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Contemporary dance is often a thought-provoking art for both the audience and the dancers involved. A development of ballet giving the performer less restriction and more expression, or a blank canvas on which to paint a tableau as the choreographer sees fit.
Contemporary dance, when good, is unpredictable and breaks boundaries. When bad, it can be unpalatable for the audience, and some might even say boring.
I have seen many contemporary works stretching from animalistic and often spasmodic body movements to dynamic and powerful flight on stage, but rarely have I seen such an innovative way of fusing dance with technology, in an almost hypnotic visual that makes me question who’s in control – the dancer or the light?
I met with choreographer Darren Pritchard – previously a dancer for Random Dance Company and with a wealth of commercial projects in his dance bag including Mel C, Inaya Day and JD Sports – to chat about his latest project Body of Light.
Darren you have such a diverse range of styles in dance to draw from, with many projects recently in the commercial field. Your latest work is Body of Light. What inspired the shift to work with technology and from such a contemporary angle?
Contemporary dance will always be my first love. It is at the forefront of my training. I have always been the kind of person who likes to use all the crayons in the colouring box, even as far back as my days at The Northern school of Contemporary Dance in Leeds.
Wonderfully, the technology I am using on this project really opened up a completely new colouring book for me.
What is the stimulus behind Body of Light?
I simply wanted to create a contemporary dance piece from its purest angle. There really isn’t a huge meaning behind it, or any underlying theme.
I found a quote by Victor Hugo that sums the entire project in one: ‘To love beauty is to love light.’
The technology used is the Microsoft Kinect sensor. Why have you chosen this technology?
The Microsoft Kinect sensor really is the best tool to create the effects that I wanted. I did look into other tools but found this to be the most effective.
How does it work?
Without getting too technical, the Kinect tracks the movement of the dancers’ bodies. With that, we can then project various lighting effects onto the dancers as they perform. The light then reacts to the performer.
The Kinect sensor used for the piece is easily accessible to anyone. Was this an intentional decision?
Yes. One of our main aims was to create high-end effects and production values that weren’t enormously costly, but we also wanted the project to be easily transportable for touring purposes.
Body of Light appears like a duet, almost a pas de deux, but would you say the dancer is in control or the light?
My aim was to initially create a piece that, should the technology crash, the dancer’s movement would continue to sustain the audience’s engagement. Predominantly, the light is there as an enhancement for the piece, so really they work in tandem.
Body of Light focuses on a three-dimensional performance. Do you see this being more common in the future of dance?
It is something I think is growing in interest. It was an artistic choice for me so I had an additional element to play with, rather than a just working on a 2D plane.
Phase two of Body of Light featured at the 2014 Homotopia festival with a soloist. Tell us about that performance.
It was a great starting point as an initial public performance of R&D [research and development]. Taken to a new space and with a fresh audience, the piece really shifted. We had very positive feedback from the viewers too.
How has working with technology as your duet partner compared to working with a human?
I don’t dance in the actual piece – however, I have danced with the technology many times. I find the experience magical. There are times I felt like a superhero with the ability to control the light and have it react to me.
What is next for Body of Light?
After the premiere of the piece in the Black Gold Arts Festival, we then move to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, where we’ll be working with some of the patients. From this, we have two days performing a smaller version at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry. We have a great tour booker we’re confident will generate more national gigs.