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’...it 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.