Motion-e (2005) was a two-part dance concert organized at Arizona State University by the Department of Dance and the Arts, Media, and Engineering Program, in collaboration with internationally renowned choreographers Bill T. Jones and Trisha Brown. The concert premiered at Arizona State University and was performed in New York City shortly thereafter.
For Motion-e, electronic sensors embedded within the costumes triggered other sensors placed in the room, and the room sensors sent signals to a computer in order to produce changes in lighting, sounds, and images projected onto a semi-transparent screen made of nylon. Therefore, the dancers not only responded to the environment, but they also influenced the environment in which they danced. The sensors, made of 3M Scotchlite reflective material, looked like silver cherries. They were sewn onto the costumes in locations so as not to impede the dancers’ movement. In order to accurate read the dancers’ specific movements, the costume sensors were required to be close to the body at all times. The costume style I selected was the simple, skin-tight unitards, which enabled the greatest number of options as far as placing the sensors. The unitards were made of synthetic textiles that were snug against the dancers’ skin, yet flexible enough for a range of modern dance movement. The dancers reported that the costumes were hot and lacked breathability.
For Bill T. Jones choreographed a solo for himself called 22. Because Jones is a tall and athletic man with a commanding presence, I chose a black mesh costume to show the depths of his skin and muscle tone. The fabric was a nylon/lycra mixture with four-way stretch. Initially, Jones expressed different preferences for his costume. He was not comfortable with the tightness of the unitard and requested to wear loose, wide-legged, lace-like pants as a second layer. When he rehearsed his piece in the loose pants, however, the sensors became tangled in the overlaying pants, or the pants flipped in a manner that covered the sensors. Eventually, Jones agreed to dismiss the loose pants in order to facilitate the technological intent of the performance.
For the other part of the concert, Trisha Brown’s piece, how long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume…, I created seven unitards from dark red and dark blue synthetic fabric. The costumes needed to be deep colors and matte, so as not to confuse the room sensors. Originally, Brown wanted aspired to have costumes that exhibited a futuristic, outer-space quality. She requested shiny gray fabric that was a mixture of rayon and lycra. I made the first set of costumes from this fabric, but it had two severe disadvantages. First, the shininess of the fabric threatened to confuse the room sensors, so they would not necessarily respond accurately to the dancers’ movements. Second, the fabric lacked recovery. When the dancers stretched the fabric in a certain area, such as under the arm when a dancer reached upwards, the fabric remained stretched. If a sensor was placed in these areas, the sensor no longer fit snugly against the body after the costume was worn once. Eventually, we decided to use fabric that was a nylon/lycra mixture with four-way stretch.