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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Dux Motus

Dux Motus

Dux Motus, latin/ Movement Guide

“what would happen if you were able to visualize and interact with a three-dimensional dance score within an immersive environment?”

Dux Motus is the first iteration of a VR (Virtual Reality) movement tool that uses the principles of dance scores, dance notation, and structured improvisation to guide the user through an immersive score and facilitate non-habitual movement exploration. The 3D virtual objects act as stimuli, prompting interaction and encouraging the user to utilize their intuition and interpretation to generate performative movement.

Interacting with the Particle Field notation object

This project proposes the design of a novel 3D notation system that is interactive, intuitive, simple, and easy to grasp, which can be used to develop a user-friendly movement tool that is accessible to a wide-range of users.

The notation system is comprised of notational objects that provide movement, behavioural, and qualitative information in order to connect one’s physicality with integral performance components (i.e. feeling, emotion, intention, sensation, etc) in addition to affective feedback from the VR environment. I believe that through interaction with object-based stimuli, 3D notation in VR enables users to interpret and visualize prescriptive scores somatically within an immersive environment.

The tool is based on the framework of prescriptive scores, and built with notation that offers improvisational parameters as a means of movement exploration, rather than a notation system that records choreography. Like most improvisational techniques, this tool can aid in the generation of habit-breaking movement, including controller-based VR movement.

 

Theory + Practice

Theory

The foundation of my design project is built on concepts established within traditional 2D notation systems. Dance notation systems employ the use of graphic symbols as a visual form of literacy with the purpose of recording human movement.

Example of a Labanotation Score. It uses abstract symbols on a vertical stave that identifies parts of the body, allowing the dancer to recreate the movement notated.

Labanotation, first introduced by Rudolf von Laban in 1928, describes movement with spatial concepts using abstract symbols. The described notions of timing, position, direction, and movement quality, are all important components of notation that can be represented with game objects in an immersive environment, therefore easily converting 2D concepts into 3D.

Notation systems differ from dance scores in the sense that scores are notation practices that cannot store data in detail but can provide the impression of a dance. Therefore, a score provides a better basis for the development of a movement- generating tool.

Motif Writing Alphabet consists of symbols that suggest movement concepts

An example of a Motif Writing score

A score, such as one written in Motif Writing, developed by Ann Hutchinson Guest, comprises instructions for the general shape of movement phrases, rather than specific instructions for the detail of the movements. It is built using a series of symbols taken from Labanotation that represent movement. Thus, the written score is in itself a tool to articulate the structure of choreography, the specificity of rhythms, and can clarify aspects of choreographic intent.

In my research, I divided dance scores into two types: Descriptive and Prescriptive. Descriptive scores primarily notate movement already created and exist for the purpose of recording and preserving choreography (traditional 2D notation), while prescriptive scores give instruction into generating movement through the use of parameters, rules, and suggestions. Prescriptive scores are used in structured improvisation, which gives the dancers rules and constraints to explore within, either through scores that suggest movement interpretation or verbal propositions.

Practice

Dancers are always following an imaginary score.Whether it is from memorizing choreography and searching for the next movement, or using a form of structural improvisation to direct them, dancers often create an image in their minds that guides their movement. The notion of movement creation built on mental images prompted important inquiries for my design project.

Thus, my research question to myself was, what would happen if you were able to visualize and interact with a three-dimensional score? What if you could see the qualitative and behavioural properties of the motions and guides? Using these questions as motivators for design dictated the development of my movement tool.

Immersive environments provide the opportunity for dancers to see and physically engage with a score that guides their improvisation. Virtual reality allows dancers to respond without anticipation to prescriptive scores by generating real-time interaction with virtual objects. Visuals created in VR have the capability to connect with the mind while providing an intrinsically somatic experience for the user. The notion of imagery guiding improvisation, previously exclusive to the mind of the dancer, being visible within an immersive environment led my design process.

As part of my project exploration in developing a 3D notation system, I tested various types of prescriptive scores in virtual reality using Google’s Tilt Brush. Shown here is Forsythe’s Improvisation Technologies as an example of a structural improvisation prescriptive score which I could visually see in VR.

I was able to integrate my background in architecture and dance into my design process and physically test my prototypes. In addition, I was able to use research as well as my own experience as guides in designing the VR environment.

 

Experiencing the Tool

Aesthetics and Environment

The design of the VR environment is rooted deeply in research and theory. While its design will continue to develop, certain fundamental aspects will remain. By creating a simple and clean VR environment, the users can focus on the notational objects as their primary source of movement information. However, the environment is designed to add additional feedback by transforming physical elements and providing affective information via changes in atmospheric conditions. Additionally, the VR environment will be designed with reference points to orient the dancer within the virtual space and ground them while moving.

A simple but thought-out VR environment is critical for this tool

Both the VR environment and the user’s physical environment have great impact on their movement. Sensory information is taken from both environments, transforming the outcome and giving each user a unique experience. This tool draws upon both architecture and dance as critical components in its design, for spaces we inhabit alter our experiences. It is worth noting William Forsythe’s improvisation technique, Room Writing, where the dancer is asked to draw upon architectural and physical elements of a room and translate them into movement. By creating a tool where both the environment and score are unique and unpredictable, the performative outcome will always differ.

Experience

This tool uses the Oculus Quest VR headset and hand-tracking to provide a guide for improvisation. The user enters the VR space and is prompted by a notational object. Objects vary in shape and behaviour, but all provide both movement and qualitative information. Two types of objects guide the user through the score: Incoming objects, which approach the user, and Gravitating objects, which beckon the user. The objects can respond to a user’s interactions, thus providing more movement feedback. The score is designed so that the user is only interacting with one object at a time, allowing for flow of movement, while encouraging intuitive non-habitual movement responses. The notation objects also provide affective information through sound. There is no “correct” way to interact with an object, and completely up to the user to explore all options.

What’s Next?

The design of this project is still in progress. This iteration stands as a foundation for my future design of both the environment and the notation objects. This project will continue to be developed in Unity, and will be tested on various users to enhance its value as an improvisational tool and experience. The aim is to provide an interactive exhibit, open to all users, in addition to performances with professional dancers. Both exhibits allow observers to see the decision-making process of the dancer via screens streaming the VR space and link it to real-time movement while answering the question, “what would happen if you were able to visualize and interact with a three-dimensional dance score within an immersive environment?”

Bibliography

Katan-Schmid, E. (2017). Dancing Metaphors; Creative Thinking within Bodily Movements. Proceedings of the European Society for Aesthetics, [online] 9, pp.275–290. Available at: http://www.eurosa.org/wp-content/uploads/COMPLETE-VOLUME-2017.pdf#page=281.

Katan-Schmid, E. (2019). Improvisieren Playing with Virtual Realities. A Practice based- Research Experiment in Dancing with Technology. Experimentieren, [online] pp.93–106. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/338271055_Improvisieren_Playing_with_Virtual_Realities_A_Practicebased-_Research_Experiment_in_Dancing_with_Technology.

Katan-Schmid, E. (2020). Playing with Virtual Realities: Navigating Immersion within Diverse Environments (Artist-Led Perspective). Body, Space & Technology, 19(1), p.224.

Kleida, D. (2018). On the Technological Conditions of the Representation of Movement: Dance Notation Systems & Annotation Practices as Gestures. [Research Master Thesis] pp.1–77. Available at: https://dspace.library.uu.nl/handle/1874/368577.

Millard, O. (2016). What’s the score? Using scores in dance improvisation. [online] Ausdance. Available at: https://ausdance.org.au/articles/details/whats-the-score-using-scores-in-dance-improvisation.

Watts, V. (2010). Dancing the Score: Dance Notation and Différance. Dance Research, 28(1), pp.7–18.

Watts, V. (2014). The Perpetual “Present” of Dance Notation. Ekphrasis, [online] 12(2), pp.180–199. Available at: https://www.ekphrasisjournal.ro/docs/R1/E12-14.pdf.