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  • Mid-Term Report Summary - BLACKBOX (A collaborative platform to document performance composition: from conceptual structures in the backstage to customizable visualizations in the front-end)

BlackBox Report Summary

Project ID: 336200
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Portugal

Mid-Term Report Summary - BLACKBOX (A collaborative platform to document performance composition: from conceptual structures in the backstage to customizable visualizations in the front-end)

The BlackBox project in our "Arts&Cognition Lab", at the crossings of Performing Arts, Cognitive Linguistics and Computer Vision, was inspired by the existing research gap in the domain of gesture studies and multimodal communication in specific artistic settings where joint collaboration, bodily performance and creativity play a predominant role. We also assume that computational modelling and digitisation in the cultural sphere can be seen as means to preserve and document Cultural Heritage, in our case the most intangible and ephemeral art forms such as contemporary dance and theatre, including improvisation and conceptual performances.

Our Lab is composed of six permanent researchers and aims at the development of a collaborative platform to document the compositional processes and unique "signatures" of 4 invited contemporary choreographers and dramaturgists as case studies in this project.

The trigger and global motivation of BlackBox has been to find an answer to the following research question:
How do specific performing artists' ideas and imagetic schemes emerge, are translated into words by them, and then become embodied/materialised on stage via other bodies, the ones of their performers? This challenge has entailed developing collaborative and exploratory research methodologies, as well as art-based practices, which we believe have resulted in simultaneous advances of a truly inter-disciplinary character.

After 18 months of the project's start, we have concluded the video recordings and multimodal analysis of twelve months of workshops, interviews and dance rehearsal sessions with our first case study, João Fiadeiro, a conceptual dance choreographer. Since May 2016 the team has been collecting and processing the new video data from our second case study: Rui Lopes Graça, a resident choreographer of the Portuguese National Ballet Company (CNB). We have chosen to work with such distinct artists for the sake of a contrastive research approach, both in terms of dance genres and in terms of compositional methodologies.

With João Fiadeiro, our focus has been two-folded: a) to carry out a quali-quantitative "Floor-study", based on the table version of his “Composition in Real Time method”, where group decisions and turn-taking take place in silence; b) to accompany the complex process of composing a stage performance, from the very first day of conversations between Fiadeiro and his performers until the première of his most recent piece “O Que Fazer Daqui para Trás”.
One of the major outcomes of this first case study has consisted in the development of a novel approach for performance documentation by employing recent techniques from digital data vizualisation, digital animation and 3D point clouds. As a result, four animated infographic films have been produced, which are the first of their kind in the field of performance documentation, and which have contributed to bring some of Fiadeiro's idiosyncratic compositional concepts from the backstages as close as possible to the end-users of our web-based platform.

Another arts-based research and outreach product, soon to be finished, is a 40 minute-Documentary we are directing on Fiadeiro's latest choreography, where the different phases of his compositional process are explained and illustrated via rehearsal video recordings, voice-over narration and animated infographics.

Regarding our second case study, with Rui Lopes Graça, we have by now compiled a large archival corpus composed of ca. 140 hours of dance rehearsals video material from his piece "15 Bailarinos e Tempo Incerto", in collaboration with plastic artist João Penalva, which we have accompanied from the very first day until its première in October 2016 (corresponding to over four months of daily field-work) using 4 HD video cameras.

At the moment, we are working to develop original visualizations of the key choreographic strategies and rules used in that piece: a 360º technology and virtual reality-based Documentary is being produced, which will work as an artistic outreach product as well. Our goal there is to explore the medium of 360º video, in order to allow the viewer to experience the sensation of being with the dancers on stage, while understanding the spatial and temporal choreographic structure of Rui Graça's and Penalva's joint piece.

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