• Day 1, 2 and 3
  • Report from Liege
  • Interviews

A pixellated pas-de-deux

Virtual reality bubbles, fictional spaces and hanging spheres: in Liège, Belgium, participants in the Danceathon organised by the BNP Paribas Foundation seek alternatives to technological hyper-connection by imagining gently reconnecting with nature, the body and daily life.

“This is the tech-shop,”a volunteer tells the Danceathon’s 35 participants. They’ve just rolled out of bed but are already starting to explore their brightly coloured playground. Kitted out with comfortable sofas, table football and a collective kitchen, Idcampus is a co-working space next to a state-of-the-art fablab. A humming laser printer provides the soundtrack: the Danceathon awards are being printed out in 3D in a high-tech production studio at the participants’ disposal.

Before packing the three awards in her luggage and leaving for London and Lyon, Marjorie Carré, head of dance sponsorship at the BNP Paribas Foundation, watches the laser printer whirring away. “Whether for the partner theatres or for us as a foundation supporting dance,” she says, “with the Danceathon we assist creative young people who take risks. We know we’re taking those risks with them because all this is new. It’s a matter of ‘test and learn’.” The laboratory tour comes to an end. Now it’s time to put together teams of six participants: a designer, choreographer, dancer, facilitator, technician and developer. In a gleeful dash to the tables whose layout is inspired by urban spaces, the fastest person wins and the race against time – set to Danceatime – is on. The five teams have three days to map out the issues, imagine a project, design a prototype and present it to a jury that will award one of them a €10,000 grant.

In record time, the start-up spirit spawns a collective intelligence capable of fostering healthy competition and speeding up the flow of ideas, even if it means cutting into the long creation time. With the help of an endless supply of post-its, paperboards and chocolate bars or, following local custom, a light beer, brains connect to each other. Ideas emerge and take shape based on a theme of their choice, such as rhythm or everyday dance. Now they must be turned into a project.

Bodies in bubbles

“How fast do you live?” asks one team, while another would rather continue discussing the consumption of technology. “Can technology take care of humanity?” they wonder. The O project, a preposterous story straddling disconnection and performance about spectators kidnapped in a bubble outside time, gradually takes shape. On day two, the team obtains fans and light building site tarps and blows up a huge plastic cocoon. Immersed in darkness and armed with a smoke machine, its members test the live sound recording and a video projection with touches of iridescent light. The bubble, as organic and other-worldly as the inside of a womb, does not burst. The low-key technology recalls natural phenomena, such as flowing lava or cosmic nebula. At the other end of the room, a small English-speaking group votes by show of hands, jokes, comments or objects. Working on the same theme, they imagine a welcoming capsule, a sky of luminous bubbles to inject poetry to everyday life. Influencers or influenced?

Aloof from the groups, Charlotte, who has tattooed arms, piercings and a shaved head, and Laurent, dressed in black from head to toe, exchange their references on Predator, a super- powerful computer perfect for gamers. “I feel out of step with people,“ he says. “I have a very dark side to me. I came here to meet people.” He has achieved his goal, which is slightly outside the Danceathon’s framework: he and his dissident teammate have launched into a virtual reality project that models a 3D theatre. “Dance won’t change,” they say, “but we can change our way of seeing it.” They’ve set up a dark room in their lair. “VR Room, do not disturb,” says a sign on the door. Black light, red augmented reality cubes and monitors fill the space. At the fablab, they printed out a fractal cube serving as a portal looking like something straight out of Harry Potter to enter their VR theatre, where a heavy metal ballet is taking place. It would have been odd if nobody started hacking the rules in this world populated by geeks accustomed to the open source Internet, peer-to-peer counselling and subversion.

Fleshing out prototypes

The teams bump into each other in the kitchen. “Getting anywhere?” asks a participant. “We already have micro-scenery, a bare-bones prototype” – “Already!” exclaims a stretching dancer. “We’re too vague. We’re a bunch of philosophers blathering on about existentialist concepts. We think too much and don’t dance enough!” Her impatience is short-lived. On day two, bodies start to move and dance. The pace picks up. The coders code, the dancers dance, the choreographers choreograph and the makers make. Some, with dark rings under their eyes, stayed up in front of their screens working on various prototypes until three o’clock in the morning.

Cloud Dancing, for example, imagines an experience divided into three spaces: the IRL (In Real Life) “playground” performance space, the “bubble space” for a single spectator projected in virtual reality in an apartment on the banks of the Meuse and the “Red Club”, a dark, cavernous room filled with people wearing virtual reality headsets. The code isn’t completely finished yet but allows the two dancers moving around the playground to find themselves projected into two virtual reality environments in real time. Their pixellated dance blurs the borders between the real and the virtual. Stress and fatigue take their toll but fail to defeat excitement. By the morning of day three, the Idcampus has been completely transformed to create and present prototypes that were still in an embryonic stage 72 hours before.

“The real question,” says Chi-Yung Wong, a Hong Kong visual artist and jury member who has come to judge the projects with eight other professionals, “is whether the participants had fun, met people and managed to pool their ideas.” A BNP Paribas manager, architect, computer and cultural programmer, choreographer, journalist and of course the head of the Théâtre de Liège, which hosts the Belgian Danceathon, walk around asking the participants about their involvement and the possibility of dance and technology co-existing. “The effects of this kind of event won’t be seen for another 10 or 20 years,” says Chi-Yung Wong. “The prototype isn’t the most important thing. The community that was born and the echoes it can have is.” The Dancing Cloud team bursts into joy and tears after winning the jury’s award. The choice seems to mean that the future of dance cannot be conceived of without re- imagining the spectator’s experience and turning it upside-down.

Roman Miletitch

Artist coder, member of the winning team in Liège


What’s your relationship to technology?

I have a digital background, but my relationship to technology is rather odd. Here’s a silly example: I’d rather take the stairs than a lift or an escalator. Why use technology when it’s unnecessary? I love finding shortcuts to do without it. In our milieu, we call that the Wizard of Oz concept. All the effects look magical, but lift the curtain and you realise the wizard is pulling the strings. So when you have a complex, generally intelligent technical system, you try to see how far a human can replace it.

That’s the opposite of what we usually hear. The human is generally replaced by the machine.

Replacing labour by technology has its advantages, at least on a capitalist level, which unfortunately is widespread. But it’s very important to know whether or not technology is a necessity. I find that matters even more in art. People will say that such-and-such a technology exists, that it’ll be amazing and incredible, but that will have a funhouse mirror effect: it’ll be more like a carnival or a gimmick. I enjoy using new media, not just because it’s new, but also because it’s a means and not an end. That’s deeper. Technology is head- spinning. I’m not in love with computers but with what they let me do.

So will the dance of tomorrow still have humans?

So much of what can be done with technology is five, 10, 500 or even 1,000 years old that I think it’s a shame and limiting to see the future of dance only in terms of the latest technological advances.

Do you think the future of dance lies at the crossroads of new technology and dance?

I hope not. I hope that technology will come as close as possible to dance, become part of it and that something new – 5% or 10% – will be the result. But I also hope it won’t radically change dance. The future of dance lies in gradual evolution, the emergence of new things from the old. New technology gives me not just new tools, but new sensibilities. So we have to start by asking the question: why technology?

What did you get out of the Danceathon?

Recently, I organised code jams but I no longer have the time to take part in them. Yet my artistic passion is quite real. I’m often lumped together with technicians. No harm is intended, but the implication is that I’m incapable of creating, so I don’t always feel like I belong. All of us have found a niche on the team, even if we swap them. We were also very curious about each other. I met open-minded people who have an incredible physical ease, which leads to uninhibited human contact. Returning to normal life will be very tough. This experience has been therapeutic for me.

Jonathan Thonon

Théâtre de Liège – Impakt festival programmer

& Pierre Thys

Théâtre de Liège – dance programmer


How did the Dancethon fit into the Théâtre de Liège project?

Jonathan Thonon: The Maison de la Danse de Lyon reached out to us because we belong to the same European creation hub. We were excited about the Danceathon project right away because it fits in with the dynamics already set in motion by our Impact festival, which involves new technology. We may look tiny next to those big houses and the BNP Paribas Foundation, but the quality of creation in Belgium has nothing to be ashamed of.

What does this Danceathon format let you do?

Jonathan Thonon: In the performing arts process, you come with a project. Here you have to come relatively empty-handed, with a desire, skills and curiosity but no project. Sometimes that leads to fragile things, but fragility can lead to innovations and things nobody’s ever seen before. Seventy-two hours together is short and long at the same time. It creates something intense. But you know you’ll need more time to bring a prototype to a successful conclusion. Pierre Thys: Today performing arts venues realise they’ve got to open up to the outside world, change their way of disseminating and communicating with the public and improve their mediation and programming. It has to trickle down through the institution and embody new formats.

Can the Danceathon change your audience?

Jonathan Thonon: It’s a first step. It’s still a laboratory involving a small number of people. Openness to the public remains limited. But the fact that new people are starting to come to our venues makes us feel good. We need to change our practices. Pierre Thys: The Danceathon allows us to reposition dance in relation to innovations. By and large, there’s still something archaic and artisanal about theatre or dance.

In the end, there’s still something archaic about technology, too.

Pierre Thys: Absolutely. We’re also interested in low-tech, which may be the future of technology! Jonathan Thonon: What’s interesting here is creating a community with participants. I think we will have failed if that community falls apart when these three days are over. We must keep on reactivating and breathing new life into the community of people living here in Belgium.

The Danceathon has been designed as an interconnection. How have you connected it to the other two cities?

Jonathan Thonon: Working with the partners was relatively natural. That’s the challenge: we didn’t want to have three cities working independently without talking to each other but to see what the points of convergence, but also divergence, would be. Pierre Thys: Liège and Lyon are on the same wavelength. But London is already much further ahead in the relationship between dance and new technology. It’s bigger, more cosmopolitan and has more people working on the issue.

Have you already seen divergences between the cities?

Pierre Thys: We see it in the profiles. France is much bigger, for example, so more institutional choreographers signed up. In Liège, institutional dance doesn’t exist.

What’s the particularity of Liège?

Jonathan Thonon: Meta-questions about the relationship between the body and technology. We have neither a head-on relationship with use and manipulation, nor a very utilitarian vision. We’re interested in technology for what we want to say. Some groups wonder how it informs and transforms us. The relationship to technology that’s developed here isn’t simple. We’re not out to make a statement show off our virtuosity. Pierre Thys: In Belgium, we’re open to other forms of performance. Belgium is a small country. We’re atypical. Our authors are less important; our theatre is a theatre of the body, not of the text. If Belgium has a character trait, it’s irreverence and indiscipline. Jonathan Thonon: The question of indiscipline is the future of dance and of art in general. I’m not against discipline, but I think our disciplines need permeability.

Marie du Chastel

Coordinator and programmer of the KIKK festival in Namur


You’re the curator of the KIKK festival and a Liège Danceathon jury member. Did you expect anything particular from the event?

Not really. I thought there’d be at least one virtual reality (VR) project because that’s what’s happening in dance right now. I also expected to see things with motion sensors and I did. All the projects were very different; each had its own angle. It would’ve been a shame if everybody were into virtual reality, but there were more physical projects with lots of movement and more performative, more emotional things.

What touched you about the experiences on offer?

One project used smartphone cables and vibrations to show how technology connects us. Something happened in a palpable connection between everybody in the space. The winning project used VR and particularly touched me because I was wearing the headset! At first, you find yourself in a room, a student’s room with a polygonal aesthetic. You have to look a little, but two tiny dancers are dancing on the kitchen countertop. Then you realise they’re performing in the room next door. Then the room’s aesthetic changes, becomes more pointillist and the dancers float above the floor in the middle of the room. I saw my hands in VR and naturally I started dancing with them.

What does virtual reality make possible?

In dance, VR lets you get as close as possible to the performers. You can even cross their bodies, something that’s normally never done out of respect for the privacy of strangers. VR also lets you change the laws of gravity and enter a dreamlike world.

The Danceathon raises questions about the future of dance. Did you find any answers there?

When you think about this cross-fertilisation between dance and technology, the idea of capturing movement, the mixture between the virtual and the real and the connection between audiences and performers are directions dance has already taken. Dance is heading towards forms where the generative and interactive aspects participate in creating the experience. The fourth wall is pretty far behind us.

Where is technology heading?

I think a major area is developing: machine learning, in other words artificial intelligence. Right now, many things are happening in visual terms. Algorithms are programmed to analyse images and even recreate forms. But sound is still overlooked. It will be developed and contribute something palpable. Artists have always taken technology, hacked it and used it for something other than its original purpose. I think that’s precisely where the most interesting things are being created. The use of the Kinect sensor [a motion sensor Microsoft developed for the Xbox video game console] is a typical example.

What is the most important thing about this kind of experience?

Certainly the human and learning experience. Meeting people you don’t know, building, becoming part of a team, making decisions together, giving up certain things. For years the KIKK festival had hackathons. Some projects came out of them, but in the end that matters much less than the group dynamics and mood.

Is that the key to choosing the winning project?

We saw that the whole team got along well and succeeded in pooling ideas in a short time. Another criterion was choosing a project with the potential to continue. A project that can be shown, move forward and grow. The prize is a production budget.


  • Day 1, 2 and 3
  • Report from London
  • Interviews

The future of dance

The London Danceathon takes place at Plexal, a thriving hothouse of start-ups in the heart of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. This innovative, trend-setting place with white walls and reflective surfaces sets the tone: how can technology shape the future of dance?

A large bay window overlooking the River Lee Canal, a turf carpet and yoga spheres: the space of this Danceathon, divided into five playgrounds, begs to be filled. Each group is assigned a playground. There’s a bridge, a park, a school, an empty space and an everyday space. First, the teams gather around tables with chairs. Then, using more plus comfortable seats, they move around looking for big white leaves. Words, drawings and arrows are scrawled on them. Suggestions are listed and a stealthy glance is cast at a post-it to avoid interrupting the person speaking. The code of conduct is quite clear: Lead Coach Ghislaine Boddington brought a working methodology with her, WEAVE, developed by artists and designers at workshops over the years. It’s a collaboration and co-creation process during which the group exchanges ideas in discussions and debates to understand each member’s experiences and culture better. The purpose of WEAVE is to keep the creative juices flowing: all the team members work on every stage in the creation and development process. It’s a democratic – and sometimes arbitrated – way to propose ideas and make decisions, led by a facilitator in each group and coaches moving from one playground to the next. Danceathon participants seek a common language to build a project. The groups behave differently. Some are glued around their table, while others lie on the floor or take over the walls.

Pushing back the boundaries of perception

In the Dancing Closely group, the issue of privacy quickly comes up when all the members move in that direction. But each participant has a different definition. Each tries to explain, share and understand the various sensibilities. “You reach a point where words no longer suffice,” says group facilitator Lara Buffard. Then all seven members rise up from their chairs, push the table aside, leave their papers and stand in a circle to explore by using their bodies. They nearly touch each other. They close their eyes to feel their neighbour’s breath. They put their ideas of gentleness, slowness and precaution into practice. Their bodies physically listen to each other; it’s a group initiative. This stage gives birth to the concept of the Digital Umbilical project: a performance connecting a dancer and a spectator, where technology is considered a bridge to make what happens in the body visible and audible.

Putting ideas in motion plays a decisive role for another group, Load with Dance. Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is a playground around which it works. The group has written a lot and literally spreads out on the ground. But by the end of day one, they’re having trouble channelling a concept. “We talked about routes and walks, but we were stuck in this room,” a group member said. “We needed to get some fresh air and decided to go out for a walk in Olympic Park. That walk was a key step in formalising the project. Somebody talked about shadows and a performance he’d seen. Looking around us we realised that the park’s industrial architecture cast a lot of shadows.” The group decides to delve deeper into the idea and before long they connect it to the material already right under their noses. The process is striking. The prototypes are made and the first tests performed on the morning of day two. The Double You project is a screen-wall in the park that interacts with passersby by reproducing their dancing double in the form of a shadow.

Freedom from language

Healthy competition permeates the overall mood, but the myriad of technologies available is added to the question of their roles in creation. “We don’t want to simulate sensations, we want the body to be an introduction to all data,” says a designer. Day two focused on tests and prototypes. Participants wore sensors that collected data on muscle tension, temperature, heartbeat or brain activity. Then, all the data is transcribed into sounds or moving images. Cameras are used to film bodies in 3D and reproduce avatars that can then be manipulated with algorithms.

The pace is steady as the presentation deadline closes in. Technological time is not the same as the body’s time. The settings are permanent; the bodies must meet certain technological requirements. Wearing a sensor-studded armband, choreographer Kwame Asafo-Adjei works with coders to catalogue a gamut of emotions based on his muscle tension in order to invent an app that choreographs a day. When he improvises movements, as coders collect and try to transcribe the data, the team realises that the task is harder than they thought. They have trouble clearly telling different emotions apart, but tests manage to identify motifs. Sadness comes out as downward gestures while happiness is transcribed by elevation. Technology informs the choreographic vocabulary and asks it to submit to it.

A dizzying future

The five groups discuss what doesn’t work or what can be improved. They span the whole spectrum of performance and translation of the body and collected data. The coaches play a key role in this formalisation stage. “Anything is possible,” says one of them, “but how can the dance-technology dialogue be built? Go back to your goal and ask yourself how this dialogue can achieve it.”

The Data Dance group stands precisely at the intersection of this translation of data. The team has long discussions about what dance generated by dance data can be. What should be collected? How should it be interpreted? With the constraint of the empty space, it is orientated towards an installation-route where the audience is asked to answer the question “What is your body?” before entering a play area materialised by a cube filled with balloons they can touch and elastic bands they can pull. All of them have sensors. The spectators’ manipulations produce data converted into light projections to which dancers in another performance space react. That is one example of the multifaceted potential of the Danceathon, an event that has shed light on dance and technology.

Pascal Rommé

Maker / Creative Technologist


What led you to the Danceathon?

I worked in embroidery in the fashion industry as the link between designers and manufacturers. At the time, I was at university and didn’t really have room to explore with artists. The projects I work on have a more pragmatic, efficient approach. The idea of efficiency can be found at the Danceathon, but it’s more a matter of connecting designers, artists and coders so that they can think together about a creative project. That’s what attracted me.

Why dance?

I took contemporary dance classes for two years and it became a new way to think spatially about problems or ideas. It taught me a different way to understand the body and listen to others and myself.

What were your expectations of the three-day Danceathon?

I don’t think I had any. I was very enthusiastic about meeting people, seeing where it would take us. I was a bit worried about being introduced as a Creative Technologist because I didn’t really know what that involved, but it was kind of challenging to see how that would be expressed in that context and how what I know would allow me to interact and create rather agilely.

How did those apprehensions work out in the group?

Quite well! The project we developed is right up my alley. Plus, I don’t feel all alone, not everything rests on my shoulders. We can think together.

How was communication managed in the group?

We often think we’re on the same wavelength, that we agree on an idea, but we’re not talking about the same thing. So we try to speak with our respective terms and media and to make the ideas visual. For example, the dancer and the choreographer were going to test movements and realised that they had different things in mind. That’s not easy. I’m the kind of person who needs to understand what people want to say and how they word it. That’s part of my professional experience: if you don’t listen carefully to what somebody is saying, even your best efforts won’t match what you’re being asked to do. So I tried to listen to what all the members of the group were saying, to break it down and then to make a list so that all of us were sure of the idea we wanted to develop.

What did you expect from the last day of the weekend?

We have a clear idea of where we want to go. Now we have to get there. I’d like to have enough time to appealingly prototype and present our project.

What will you remember about this event? What prospects has the Danceathon opened up in your future?

It’s very positive to potentially keep in touch with many people and follow what they do. It’s a good opportunity to get to know each other. And I’m very glad about having a chance to connect with dancers and choreographers. I met some when I took dance courses but that was a different context. It might be useful in the future.

JiaXuan Hon

London Danceathon Producer


How was the first Danceathon organised?

I started working on the Danceathon in early February. The three partner teams met in Liège. We talked a lot to get to know each other and quickly agreed on the need for a tech shop [making technical/technological equipment available], the structure of each team – a dancer, a choreographer, a creative technologist, a technical manager, a designer, a coder and a facilitator – and the creation of situations and playgrounds [sort of like thematic working guidelines for each group]. But we had a lively debate about how a team would be built around a situation. The original proposal was physical voting (moving to the situation that interested us) but if two choreographers wanted the same situation, how could that be negotiated when it had been decided that there wouldn’t be any duplicate roles in a group? Some people had the idea of asking those two members to be the most convincing but not everybody agreed with the idea of competition right from day one. We had had that example in London on the Friday and Ghislaine Boddington, Lead Coach, handled the situation very well by keeping everybody happy.

You issued a call to participate in the Danceathon. How many applications did you receive?

Each partner was responsible for selecting its own team. In London, we received 169 applications. Half were from dancers and/or choreographers and half represented all the other roles.

The Danceathon’s structure is common to the three cities (Lyon, Liège, London). What’s different about the London Danceathon?

Designers and artists have very different ways of doing things and the goal of the Danceathon is to create a new format for creative, inspiring and doable projects. But London doesn’t have the same number of spaces for dance-technology creation. In Liège, there’s a fablab two minutes from the theatre. In Lyon, there’s an AADN structure working on that kind of cross-fertilisation. But it’s very new here. Context plays a key role and each partner has quite different expectations. I’ve already produced a Hackathon, and in light of that experience I thought the Danceathon really had to be steered towards efficiency and focus the event on creating a project. We worked a lot with Ghislaine on the planning. She’s got much more experience in encounters and how groups work together. That’s why we decided to apply a sort of code of conduct (WEAVE), structuring the teamwork around collaboration and democratic decision-making.

Is giving an award a way to promote efficiency?

The BNP Paribas Foundation originated this project and, right from the start, offered to award a grant to implement the prototype. None of the partners objected. During my previous Hackathon experiences, I tried to understand what motivates people to participate. I realised that a grant attracts participants and helps to differentiate the event from an artist’s residency.

Amy Cartwright



What’s your background?

I’m a trained dancer and I have a master’s in Computational Arts. My work revolves around robotics in the performance space and the idea of a non-human dancer. How can a non- human dancer with a potential in a performance space be generated? It’s usually a robotic structure because I like having a physical presence in the space. They’re very primitive, rather abstract forms in paper, wool or plastic that don’t move like humans at all.

The answer might seem obvious given your background, but what drew you to the Danceathon project?

The dance scene is pretty small. There are lots of names you know, you connect with other people on the internet and sometimes you exchange ideas about what you do. But you seldom get a chance to work together on producing things. What’s precious is that I didn’t work on my personal projects at all that weekend! I’m opening up the spectrum of what can be done and I think my group is doing the same thing. Setting aside what we know, starting something new. That’s really not usually done. People usually want to do what they want, the work they’ve already started. I think we’re very lucky because that’s not all what happens at the Danceathon!

How was the group built around the project?

There’s a kind of necessity; you really don’t have the choice. You just do it, that’s all. Most of the time, the members of the group stayed together to move forward on the different steps: the choreography, the route, the installation, the walk in the park. It’s not necessarily intentional, but that’s what happens. Each member has equal input at every stage of the project, so everybody has the right to disagree or want to change something.

What is dance to you?

It’s a lot about the body. When I take a dance course or improvise, it’s something very internal. It’s actually the only way I know how to fully express things. When my thoughts are muddled, I find total clarity in movement.

What do you expect from technology?

What interests me enormously is the fact that it exists. I’m not sure technology can provide that clarity, but I’m curious to see how it could come close. And I’m very curious about how to build another body with a total understanding of self and of movement in the space. All the arts except dance were quick to embrace technology. Dance is so human, so rooted in the body that it’s almost harder. It’s pretty tricky to foresee how dance and technology can be used together. We’re not introduced to that approach during our studies the way music or visual arts students are. All those things exist and are perfectly accessible, but dance makes very little use of them. I don’t think everything must be replaced, but we should at least experiment and assess the potential technology allows.

What did you get out of this experience?

My skills changed. I found answers that weekend. Especially to the question of how I can approach the work as a choreographer and a coder at the same time: how to shift my thinking and consider myself as choreographing technology or coding dance. Merging those two parallel paths together into a single one. I usually work on my projects alone, so teamwork was very interesting. You don’t need to know everything; somebody else can solve a problem. You’re on a team; you can trust others.


  • Day 1, 2 and 3
  • Report from Lyon
  • Interviews

Plugging dance into the mains

On 28 September, dance and new technology met each other on the stage of Pôle Pixel. It was 10:30 a.m. “danceatime”, the time zone shared by the three cities where the Danceathon simultaneously took place: Lyon, Liège and London.

The moment has come for the Lyon participants to pick their teams. Dancers, technicians, choreographers, makers, developers and communicators from across France are poised to launch into a new kind of marathon: they have three days to collectively invent the “the future of dance”. “They’ve been eyeing each other since yesterday,” says coach, mentor and leader Yann Crespel. “They’re really charged up.” In a grown-up game of musical chairs, the six- person groups form not around personal affinities but themes.

Gisèle Estarque, a dancer from Paris, joined the “The Last Dance” team. Like the others, she was attracted by the hackathon’s choreographic dimension – the first of its kind – and the possibility of “working with people from different backgrounds to bring movement to other places”. But she also has a more personal question: “Imagining the dance of tomorrow is exciting, but what if nobody can see it? Artists just starting out always have a hard time showing their work.”

Many participants in Lyon are interested in new kinds of interaction between creations and spectators. Two of them are Anaïs Tardivon, in charge of artistic practices in the Vosges – deemed a “white zone” by the Ministry of Culture – and Carole Raphanel, who has just joined the Théâtre Phénix team in Valenciennes: how can the public be won over and drawn into theatres, especially in a rust belt area like Hauts de France? Carole’s group focused on the working theme “towards the Internet of emotions”. In the first brainstorming stage, or ideation, as it’s called here, members jotted all the key words that crossed their minds down on post-its. “Extra-sensorial”, “sixth sense”, “reappropriate space”, “empathy” and other terms appear on the whiteboard. A question gradually emerges: what can be done so that distance is not a barrier to interaction and empathy? Would it be possible to physically share the sensations a dancer experiences with spectators? Dans(e) Sa Peau is on track.

Augmented spectator

Early in the afternoon, the hush is religious and the tension palpable, amplified by the sounds of Murcof, the sound atmosphere chosen by the technician. The stage has become a human- size board game. The teams, each in its own space, work at tables on an innovative concept that they must present to mentors, who will take them as far as possible by proffering technical and artistic advice.

Besides the theme, another requirement was imposed: the “playground”. The “daily routine” group must project itself in the “mobility” space and the “unrhythm” group in an “everyday space”. Snubbed by everybody, the “theatre” playground is eventually chosen by the “The Last Dance” group, but “to subvert it”, according to developer Antoine Vanel. “When talking about the future of dance,” he says, “the urge to break free of this place, which has become a bit musty, is quite natural.” At the Lyon Danceathon, dance seeks to break free not just from the theatre as an institution but also, to varying degrees, from its stage-bound nature and to be experienced through apps, in situ routes or capsules of sensorial experiences. Dance is seeking new social reasons to exist: prompting strangers to meet, creating virtual communities around choreographic challenges and even treating people. An “augmented spectator” — patient, user or co-creator — appears before our eyes.

Designed as a passenger compartment recalling an Autolib enrolment kiosk, the Dansoriel has been imagined as a form of dance therapy. Sensors recording the spectator’s pulse and brainwaves send stimuli to a computer, which turns them into a 360° sound and visual landscape. “The dancer-practitioner will read a first emotional prognosis, a bit like a doctor reads an x-ray,” says Rémi Borron, the project group’s communication manager. Then the performer improvises a choreography-treatment that is picked up by a Kinect, converted into vibrations and sent to the spectator’s legs and neck: “a technological form of acupuncture.”

A danced encounter

Day 2. Faces start looking drawn, but tiredness quickly gives way to excitement as the projects take shape. The “tech shop” resembles an inexhaustible resource bank: Kinect, tracking, mapping, a 360° camera, sensors, etc. Ève and Soriana, who founded Engoguette – a design firm specialising in cardboard furniture – offer to help the teams with their scenery. For technical assistance, the genius geeks from Theoriz are there with their miracle solutions. As the teams’ coders and makers tinker with software behind their computers, everybody pitches in. Choreographers and dancers invent a chaise longue, a communicator picks up a welding iron for the first time. A volunteer facilitator from BNP Paribas offers to be a guinea pig for the first tests. Screens rise, spotlights go on, the first sound effects are tested and prototypes materialise. During cigarette breaks, participants continue expounding on the philosophical meaning of innovation and the general public’s fantasies compared to the concrete realities of artificial intelligence.

Day 3. As minds focus on technology, the projects’ finalisation stage heralds the return of dance. Rémi and Lucie, of the Dansoriel project, have just tested Cross Flow: bursting with laughter, they follow lines drawn on the floor thanks to tracking technology and reach a point under a sound shower, where their “danced encounter” will occur. From an elsewhere in the desert broadcast 360° on the stage of an abandoned theatre, Bouside Ait Atmane, the performer of Dans(e) Sa Peau, materialises the spectator’s heartbeat with the pulsing of his muscles and the jerky movements of his precise gestures. A handful of Lyon Conservatory students test Vibes one last time. The idea of this app is to create new real and online communities around choreographic challenges. With smartphones around their arms, they don headsets to listen to instructions recorded by project choreographer Éric Minh Cuong Castaing. Softly at first, then to a steadier beat, they draw wavy curves with their bodies, make room for each other to occupy the space, release the energy pulsing through their bodies and come together in a tangled maelstrom of bodies. At the end of the stage, The Last Dance finally takes off for the metaphorical and retro-futurist lands of virtual reality dance, freed at last from the body, that will outlive humanity.

Lucie Plançon

Multimedia Designer


Is this your first Hackathon?

No. In June 2017 I participated in a virtual reality challenge organised by the INA at the Forum des images in Paris. We had 48 hours to make a 360° video. The only requirement was that we had to use an archive.

What do you like about these formats?

It’s very important to have a setting in which to create. Hackathons are a kind of challenge but non-competitive. You meet exciting people and there’s stimulation you don’t find working as a freelancer every day, like me. Here, you know you’ve got just three days, so it’s a bit stressful. But it’s unusual to be able to develop so much energy in so little time and enjoy working non-stop from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. so much.

How did you work?

At first, we have an all-out brainstorming session, bouncing ideas off each other. At a Hackathon, you can’t be afraid to say whatever’s going through your head, no matter how silly you think it sounds. And conversely, you have to be receptive to the ideas of others; that’s how things move forward. Rémi Borron, our communication person, did a lot to put us on the right track. That was really good. You can go super far in a creative community like ours… Our team made an effort to be specific right from the start instead of wasting too much time on philosophical blah blah.

How did you and your team prototype the “danceorial”, a kind of capsule of therapy through dance?

Our situation was “unrhythm”, the idea of breaking the beat. We spend our lives rushing along at a hectic pace. We run around everywhere, never stopping. So we wondered whether dance could be a time to disconnect, step back and take a break from it all. Then we mixed that idea with the issue of data: billions of bits of personal data are collected every day. We asked ourselves a question: Why not use that to disconnect for a little while?

Specifically, how did it work?

There’s nothing new about the idea of dance as a form of therapy. But here we imagined a sensorial room. The patient-spectator wears sensors that measure his pulse and brainwaves. Based on that data, a dancer choreographs what the patient feels and sends the spectator other vibrations through his gestures, which are also recorded. It’s as though the performer transforms all the patient’s more or less negative energy into something creative, positive and soothing.

What’s your relationship to dance?

I’ve been an amateur dancer since I was little but I also like seeing performances. I like neoclassical dance, but especially choreography that mixes movement with other media. Four years ago, I saw a show by Benjamin Millepied with a ballet of lights; the light bulbs were coded to move and follow the dancers. This already raised the question of how technology and dance can go together.

Many projects here seem to call the spectator’s role into question.

Yes. I think you can be passive for just two minutes. We want to interact in our lives; we don’t want to be just onlookers but actors, users, etc. In some projects, the user even creates the content! That’s the case for ours: the choreography changes depending on your heartbeat; it’s unique for each person.

Marianne Feder

Artistic Advisor at the Maison de la danse – Dance Mentor at the Danceathon


What prompted you, at the Maison de la danse, to co-create this Danceathon with the BNP Paribas Foundation?

First, the experimentation format, which is quite unusual in artistic professions but very common in digital ones: bringing together very different professions for three days to create common objects and invent the dance of tomorrow. That’s very different from the creative processes at the Maison de la Danse. Moreover, digital technology and how it can be used to invent new stories is the running thread of this year’s Dance Biennial. So there’s a desire to experiment with that issue all the way: to present a VR and augmented reality programme, explore relationships between dance, movement and images and organise a professional format in the format of a hackathon, which has never been done in dance.

The participants eventually spent more time designing technology than thinking about dance and choreography. How did you intervene with them?

By and large, when working with new technology in the performing arts the creation time isn’t the same. It takes much longer to develop an app than to work purely on the body. That doesn’t mean that afterwards, if the projects go on, the body’s time does not gain the upper hand. Just as mentors-coders help the teams for the first two days, we – with Claire Rousier – intervene on a more occasional basis to question the projects’ meaning in their relationship to dance, compare them to things that may have been done already and above all try to get the teams to make their relationship to movement more complex. Take the Cross Flow project for example; the idea was to help them make a danced encounter in a railway station more complex. So that it’s not just “step right, step left, raise your hand” but something where people really enter imaginary worlds, write little scenarios, think up metaphors that involve the movement of people who don’t do any dancing at all, etc.

On the morning of day three, do you see yourself exploring new imaginary worlds at the crossroads of dance and technology?

There are areas that dance can conquer, such as medicine. It’s just crazy to imagine that in one day! But also street space and more occasional things like commuting to work. Others have to do with stories proposed to spectators. The projects change ways of being a spectator: for example, projecting yourself into a performer’s experience with Dans(e) Sa Peau, Everything researchers have worked on in the area of mirror neurons but never made it into dance so physically or more poetically with the endless dance proposed by The Last Dance. Dance is the entire imagination connected to the body, which necessarily has its limits. Digital technology allows us to dream of a body that never stops dancing.

Éric Minh Cuong Castaing

Choreographer of the Vibes project, winner of the Lyon Danceathon


Hackathons and artistic creation don’t have the same pace. How did you approach these three days as a choreographer?

It’s a real challenge to offer a critical perspective, especially in an ideologically pro- technology environment, in so little time, even with people selected because of their open- mindedness. It takes time to deeply discuss a relevant issue or a paradox.

Is that why your group created Vibes, a choreographic meeting app? The “Tinder of dance” as you jokingly called it?

Yes. I’d even say that Vibes is a cultural policy and mediation project that makes dance accessible to all. It’s inclusive and allows users to meet each other, a bit like a flash mob but in different cities at the same time. I wrote the audio-guide for the first test: the instructions the participants hear in their earphones and follow to start dancing. It’s easy to imagine that there will be other choreographers using other aesthetics in the future, that there will be a kind of library. I relied on a relationship to the body close to feldenkrais or yoga, which allows you to recentre yourself whatever your level of dance. At first I thought it would be interesting to imagine this as an app for clubbing. What it means to meet up to dance, party and build a community around that. Since what we imagined about that question didn’t coincide, we went in another direction.

The groups’ members have a wide variety of skills: designers, technicians, coders, choreographers and dancers. How can a common language be found when people come from so many different backgrounds?

We have very different levels of experience and skills and don’t necessarily have the same imaginations. For example, many people imagine that the connections between dance and new technology can lead to an ultra-contemporary form of illusionism, the magic of the 21st century. I don’t. Yet those differences lead to very fruitful discussions. The Vibes app allows dancers to influence and even co-create the sound piped into the earphones at the same time as the instructions. But the first time we tested it with our dancer Maëlle Déral, we couldn’t understand our developer, Xavier Boissarie. He thinks and speaks in concepts. We were able to interact together when our composer and sound designer Romain Constant translated his concepts for us: by considering sound a material, we had a new field of common reference.


« Cloud Dancing » - Liège

« Digital Umbilical » - London

« Vibes » - Lyon


Three days, three cities and over 100 participants: the Danceathon — the first international dance hackathon — aimed to invent the dance of tomorrow. Here’s a look at one future aspect of choreography.

If you think all geeks feel gawky and self-conscious about their bodies and dancers are only interested in the organic and the flesh, think again. All it takes is spending some time at the Danceathon to shatter those stereotypes. You’ll have seen coders, many already close to the performing arts community, participating in choreographed warm-ups and artists with atypical profiles who have long thought about the relationship between technology and the body.
In London, choreographer and coder Amy Cartwright regrets that technology does not play a bigger role in dance schools, as it does in visual arts or music schools. In Lyon, choreographer Éric Minh Cuong Castaing’s pieces and films focus on how new technology has changed our view of the world. Although the two communities know more about each other than you might think, they have a hard time finding common ground in cultural institutions, despite the recent rise of initiatives allowing them to work together.

Shared intelligence

The BNP Paribas Foundation created the Danceathon in collaboration with the Maison de la danse in Lyon, the Théâtre de Liège and Sadler’s Wells in London. If the number of applications is anything to go by (400!), a marathon where members of both communities can dialogue and work more closely together came at just the right time.
For three days, people from different backgrounds focused on inventing a common language at the crossroads of their fields. They took the time to leave words aside, make connections with their bodies, put ideas in motion by taking a walk or find a form of translation allowing scientific concepts and ineffable feelings to communicate with each other. Jonathan Thonon, who programmes the Impact festival at the Théâtre de Liège, has no intention of stopping there.

“We must continue reactivating this community and keep it alive,”

Jonathan Thonon – Producteur pour le théatre de liège

Dance without borders

Cross-fertilisation between dance and technology has led to new forms of performance that theatres can no longer resist. Movement is imagined without borders or limits, omnipresent, mobile and part of daily life.
In London’s Double You project, a screen-wall serves to create dancing doubles of passersby. Ubiquity becomes possible with Cloud Dancing, the winning project in Liège, which uses virtual reality to diffract performance spaces in three different places. But technology can also be used to surpass the body’s limits. The Last Dance, an augmented reality experience created in Lyon, offers self-generating choreography with increasingly prolonged, evanescent gestures that could outlive humanity. Invented by another team in Lyon, the system of sensors in Dans(e) Sa Peau (Under Your Skin) allows viewers to feel in real time the energy flowing through the body of a performer at the height of his or her art.

Rethinking the viewer’s experience

Drawing inspiration from 2.0 web philosophy, the dance of tomorrow aims to be participatory, collaborative and above all true to its raison d’être: putting life at the centre and connecting people to each other. Like other projects, Crossflow in Lyon moves the choreographic experience outside the performance venue, in this case to a railway station. The prototype aims not just to shake travellers out of their daily routines through dance, but also to foster interaction between them under “sound showers” where playful “choreographic battles” take place.

“An app of danced encounters”

Vibes, the winning project in Lyon, is an app of danced encounters. Users can activate ballets together by following the beat of audio-guided choreography they listen to through earphones. They can also chat and exchange ideas about their instructions. In a retroactive loop, they influence the music depending on their number, orientation and speed. The viewer becomes not just a dancer but also a co-creator.

The Danceathon aims to be a thrilling encounter between dance and technology, but dissident voices are also emerging. In Liège, where a New Age trend of reconnecting with nature through technology seems to be catching on, a communicator and a coder have broken away from the herd to create a virtual reality project in their image. These two non-conformist heavy metal fans have designed a Gothic theatre where a parallel 3D programme could be imagined. By withdrawing from the competition, they broke out of the box to embrace its beauty. The pair offers a possible vision of the future of dance.

“We want to prolong theatre,” they say, “to offer people involved in digital technology who don’t necessarily go to the theatre the chance to see plays in VR in real time.”

While talk of the death of brick-and-mortar theatres may be a bit premature, digital technology is becoming a tool to reach a wider audience and broaden the performance experience. Some people are worried about virtual reality taking over our daily lives, but let’s trust these artists to keep dance on its toes.

Rédigé par Mouvement pour le Dansathon