One creative team merging dance, robotics and AI

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How do you measure and present creative endeavours? Dr Jordan Vincent and her colleagues at Deakin Motion.Lab – Centre for Creative Arts Research are wrestling with this question and have come across an interesting answer.

The team at Motion.Lab combine performance, data and creativity to provide movement-based creative technology for a wide range of industries. Their work is varied and includes an award-winning collaboration with Opera Victoria combining traditional opera with digital technology such as CGI, and a dance work by live dancers and virtual performers in a 3D projected landscape.

The problems with presenting research

A problem faced by researchers in the movement field is that a lot of their work is practice based. ‘It’s performance based, it’s live, it uses the body, and that’s absolutely wonderful if you’re sitting in the theatre. But the moment you try to extend the life of a live performance you run into all sorts of trouble,’ Dr Vincent says. The presenting of academic findings has a tried and true method – write, publish and present your work for review. But how do you present something that’s performance based?

‘Thinking about how we present our work is crucial, because it is rigorous academic work, but the accepted norms for how that work is disseminated is really text based. We’re still doing those important things, but that means what we’re usually publishing is a secondary analysis of the work,’ Dr Vincent says. Could a little robot named after children’s book Pinocchio help researchers provide more depth to their findings? The researchers at Motion.Lab certainly hope so.

The Pinoke project

Starting as a collaboration between motion capture expert Dr John McCormick and choreographer Steph Hutchison as part of their PhD research, the Pinoke project became a larger-scale development (funded by Creative Victoria in 2015) led by McCormick and Vincent, which used an artificially intelligent robot designed to perform a transmedia dance performance. Over the course of six weeks, a team including creative coders, 3D graphics and motion artists, dance artists, a choreographer and a dance critic, worked with the robot to develop a new full-length stage production, well as the documentation and dissemination of the process. The Pinoke project originally set out to answer the question of how a human and a non-human interact within a technological space.

The idea is to have Pinoke present performances in conjunction with the more traditional components of publishing research. ‘There are different components that make up all of the conceptual and thematic thinking around this project. Obviously Pinoke is not trying to replicate the experience of sitting and watching a dance with live performers, because it can’t, it’s actually just going to offer another perspective of it,’ Dr Vincent says.

The next steps

Tasked with disseminating the findings of the project, Dr Vincent wants to ‘open up the much larger research conversation.’ She is hoping the work done by the researchers in finding a mode for disseminating performing arts projects such as Pinoke will be the start of bigger things. ‘Pinoke is a great prototype, because the people who have been working on the performance part of Pinoke are also working on how we present it in this non-traditional form, so we can be really ambitious and push the boundaries,’ she says.

The researchers at Motion.Lab are now working on a new project, taking the learnings from Pinoke and evolving them further. Dr Vincent says, ‘The idea is that by developing a new platform based around Pinoke, we actually have something we can use to present other works in this way. So it’s really about thinking platforms, instead of just publication. It’s a much bigger question.’

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Dr Jordan Beth Vincent
Dr Jordan Beth Vincent

Research Fellow, Deakin Motion.Lab – Centre for Creative Arts Research
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