The use of big data is prevalent across society, so it’s of little surprise that choreographers are using it to create new art.
This week at the Bates Dance Festival, Chicago choreographer Erica Mott debuts an interactive piece about social unrest and the Arab Spring, and she tells the story through movement and music informed by words and topics that were popular on Twitter during the anti-government protests, uprisings and armed rebellions across the Middle East in early 2011. Social media played a key role in the uprisings, and Mott is tapping a trove of data associated with it to create this new piece, “Mycelial: Street Parliament.”
A team of dancers, musicians and technologists from Egypt and America will present the piece at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Gannett Theater at Bates College as part of the festival, which opened last week and runs through early August.
“Mycelial” is a multidisciplinary and interactive installation performance that focuses on civic participation, social movements and interconnectedness in an age of digital communication and social and political division. A custom mobile app will guide audience members through the performance.
“There is a sense of frontier here,” said Mott, whose piece employs such technologies as sentiment analysis, motion-tracking cameras, live video processing visualization and large-scale projection screens.
Essentially, Mott’s work involves finding the musicality of a revolution and finding ways to embody the emotions of an uprising through movement. Her work compresses 18 days of anger, fear, sadness and joy into a one-hour performance.
She hopes the piece will help audience members understand the emotions of revolution while creating a platform where “embodied experience and kinesthetic empathy” lead to community and cultural discussions about “other” and inclusiveness, as well as how to use art and cultural diplomacy to bring people together.
This is the first year for new festival director, Shoshona Currier, who, before returning home to Maine to direct the Bates festival, worked as director of performing arts for Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. She and Mott know each other from their shared time in the Chicago.
“When I came to Bates, this was the first piece I wanted to put into the festival,” Currier said. “I knew this piece when it was in development, and I knew how good the work was, how innovative it is and how deeply thought-out Erica’s work is.”
Mott, 40, developed “Mycelial” through one-to-one cultural exchanges between American and Egyptian composers, programmers, dancers and new media artists. She traveled to Egypt on a State Department grant late in 2016 and returned with her creative team in 2017.
She tapped the expertise of a researcher at the University of Illinois in Chicago to analyze social media feeds during key moments of the uprising. Those emotions define the tenor and tone of the piece and propel it in sound and movement. Dancers will wear motion-tracking cameras, and large, movable projection screens will shift to redefine the architecture of the space. The musical soundscapes are created by American composer Ryan Ingebritsen and Egyptian composer Ahmed Saleh.
American technologist Tony Reimer, from the Laboratory for Audience Interactive Technologies and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Egyptian user-interface designer Yasser Nazmy created a custom mobile app that “catalyzes the audiences” to contribute their own voices through remote inputs and what Mott called “movement tweets” so they can participate in the resistance dance.
After Bates, Mott plans to bring the piece first to Chicago and then to Cairo “and return it back to where it started.”
Creating new work is always exciting, Mott said. Creating new work that uses technology to tap a different level of human emotion is especially exciting.
“There is that sense of being on the frontier,” she said.
WHERE: Bates Dance Festival, Bates College, Lewiston; Gannett Theater, 305 College St.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday
HOW MUCH: $20, $15 seniors, $12 students
INFO: (207) 786-6161, batesdancefestival.org