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Students see promise in technology's convergence with performing arts

Media technology

Published Apr 11, 2013

While an American audience watches this weekend's encore performance of the world’s first crowdsourced ballet, a pair of undergraduate students halfway around the globe are paying even closer attention.

 The world's first crowdsourced ballet, "Flight of the Dodo," inspired a undergraduate thesis by two KTH students. (Photo: courtesy of Diablo Ballet)

The piece, which the California-based Diablo Ballet company based on suggestions collected from Twitter users, tells the story of the extinction of the dodo bird. But for KTH Royal Institute of Technology undergraduates Caroline Arkenson‎ and Anna Maria Stipic, the ballet also could reveal the possibilities of combining technology and the arts.

The two are writing a paper on the making of "Flight of the Dodo” for their course, DM129X Degree Project in Media Technology, First Level. The ballet will be performed April 12 and 13 at the Hillbarn Theatre, in the San Francisco Bay-Area community of Foster City.

Media Technology student Caroline Arkenson

“Since dance is a common interest of ours, we wanted to find a project which combines media technology with the world of dance,” Arkenson says. “We narrowed our research down to examining how social media – in this case Twitter – can be used as a tool to create performing art.”

Arkenson and Stipic had at first set their sights on a local performance project, but production problems and possible delays led them change course and contact Diablo Ballet, which they had learned about through a mention in a ballet magazine’s Twitter feed. “It immediately caught my interest,” Arkenson says.

Through a questionnaire the pair interviewed Twitter users who sent 132 suggestions, to find out why they participated and what they thought about the creative process.

“Flight of the Dodo” is widely believed to be the first ballet that is crowdsourced from social media. Even the score, Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Cellos in G Minor, was decided by online vote. Via Twitter and Facebook, Diablo Ballet invited followers to submit suggestions on January 8, 2013, and the production quickly gathered a batch of ideas.

Lauren Jones, the company’s artistic director, says that the choreographers finally worked from six tweeted suggestions:

  • “The story of the Dodo Bird, birds who can’t fly and became extinct”
  • “Feel of the dance work: Deliberately ironic”
  • “Include at least one moment that you hope the audience will find hideously ugly… another evoking awesome beauty… investigate their similarities and differences”
  • “Setting: Insane asylum”
  • “Initiate movement from shoulder blades”
  • “The color turquoise”

Jones says the results of the project have been encouraging. “I’m hoping that crowdsourcing will continue to impact individuals through sparking an interested in the art form and feeling as though they have a true part in artistic expression,” she says.

Media technology student Anna Maria Stipic

Like Arkenson, Stipic began dance training at the age of 4. For her, the Diablo project represents a cross-disciplinary interaction with great promise.

“I believe that we can go even deeper in combining technology and art. Caroline and I chose this as our subject for the degree project to get a chance to discover new ways of doing so,” she says.

Diablo’s marketing director, Dan Meagher, believes artists have little choice but to embrace collaboration through technology. “We have to do this in order for the arts to survive,” he says. “We can no longer operate in modes that exclude technology. Billions of people are on social media and are waiting to be engaged.”

For Arkenson, who had considered a career in dance before enrolling at KTH, the project represents a way forward professionally. “I would like to find a way to combine my academic choice with the world of dance,” she says. “I believe that they do not necessarily have to be two completely separate worlds.

“By writing my degree project about a subject such as social media and dance, I can start exploring the ways of combining dance with media technology.”

David Callahan

Watch "Flight of the Dodo"