In the fall of 2020, the interdisciplinary performance collective REPLICA took the opportunity to work on their research project at the Berlin Open Lab, a joint laboratory of the University of the Arts and the Technical University of Berlin. The resulting outcome, the performance Dancing at the Edge World, could not be presented in front of spectators due to the current situation and was documented by camera. On March 18, the performance, followed by a Q&A, was presented as a livestream on our website.
Ewelina Dobrzalski, project coordinator of the Hybrid Platform and Diana Serbanescu, co-founder and artistic director of REPLICA, welcomed the audience and Serbanescu briefly introduced with what political and artistic motivation the performance would be rehearsed. The integration of artificial intelligence into society is often very mechanical, as in the case of Alexa, for example, and would be much more pleasant to use through performative and cultural understanding. It is precisely this experimental playfulness that REPLICA has tried to visualize in their performance, and according to Serbanescu, you are most receptive to it when you let your associations run free and let yourself be driven by the music. An immersive experience, which of course could have unfolded differently during a physical event, is achieved by putting on a good pair of headphones to best understand the meticulous work of the sound design team.
The film first showed how the dancers were transformed into a hybrid of man and machine using various cables, plugs and tapes. After an intro in which the first synthetic voice production from archive materials was shown, the next chapter entitled "A synthetic voice for the body. Calibration and training." kicked off the performance, whose synthetic sounds quickly captivated us viewers.
Dressed completely in black, the protagonists moved around in a blue-lit room, sometimes determined and fast, then again slowly and elegantly. Again and again, the movement data from the performance in the form of graphs were superimposed on the image plane of the dancers, so that one could observe both at the same time.
Unintelligible sounds became sentences of increasing complexity as the performance progressed, and all the characters evolved in their own individual ways. As a spectator, one sometimes had the feeling of being the observer of a ritual, which was reminiscent of Serbanescu's scientific basis, which she sees located in the theater scholar Grotowski as well as in Donna Harraway's approach. Interspersed quotes such as.
Rituals are performative artifacts that allow the practitioner to embark upon a journey towards the beginning of a song, which allows the discovery of the "first singer within one's own body" - Lisa Wolford Wylam
formed an interpretative guide that helped to understand the performance, which should be experienced rather than described.
Afterwards, the protagonists gathered in a zoom call and were questioned in different stages by Serbanescu about the artistic realization, the technical process and the personal interpretation. First, dramaturg and dancer Kirsty May Hamilton highlighted the political potential of a performance as the most important element. She emphasized her feminist motivation in the discussion about Artificial Intelligence, as it is developed in a patriarchal world and also unconsciously supports this unequal process.
Afterwards, kling klang klong's sound team consisting of Lugh O’ Neill and Johannes Heilberger, as well as Mika Satomi, responsible for the computer technologies on the dancers' bodies, and Meredith Thomas, responsible for incorporating Artificial Intelligence and data visualization into the performance, shed light on their challenges in the piece. Dancer Kate Ryan told us in another round about her initial reluctance to work so closely with technology in dance, the transformation she experienced during the process, and how she ended up seeing technology as part of herself.
We probably could have listened much longer to the exciting reflections of the REPLICA collective and hope for a sequel soon.