Tech meets art: how AR apps can create a digital dance archive

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P(AR)take featuring Ester Van Der Walt & Maipelo Gabang (1)

Dancer, academic, choreographer and producer Jeannette Ginslov marked the 40th edition of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown by unveiling an ambitious project and a first for South Africa –an augmented reality (AR)-based, digital archive combo called P(AR)take.

Using AR app Aurasma, Ginslov has created triggers for 10 videos of dance performances on the Main programme of the Festival, reaching back in time to 1984 and as recent as 2013. According to Ginslov, the project aims to spur and enhance “audience participation in the development of South African contemporary dance”, to “explore a novel choreographic structure, curating the content in such a way that the audience becomes part of the media and not just a passive consumer” and to use AR “to encourage mobility and a dialogical framework”.

What this boils down to is a physical tour through a decades-spanning digital archive. Participants met in small groups daily, under the Drosty Arch at the entrance to Rhodes University, mobiles in hand. Temporary wifi hotspots had been set up, and Ginslov and her research Ester van der Walt talked less tech-savvy participants through connecting to the wifi, downloading the app and following the P(AR)take channel on Aurasma, before demonstrating the triggering process: holding your phone up to the trigger (in this case, a white card with printed text and image) to launch a video, double-tapping the launched video (to be able to walk away from the trigger without losing the video), and post-viewing single-tapping to access a URL (with further information about the dance, the year in which it was produced and the political climate from which it emerged).

Then they’re off, leading participants to the next venue and trigger boards, covering five venues linked to dance at the 2014 National Arts Festival and 10 snippets of dance leading up to Fana Tshabalala’s most recent piece.

“The dawn of the age of the post-digital, the internet of things and the coming of age of the ‘prosumer’, reveals our changing relationship to technology and shifts our notions of being human and creating art forms, says Ginslov. Prosumer is a contraction of producer and consumer. She adds: “Merely looking at a screen has become boring. With the advent of mobile technologies and smart cities, the prosumer has come to expect an integrated user experience of the real and the virtual, the simultaneity of being here and there, mixing realities as they appear on hand-held devices and tablets.”

Ginslov is perfectly positioned to curate this virtual exhibition as the director of ScreenDance Africa — a company that specialises in developing and producing dance films. She is also an academic. “P(AR)take is part of my on-going research and practice into AR and dance on screen. Since 2000 my research and practice has explored the interdisciplinary nature of dance and technology and has led me to using the Internet as a site for new outcomes,” she says.

Not only is P(AR)take a South African festival first, Ginslov believes it is a world-first. “Maybe QR codes or apps have been used for triggering and uploading data or info, but nothing of this scale, nature, form and content has been produced here in South Africa. In fact it is only just catching on in Europe. I know of no other dance festival or theatre festival that has a virtual dance archive spanning forty years using AR,” explains Ginslov.

From here Ginslov moves to Germany to take up a six-week residency at the Lake Studios Berlin, in collaboration with www.dance-tech.net: “Here I will be giving two screendance workshops and one in AR, as well as showing P(AR)take and making a new work, P(AR)ticipate – here I want to tag my own body with video of my works that I made over the last 30 years – a living breathing archive. The audience will have to move around my slow moving body to connect with the media tagged to my body – as if the works seep from my body and they capture it with their devices.” P(AR)take will also be presented at a number of universities and festivals in Europe, as well as related documentary footage being screened on a German TV station.

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