In September 2016, at the WOW Talks, Women in Technology event, I had the pleasure of meeting Rebecca Evans, an exciting individual passionate about her art. Rebecca, is the founder of dance company Pell Ensemble, and through this dance company Rebecca is able to explore and develop her deep interest in the collaboration between dance, technology and coding. With my own small amount of history in dance and music and my obvious interest in creative computing, we quickly struck a chord and enthusiasm was flowing through our conversation.
I discovered that since 2014, Rebecca has had the wonderful experience of working with leading digital artists in the form of coders, developers, projection mappers, app artists and 360 story tellers. She has worked with these artists to create a walking performance app, interactive handheld lights and in her most ambitious project 'David', an app led performance that responds to the audience’s choices, changing the destiny and outcome of the show.
Following several subsequent meetings, in November 2016, I received an interesting invitation from Rebecca… to support The Bridge at Waterloo and Pell Ensemble in delivering their Digital Futures programme for 2017.
Digital Futures is essentially a digital employability program with a tangible, performance outcome. Following interviews, 16 adults would be invited to join the program, to learn about programming and to go on to implement what they had learnt by digitally enhancing a dance performance.
I loved the idea of the program, that it would also develop the soft skills of the individuals alongside the hard skills and so we began planning. The first port of call was to decide what the digital involvement would be.
Anyone who knows me understands that physical computing is something which I find hugely creative and that I feel creativity itself is extremely valuable. I’m often heard sharing my concerns over the depleting opportunities for creativity for children and the possible effects of this on the inventiveness of our future minds. It will come as no surprise that Rebecca and I decided to create digital interactions to help the dancers in their performance, with a strong focus on individual creativity.
So, Rebecca and I embarked upon a somewhat unknown journey. We had ideas about what the end result could be, but the actual result was somewhat unknown. We would teach the skills, support the Digital Futures participants in exploring the tech and see where their creativity lead the piece. In addition to creating physical interactions, we also decided to recreate the music through a coded music platform, Sonic Pi.
To achieve the music element, we would need to enlist a talented composer who could create a piece of music in layers for the participants (coders) to build up in their own creative way. In comes the next key creative member, Angus MacRae.
Of course, there would need to be certain rules to be met for the sake of the dancers, but nothing that would hamper their opportunity for creativity; there’s that magic word again!
With the decision made, I began planning in earnest, considering the various possible end results, along with which controllers would work well as the brains of the interactions. Then onto thinking through which inputs and outputs might be particularly interesting or demonstrative in the realms of dance. Finally, planning of the progression path to ensure that individuals who have never coded before would have the tools they needed to be able to achieve these goals.
We also had the interesting challenge of needing a group of people, previously unknown to one another to learn together, work together, project managed together and ultimately reach the outcome of a successful performance in a field which they might have no knowledge of, music and dance. Whilst dance was not likely to be too much of a problem, music could pose more of an issue, once the coders began to explore and manipulate the sounds. This element would need to be taught also.
Key elements that were included in the discrete teaching would be teambuilding, an introduction to project management, an introduction to music, computational thinking and the core fundamentals of programming. We could then build on these to develop skills of the individuals as needed.
There were also many soft skills that would be taught as part of the Digital Futures program. These would mostly be taught by external companies and individuals. Citizens UK would visit to run a negotiation skills workshop, we would see Debate Mate visit and also have talks on time management, LinkedIn and conflict resolution.
Alongside these talks, I was also able to arrange an exciting visit to Facebook HQ at Brock Street. During this visit the participants would get an introduction to Facebook and a tour of the office. This would then be followed by a talk about CV creation (including some extremely valuable insider information), a talk on impactful interview techniques, neatly rounded off by a CV surgery.
With all this variety and the planned enrichment, it became clear that there was a great opportunity here to explore if we could include a qualification. Given the importance of creativity to both Rebecca and myself, and conversations that we had around the topic, it was decided that the 2017 program would also offer an Arts Award Silver. Arts Award Silver is an the Regulated Qualification Framework that would see any participants who choose to take up the challenge assessed at a standard comparable with a GCSE grade A* - C. Arts Award Silver is a qualification recognised by Further & Higher Education and employers; it holds a credit value of 10. All well worth the effort, and with support provided by the lovely Julie Neville we could ensure a good result for participants who wanted to take up this opportunity.. As I am an Arts Award Advisor for Bronze, Silver and Gold, The Bridge at Waterloo were able to register as an Arts Award Centre and offer this accreditation as part of the Digital Futures programme.
The overall plan for Digital Futures was that it would take place annually in July for a total of 5 years. Each of the projects from 2017 onwards would be linked to the heritage of Waterloo and the 2017 link was to tell the story of the women who are said to have rebuilt Waterloo Bridge, during the Second World War.
To support the participants in having a focus and vision for the end goal, the performance piece would be created and performed at St John’s Festival in June. The musical composition and choreography would be in place for this performance and would provide a starting point from which the Digital Futures project could develop. The performance would be filmed so that the participants could view the performance. This is especially valuable in helping any individuals who may not know what contemporary dance is, or those who may struggle, to envision how a story could be told through dance.
Coders will use this performance as a basis for their digital enhancements.
Let the creativity begin!