August 16, 2016

Code It. Dance It. Technologic. Dance Place Presents Analog

by Trent Johnson in Metro Weekly

The medley between humans and technology is a constantly evolving topic, with the latter continuously, seamlessly undergoing perpetual upgrades, forcing users to rethink how we approach specific tasks. Computers are unavoidable in the workspace, and everyone has buried their heads in a cell phone to conduct work, play a game or simply keep up with the Joneses. 

There was no doubt Sarah Ewing would combine technology with dance at some point in her life – the only uncertainty was when. The 31-year-old Australian dancer and choreographer will unveil this brainchild with Analog, the latest production from her project-based dance company, S.J. Ewing & Dancers. Audiences at Dance Place in Brookland will see what happens when you combine the very physical world of dance with the vast virtual plane of technology. 

“I kind of found these two big things: choreography and programming,” Ewing says. “Even though they don’t seem like they should fit together, they do for me. I felt like I needed to put that onstage.” 

Four dancers will congregate in the middle of the stage for the 50-minute piece, including Ewing, and surrounding them will be three projectors. Using Xbox Kinect technology and Quartz Composer, cameras will follow the movements of the individuals as they dance to the sounds of classical music, and abstract figures will be following along accordingly.

“The dancers won’t be able to exit from the sides,” Ewing says. “It’s almost as if they’re inside a cube, within the program. We’re doing work with a lot of grids, and the dancers will constantly move around the stage, but the audience will feel the movement of images as well.” 

Ewing began delving into this idea about six months ago, while working with kids at DC’s CityDance conservatory. What followed was a version of the performance at The Phillips Collection.

“The timing really comes out of working on technology programs for CityDance,” she says. “I had to make a calendar app for them that had to connect payrolls, while facilitating other needs. I realized how much I loved having a grasp on the program, and figuring out the application made me appreciate the creative process of coding.” 

Though formulating the steps of an intricate motion and developing steps for coding seem overtly different on the surface, Ewing insists the two share obvious similarities. Each requires thoughtful and specific directions, and each are beautiful upon completion. 

“All dance steps can be put into very easily digestible directions. But, when someone acts those steps out, they become magic. Code is the same way, because it’s magical when you put in the work and see a program come to life. Making a dance and making an application are the same – you have to map out how you want it to work, how you connect different sections together and how they get information from one another.” 

As for planning the motions for this particular performance, Ewing is always open to suggestions and collaborations. For an artist to truly create a masterpiece, it is imperative for them to acknowledge input and consult with other dancers. 

“For me, it’s been great,” says Briana Stuart, another Analog performer. “[Sarah’s] been using me as a close friend, thinker and dancer, so I’m pretty much in her brain. I see her really trying to find this balance with the technology she wants to use and the movement she’s creating. Those are two very big things to master and balance. It’s a privilege to be someone she bounces ideas off of.” 

The company had a work-in-progress showing in July, and the responses were positive, Ewing and Stuart both say.  Though technology is seen as lifeless and robotic, the audience was exceptionally emotional after the show, with some members even shedding tears. 

“People were surprised at how emotional it was,” Ewing says. “They thought it would be more aesthetically pleasing, and athletic. One girl said she was crying, and was surprised it got her to that place. I hope there’s a feeling of ownership and empowerment at the end. This whole world is being created by these four people onstage, and it’s being dressed and designed by these people. There’s a lot of power in actions, so as a bigger message, I hope that comes through.” 

Experience Analog at Dance Place on Saturday, August 13 at 8 p.m. or Sunday, August 14 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15-$30.

Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; 202-269-1600;

Photo: Maggie Picard Photography