Could Google Be the World's Next Great Choreographer?
When coming up with phrases of movement, choreographers all have their habits: certain patterns they return to again and again, tendencies that repeat themselves whether they mean for them to or not.
What if artificial intelligence could be used to help choreographers mix things up by suggesting thousands of other options—and ones that still fit their choreographic style, no less?
Wayne McGregor is experimenting with just that through a project with Google Arts & Culture Lab.
McGregor's long been known for experimenting with technology in his work. (He has an honorary doctor of science from Plymouth University.) But this is the first time he's experimented with using technology to create his work.
His work at the Google lab began with uploading his archive—thousands of hours of video spanning 25 years of his repertory—to train an algorithm to detect patterns. The AI uses that data to predict McGregor-like sequences that might follow a particular pose or phrase, generating up to 400,000 (!) iterations. Or, as McGregor puts in a promo video for the project, "This...gives you all of these new possibilities you couldn't have imagined."
Basically it's kinda like the predictive text on your phone, except for dance. And with a lot more options.
The tool works in real time as a camera watches dancers move in space. And it's not simply suggesting something from the archive—it can offer ideas that are totally original. It can be set to reflect a particular dancer's style, or even combine the styles of two different dancers to come up with a hybrid.
"I'm fascinated in how AI might actually develop the conversation around what is choreography, who has to make choreography, what are the potentials of choreography," McGregor says in the video, adding later that he'd love to see the tool used live onstage one day.
Of course, we're not exactly headed down the road to hiring robot choreographers just yet. The point is not to replace a choreographer—just to remind them of their creative options.
But in our age of technology, much of the pleasure of dance stems from the refreshing fact that it's such a viscerally human form of communication. So what would it mean if the movement came not from an artist, but a machine? You can't help but wonder how its message might shift, or how its impact might evolve.
Or, for that matter, whether Google would get credit in the program.
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.