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This month, Danse Bloom talked to Andrea Peña about the exciting possibilities of Dance and Multimedia Creation. Andrea shares how her background as a dancer and industrial designer led her to explore the world of multimedia design, as well as what she hopes for the future of dance and technology. Read her inspiring words below + directly in the Danse Bloom article :)

How did you start incorporating multiple forms of media into your artistic practice? I have always been a creative person who comes from a very creative family. When my career as a professional dancer took a turn due to a few serious injuries, I decided to return to school to further explore this side of me. I completed my undergrad at Concordia University while building my company Andrea Peña & Artists (AP&A). Towards the end of my Industrial Design degree, I realized that I had only skimmed the surface of what design meant to me as a movement practitioner. There are so many possibilities to merge design with embodied thinking (I love the word ‘embodied’ explains dance as both a physical practice and a type of knowledge). So… I dove straight into a Master’s degree in Design, and my studies were quickly invested in how choreography can be found in the way objects are designed. This is where my true investment in multimedia practices was born. My desire was to “speculate” (a fancy term designers love) on how the embodied knowledge of a dance choreographer could transform the future of body-centred design. Different technological mediums like digital rendering, body sensors, coding, digital animations, 3D visualizations, and artificial reality became tools that allowed me to look at the body and its movement behaviours in everyday life. With these lenses, I was able to relate my practice of dance with the systems of thinking rooted in different technologies. I want to engage with multiple forms of media and also learn what the thinking processes of these mediums are.

How is your choreographic process different when you approach multidisciplinary pieces of art as compared to creating for only dance? It’s a gloriously messy puzzle. When I’m using multidisciplinary pieces of art to create, my choreographic process doesn’t only focus on the human body. I immediately experiment with how I can incorporate these other materials into my movement instincts. My work often shows how the body is in relation to space, time, atmosphere, technology, or essence (the list goes on) of that performance. This idea of being “in relation” is quite important in my artistic practice. The body and mind of the human performers are constantly interacting with the multidimensional propositions that may be included in that performance. This is the place where complex yet exciting tensions arise. It keeps myself and my collaborators experimenting, testing, listening, and researching how we can craft spaces for the body to be in dialogue with non-dance materials.

Your company Andrea Peña & Artists explores themes beyond movement. Talk about how collaboration between artists of various disciplines and backgrounds has influenced the stories you tell. The “& Artists” part of “Andrea Peña & Artists” is the most important part of the name. Beyond dance, AP&A is a company that aims to be there for the community as much as it is driven to create its large-scale universes. I have really dedicated myself to focus on how we do what we do as a community of artists, rather than solely focusing on the outcome. For example, we recently released a company manifesto on AP&A’s website (a written statement that outlines our values). I felt it was important to be transparent and public about how we are working towards doing things differently. We are aiming to craft a new future for the dance milieu.

Collaboration is ingrained in the DNA of what we all believe in as artists. The founding principle of being in dialogue allows AP&A to find new knowledge at the intersections of different artistic practices. It’s what makes our performative universes complex, textured, and unique. The conversations between each collaborator, myself, and the performing artists are vital to the creation process of any choreographic work the company produces. AP&A works with collaborators such as image-makers, code designers, composers, scenographers, and VR directors on dance-related pieces. For example, last year we presented a series of digital performances that explored human intimacy through the use of technology. It was called PER(FORMING) DIGITAL INTIMACIES and was commissioned by the PHI Center between Montreal, Mexico City, Ede, and Berlin. The question was: how can we fall in love with a stranger through movement improvisations guided by a computer algorithm to participants across the globe? This was an incredible project where we used movement and code technologies as tools to challenge our humanity and capacity to connect through this pandemic. The results were incredibly touching.

We always aim to find the new language of our pieces within each new location, situation, or context rather than reproduce a show. Our strive towards being in dialogue with each other constantly allows each individual’s point of view to be in negotiation with another perspective. I believe this is where the beauty and richness of what we do as artists lies.

Where do you see the future of technology and dance? I hope to see the future of technology and dance recognize that technology is already part of dance and the choreographic practice. Think of lighting design, scenography, music composition, improvisation, videography...these (and many others) are all technologies that dance has been using for decades. In my opinion, the general hesitancy towards technology lies in the fact that we forget to realize it has been part of our practice for many generations, it is only the modes of technology that are changing! Now we are exposed to the possibilities of artificial intelligence, coding, digital sensory perception, data collection, and much more in the present day. How do these new technologies shape the possibilities of movement? How can we integrate this technology to help us expand choreographic thinking? How does technology give agency to dancers? Usually, we see technology as aesthetic and visual support to ideas. I would like to challenge us as artists to embrace a technological way of thinking into different steps of the choreographic process, from initial creation to the finished performance. Therefore, we are not only using these technologies as physical tools but learning from the knowledge that is already ingrained in them. I can’t wait to see the next generation of dancers, creators, and choreographers address the possibilities of intelligence through technology in their movement approaches and actions.

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

View the full article below:

You describe Artifice Manifesto as an exploration of five dancers, in conversation with the hegemony of a machine, an opera singer, and a DJ. Why was it important to you that the dancers be in conversation with these objects and individuals—what you call “external forces”?

Artifice Manifesto is a piece that looks at artifice in our society, as a social structure we exist within. So, how does artificiality affect our humanity? How does technology impact us and how we relate to each other? Artifice, for me, is the seductive aspect of technology, what we’re swimming inside and outside of. I want to look at how we get pulled into artifice. To me, it’s the metaphor of a mask, of how we get drawn into this mask with technology.

The three external forces I have chosen break the piece down into three tableaux. Rather than use a linear narrative, where there is a beginning and a climax, I wanted to present three different facets for the audience so they can create their own links.

You’ve noted your interest in the disruption of the unfamiliar, of presenting “the alternative possibility” to an audience. Your work also looks at themes of homogeneity, external influence, and social systems. How aware are you of these themes as you create? How do you create a universe in a performance?

For me, the language of the body is so important. In my work, I want to merge the conceptual or philosophical questions with the rigour and physicality of the body. The work takes awhile to find the language of the body, and each piece has a very specific corporeal language—a way of inhabiting the dancer to reflect these questions and express these ideas.

The other aspect is the systems that reflect the universe, so in Artifice Manifesto, there are three systems that create an environment for the dancers to inhabit and negotiate within. All these layers start to craft the universe. It’s like a tornado or vortex of spinning energy. Once you find that energy, you can contain it and use well as create a visual frame. They start to contain an energy that becomes more specific for the audience to read.

What are the links between identity and performance, to you?

The first link is my background as a Latin-American who immigrated to Canada when I was a teen. I realize I’m creating these universes because it’s a way for me to create other “social imaginaries” to reflect our society. I exist in between two cultural identities, and I realize so many of us exist in this gray area, where we don’t fit within either container, and that is where these universes come in.

As for the work itself, I always tell my dancers, do not perform. I don’t want them to present as performers, I want them to present as human beings embodying and negotiating a situation. My goal is to reflect who the artists I work with are and leave space for them to negotiate the work as people. I try to focus on reflecting the individuality of the dancers and how the audience sees them as performers.

As an artist, how do you view your work in the context of the Canadian dance landscape?

I feel I fit within the Canadian dance landscape, but I’m also trying to challenge it. I’m trying to place myself in the in-between; I love the ambiguity and depth found in this space. Because I’m Latin-American, for example, rhythm is very present. Latin-American philosophies around vulnerability are also huge pillars in my work. How do we show vulnerability on stage?

I don’t think we investigate the in-between enough. For me, as an artist, I want to dig inside of the complexity of this space and show the relationship between the familiar and the unfamiliar on stage.

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