The music company Yamaha recently broke new ground in merging artificial intelligence (AI) with the arts — specifically, the dance world getting in on the fun. Dancer Kaiji Moriyama was able to convert his body movements into notes on a piano that served as the basis for a “score.” The captivating project is documented in a popular YouTube video:
In watching this video, and hearing about the effort and thought that went into making such a concept a reality, I was amazed, intrigued and curious. I immediately searched to see what other kinds of technological innovations have recently touched the dance world. While isolated instances of technology being integrated into dance do exist, by and large both fields remain ripe for innovation. It would also be foolish to attempt disruption for the sake of disruption, so I came up with a list of key things that I think technological upheaval could accomplish in dance. This list is neither comprehensive nor complete, but if budding dance innovators took these areas into account, it would most definitely be a good start.
Composition and Choreography
This idea was inspired directly the Yamaha-Moriyama project. Watching him control the piano’s notes with his body, and seeing the orchestra follow, is absolutely breathtaking.
While there is already plenty of technology for editing and downloading music, I imagine many possibilities for artificial intelligence to continue to take center stage like it did in the Yamaha project for companies and choreographers that commission original music.
What if composers, instead of translating into music what they see in dance and dancers, could build scores directly from their own bodies? Dancers master the art of embodying existing music in such a way as to reach and affect their audience. How much more of an impact could work be when dancers can literally craft the score to their movements?
Accessibility and Availability
I recently came across Dancio, an app that allows people to rent dance classes on video from the likes of Julia Kent, former American Ballet Theatre principal, and New York City Ballet Master Craig Hall. The application is still in its early stages and there are only four classes. But there are plans to build a subscription-based service and to allow classes to be downloaded.
The yoga and personal-fitness arenas already have precedents in this area with apps like Daily Burn and Yoga Studio. And while nothing can or ever will replace having an in-person teacher physically correct and place your body to teach and build good technique, an app that provides high-quality classes at a lower price than most studios, taught by masters, could work wonders for young dancers who wish to train and get the basics but do not have the funds to do so.
Or if a professional dancer finds themselves snowed in, as I was a few weeks ago, Dancio or a similar app make it possible to take class when weather, illness or other complications preclude getting to a brick-and-mortar studio. High-quality videos can also work well when dancers need another barre class, or to brush up on technique, or to warm up before a show.
This is something I touched on in my previous post about engaging millennials in the dance world, but it bears repeating. If dance expects to keep step with the increasingly digital world, it needs to speak to the increasing wired-ness of our society.
Leveraging current technology can change the way dance organizations speak to and reach communities and audiences, whether it’s gathering data to determine audience responses (to theme, aesthetic, diversity, gender portrayals, etc.), or to source inspiration from the public through video testimonials or virtual reality-based movement study. Companies already work with technology like Dance Designer to generate movement and with miniature cameras to create 360-degree virtual reality experiences. Opening up these ideas to audiences could create a new symbiosis between people and companies by making them part of the creative process. Technology can take down the off-putting barrier that so often exists between performers and viewers.
These ideas, of course, cannot come to fruition without adequate resources and support. We know that funding for many dance groups comes more from earned income than from contributed. It’s also time that artists who devote incalculable amounts of time and energy to their livelihood reap the benefits of a society that rewards out-of-the-box thinking. Last year, with Cliff Brody’s attempt at a new business model with the National Performing Arts Funding Exchange (NPAFE), independent artists are gaining access to corporate sponsors willing to provide substantial dollars in support. Companies like WeWork now attach their names to inspiring work by Company Danzante and ClancyWorks. Just as Donald L. Jonas gave the world the permanent gift of being able to see Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, today’s CEOs may be one performance away from providing another artist with the same chance to build a legacy.
I remain proud to be both a performer and student of a craft that has stood the test of time and maintained its integrity for generations. But I also believe that just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. Part of dance’s beauty is its ability to transport us into another time, place or feeling. As creators, movers and teachers, we can benefit from living in the now and drawing from the world around us to continue proving that our work is relevant, and truly for everyone.