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Beyond the Machine Mixes Media

Living in the information age means living with a constant stream of new forms of media. For the modern artist, new media means development and change—new channels of communication, new opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration, and new realities to reflect and represent.

Macy Sullivan and Phoebe Dunn's Cubicle

Cubicle by alums Macy Sullivan (pictured) and Phoebe Dunn is one of the pieces in this year’s Beyond the Machine festival.

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Beyond the Machine showcases multimedia and interdisciplinary productions that integrate top performance art technologies with new and reimagined art. The festival is produced by Juilliard's Center for Innovation in the Arts, which is headed by founding director Edward Bilous (M.M. '80, D.M.A. '84, composition). The goal of the event, Bilous told The Journal, is "to encourage artists to collaborate and explore the possibilities of new art forms as they experiment with digital performance technology."

In the fall, the center launched an initiative called InterArts @ Juilliard, which brings recent graduates from different disciplines together to create new work with the help of an expert tech team headed by William Fastenow, the technical director of both the center and Beyond the Machine. They attended a series of presentations and labs in performance technology designed to give them access to a new set of tools while they developed their original projects, which will be presented on the first two days of the festival, March 19 and 20, which aren't open to the public. There are other, public, Beyond the Machine performances on March 27 and 28.

Sarah Outhwaite is the video designer for the center, and her work is being incorporated into most of the projects. The festival, she told The Journal, "brings technology to performance at its highest level." Projections will appear on surfaces ranging from movable panels and the ceiling to the performers' bodies.

Projects came to InterArts at different levels of conceptual completion. Some participants, like actor and poet Alejandro Rodriguez (Group 38), came with a team (he's working with dancer Cindy Delgado and second-year master's French horn student Jordan James) and a realized piece they wanted to develop further. Rodriguez described the piece, Sorry, a series of vignettes from a larger narrative, as a "Romeo and Juliet for the digital post-Ferguson age." It began as a series of spoken-word-and-dance collaborations, and this newest iteration uses video by Yazmany Arboleda to illuminate dynamic urban settings including dance clubs and street corners. The video will also show the characters' backgrounds and psychological baggage by projecting family trees and tracking characters' histories as they interact with others.

For other participants, InterArts provided the impetus to create an entirely new project. Composer Brian Shank (Pre-College '10; B.M. '14, percussion) and actor Marcus Crawford Guy (Group 43) found their inspiration during a workshop process. Their piece, Maintenance Inspection: Man Working, examines the ways technology dictates how we communicate ourselves to others in the digital era. During the piece, Guy interacts with a video comprising photographs of himself, selecting and manipulating them alongside a sound component created by Shank that blends live performance and recordings. Shank told The Journal that it's difficult to create art that relies on technology but that doesn't lose its humanity and "affective nature." He and Guy navigated that challenge by exploring and dramatizing the friction between the embodied actor and his edited, unreal video self. Outhwaite, who designed the video, relates Guy's experience with his photographs to Pygmalion, saying "the images of Guy begin to wake to life" while the real Guy stands apart and reacts.

In A Type of Translucence, Jenna Pollack (B.F.A. '13, dance), Leah Walsh (Group 38), and violinist-composer Michelle Ross (Pre-College '06; M.M. '12, violin) examine the idea of personhood in an entirely different way. The piece explores whether or not interactive technology can increase transparency between audience and stage, and in the performance, images will be projected directly onto performers' bodies. Pollack told The Journal the piece will also use video technology to try to "peel away passive ‘audience' behavior" and redefine the balance between performer and viewer.

In their theater-and-dance collaboration Cubicle, Phoebe Dunn (Group 42) and Macy Sullivan (B.F.A. '12, dance) use interactive video to create tension and highlight important shifts in environment. The piece originated as a commentary on Sullivan's experiences in the dance world but has expanded to explore the contrast between a structured environment and a possible reality that is free and limitless. It begins in an office setting and incorporates voiceover recorded by Dunn, texts by Daniel Orozco, and music composed by Ross. Outhwaite designed a video that uses effects and illusions as well as video cues linked to Sullivan's movements to increase the friction between the two disparate worlds.

The final piece is Threshold, a solo performance by Julie Jesneck (Group 32) in which Outhwaite's video indicates changes in perspective, thus giving the audience insight into what is otherwise an internal process visible only through externally communicated cues and behaviors. The video will gradually evolve behind Jesneck as she speaks, as something "hidden emerges from an environment we might not see," she told The Journal.

The performers, creators, and technological designers stressed that the InterArts performances are not simply a showcase for the technology but also a way to create innovative pieces that use technology to heighten and augment traditional performance art. Actress Julia Ogilvie (Group 41), who will be presenting Natalia's Reel, which she described as "verbal program notes" in a take on the traditional M.C., explained the importance of "reflecting the spirit of the age" through the creation of new art. This particular age, she says, "just happens to contain technology." InterArts facilitates the creation of art that engages with the age, capitalizes upon its resources, and combines intellectual and creative forces to create something relevant and new.

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