Dance Meets Light: Dance & the Elements, Part I

Dance today is changing in so many exciting ways, through new ideas, new choreography and even new venues. Directors and choreographers continue to search for ways to create work that takes dance to another level and appeals to a wider audience, especially young people. This month’s posts, Dance and the Elements, will look at ways that companies have used the elements of light, water and earth to create something extraordinary.

Dance isn’t usually something one would associate with light, although lighting is an important part of any dance performance. Usually it’s dialed in at the end of the rehearsal period, just before the actual performance. But what happens when it’s put first– and everything else is designed around it? Take a look for yourself:

Attraction, a Hungarian shadow theatre group from Budapest, Hungary first made a splash during the London, 2012 Olympics, with their rendition of many of the traditional sports within the five rings of the Olympic Games logo, all created by the carefully contorted bodies of the shadow dancers. Less than a year later, they won the seventh series of Britain’s Got Talent

Using a simple back light to project shadows of the dancers’ bodies on to the screen, dancers turn themselves into an unending array of shapes to create seemingly impossible images and scenery: a camel, a huge face, palm trees, an enemy sniper, a cemetery.

So how do they do it?

It’s all down to firmly shaped bodies and exact positioning, explains Attraction’s founder and choreographer Zoltan Szucs. Thousands of tiny fluorescent stickers are dotted over the soft dance mat, each colour representing the foot and hand positioning for each shadow for every dancer.

Szucs, an award-winning breakdancer, founded Attraction in 2004 as part of Hungary’s Black Lights Theatre group. He runs it with his wife Eva, who is the troupe’s manager — as well as mother to the couple’s two sons.

The key to keeping the shapes is down to team work, says  Eva, 39. ‘We tell our dancers there is no room for  ego because the connection to others is vital… If not, they’re told to go.’ Eva, whose sons are aged ten and seven, takes care of all the dancers’ needs. ‘This is our second family. I am like a mother to the dancers who are mostly in their teens and early 20s.’

Although all the performers are a mix of ballet, modern, hip-hop and street dancers, Zoltan says the moves are easy for the troupe to master. ‘The real work is having the core strength to hold the shapes and also to work with the projector with precision,’ he says.

The Japanese dance team Wrecking Crew Orchestra/El Squad is mesmerizing audiences with their Tron-inspired moves, which they perform in the dark wearing specially-designed glow-suits, which were custom-designed by lighting-tech company, iLuminate While performing in the suits on a pitch-black stage, the dancers appear to disappear and reappear in a ripple effect, like a stop-motion flipbook come to life.

The glow-suits showcase a type of dance technology that uses wireless, light-emitting ribbons and tapes that can be controlled remotely. The wire system consists of two parts, a transmitter which is attached to the main show computer, and receivers which are worn by each dancer. The whole thing is enclosed in a ruggedized case to survive the heavy vibration due to the dancers’ movements.

There are approximately 12 to 24 dancers in EL Squad at any time and maintaining the equipment for all of them through rehearsals and shows is crazy,” says Akiba of Freak Labs, an electrician who’s been charged with maintaining the magic during the group’s recent shows. “The battery management alone is almost a full time job since we need to make sure nobody runs out of batteries in the middle of a performance,” he says.

An interesting aside: “People automatically assume that the EL Squad dancers are guys. Actually, most of the EL Squad dancers are female,” Akiba adds.

Pixel, the innovative dance performance conceived by French performance artists Adrien Mondot and Claire Bardainne, in collaboration with hip-hop choreographer Cie Kafig, bills itself as “a work on illusion combining energy and poetry, fiction and technical achievement, hip hop and circus.” The hour-long performance incorporates a host of digital projection mapping techniques, plus 11 dancers.

The creators–known collectively as the Adrien M / Claire B Company–(a French dance company) specialize in merging dance with cutting-edge technologies. Mondot and Bardainne have been exploring the intersection of projection mapping and dance since 2004, today creating dynamic virtual worlds that respond to and interact with the people among them. Pixel premiered at Maison des Arts de Créteil on November 15th, 2014.

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