work for ourselves. The distortion of the two-dimensional contrasted with the live.”
Another part of Bridgman|Packer Dance’s work involves “technological cubism,” which layers different projected videos and live performance, as explained on their website. Sometimes they project videos onto their own bodies as they dance.
Xiwen Wang SC ’18 is a media studies major and is currently taking a Scripps modern dance class.
“I think it’s a very inspiring workshop because, for me, I’m always interested in very interdisciplinary practice,” Wang said. “The things they’re doing here, I think you can use it in video-making to create narratives, to express emotions.”
Seeing my live dancing projected in real time on the white sheet across from me was both intimidating and fascinating. When we each got to take turns dancing with the life-size video projections of ourselves and others, things got even more interesting. I got to jump over my own head and roll between my virtual self’s legs.
“We’re not that excited about technology for its own sake; it’s what it can do,” Packer said. “We are here to do the workshop, but we also travel all over bringing our work, and that’s what’s so vital — to meet all kinds of people and all kinds of audiences.”
My favorite part was the end, when we got to play around with the camcorders and Bridgman|Packer’s computer software, which chooses random modes through which to play the projections.
“It’s so crazy to interact with yourself as a video and to interact with other people,” Emily Freilich PO ’18 said. “It’s more about the dancing than it is about the technology, but it’s really fascinating how you can see yourself with technology.”
When the instructors overlapped two different live video streams along with the projector image in a method called “video feedback,” it created a “kaleidoscope” effect where it looked like there were infinite versions of ourselves moving in unison.
“I think I can do a lot with this
if I wanted to make a video to tell a story of a character, to express some emotions,” Wang said.
Some other effects we tried out included changing the colors of our bodies, time-delaying our movements, creating multiple versions of ourselves on one screen, and seeing ourselves float around upside-down, all while continuing to dance in this push-and-pull style.
Packer’s advice to aspiring dancers is “to follow the passion and the interest and to not feel you have to fit into anyone else’s mold or idea of a dancer. … There’s so much possibility in this field of creating your own thing, which is really what the role of the artist is.”