Catalan theatre company Konic Thtr, created by Alain Bauman , artist and multimedia artist, and by Rosa Sanchez , dancer and choreographer, has attracted a large audience with its latest interactive theatre/dance work, NOU I_D , previewed at Cultania, Catania’s multimedia theatre festival conceived by Salvatore Zinna.

Konic was created in 1992 and specializes in installation and performance projects that blend interactive technology, multimedia, music and theatre. Konic has a long history of activity, it operates in Barcelona and it is considered a pioneer of interactive art. It has been one of the first groups to experiment with theatrical motion capture systems applied to dance. Its artists reside in the major creative centers of the world, and they have presented their works at Ircam, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris , in Madrid , Barcelona , Bilbao , Glasgow , Mexico City, collaborating with universities, polytechnics and artificial intelligence research centers.

Before the show in Catania Konic explain that in parallel to the creative projects, they have started some research connected to artistic digital communication and specifically about: interactive systems that facilitate and widen audience participation, where the audience acts as an “activating agent”, and that transform the audience into participants in the expositive and scenic projects; programs that analyze and classify data that is produced by interactive devices and by augmented reality systems; interactive devices to enhance the expressive potential of actors and dancers; study of the body-technology-society, human body and virtual body interaction, with the development of sound, video and light technology. NOU I_D is the stage application of this research that they love to call The Augmented Stage , which ties together art, science, technology and whose aims are: to investigate and to develop software and hardware to use on the contemporary scene and for choreographic writing, and to create a non textual dramaturgy and choreographies based on interactive communicational languages.

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Konic’s Nou I_D is first and foremost a political performance that the authors define a “social critique”. Had anyone lost all hope that technological (and non technological) theatre had something urgent left to say? Nou I_D is the search for a relational space or maybe a space for authentic communication in everyday life, it’s the search for an ideal habitat where it is possible to coexist, to share and to recognize each other as individuals.

Too many things make the planet into a place that is foreign to us, that make us feel excluded and eternally in migration. We do not integrate in a space where politics is a remote thing: “The new laws prevent syncretism” is said in the performance. The images of the suburbs as we all know them are mixed with a video landscape in 3D and with a sort of virtual ecosystem: isolation, inner desolation, anxiety, incomprehension but also dreams and utopias, struggles and desire for change are described. Arid desert landscapes, borders without hope, anonymous spaces of urban crossing, never ending global migrations, fragments of geographical areas in constant movement. The world is seen as an empty can to throw away, inhabited by identical mannequins, individuals without identity. Creating new worlds, intact landscapes, creating networks and communities that pulsate with real life and that are able to respond to external impulses– like the virtual geodome on stage- is that possible?

Infrared technology, motion capture systems, biometrical sensors, 3D graphics, video projections managed by software conceived by the artists, emphatically characterize Tierra y Vida : the appearance of the world with all its possible modifications is modified by a single hand, by a single heart beat. Or by a song. The song and the poetic recitativo performed at the opening by the Mediator encourages us to remember those forgotten worlds that we want to know; a female voice remembers the long journeys of the sem terra , the landless peasants, of the refugees from all over the worlds that are eternally traveling without a destination, inviting us to join a “crossing ritual”: in this scene an infrared camera traces the movements of the woman that draws and modifies a geodome, an architectural universe in 3D with pressure sensors. The dancers and the performers create audio and visual landscapes, thanks to wireless sensors located on their bodies and thanks to optical movement capturing systems. From this moment on the “construction” of the provisional, vulnerable but new home, the new world, begins. The difference and the novelty create opposition and contrast, but we are the city and the individual that inhabits it has a name and a face. So does the audience, and at the end of the piece it declaims it out loud. This is an exciting technological political theatre project.

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Anna Monteverdi: Where does your research begin?

KONIC THTR: La ricerca viene prima della produzione di quella che noi amiamo chiamare “scena aumentata”; il nostro interesse è indirizzato alla drammaturgia. Molta della nostra ricerca va proprio in questa direzione: come creare il giusto programma informatico da applicare sulla scena sempre in stretta relazione con la drammaturgia, per dare vita a un teatro in cui differenti linguggi si uniscono insieme, corpo, musica, immagine, suono. Cerchiamo di capire quale software possa essere necessario usare o sviluppare e lo facciamo noi stessi con alcuni collaboratori. Il nostro progetto di ricerca riguarda la possibiltà di usare medium interattivi, differenti sensori con diverse capacità di interazione con il corpo. Il tipo di interattività sempre dipende dal progetto, dall’esigenza della storia: i rapporti tra azione e risultato talvolta sono stretti ma non ci deve essere rigidità, casomai flessibilità. Vogliamo rendere visibile questo processo interattivo sulla scena, vogliamo creare una nuova sensibilità verso le nuove tecnologie e sperimentare uno spazio sempre meno costrittivo in relazione all’esperienza della danza.

Anna Monteverdi: How long does it take you to prepare your pieces?

KONIC THTR: Due anni per il processo e per le prove.

Anna Monteverdi: What kind of technology do you use in the performance?

KONIC THTR: Usiamo special devices, videocamere a infrarossi, sistemi di motion capture e sensori che leggono temperatura e altre alterazioni ambienali, sensori sempre più piccoli e sempre meno ingombranti. L’interattività di Nou I_D lavora su tre diversi livelli: Videocamera trackin per catturare la posizione degli interpreti, Postural sensors per catturare i movimenti fisici del danzatore, Sensori biometrici che informano sul loro stato fisiologico. Ogni sistema dà una diversa chiave di lettura, se vuoi un diverso punto di vista sull’argomento. Il softare Terra y vida risponde agli input dei tre sistemi di cattura dati fisici.

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Anna Monteverdi: Would you define your work as “dance/theatre”?

KONIC THTR: Non solo danza, usiamo molto il corpo, ma anche la voce, la musica, la parola. La coreografia è fondamentale quanto il testo, quanto la semiotica. In generale siamo spinti da un’idea centrale, da un “concept” e questo diventa il centro, la confluenza di tutti i linguaggi.

AnnaMonteverdi: What is the meaning of a performance like NOU I_D?

KONIC THTR: Lo spettacolo è una critica sociale e dunque la tecnologia è parte di questa critica, non ci piace l’uso impersonale, acritico delle tecnologie. Il punto di partenza è insieme politico e sociale: la condizione di sentirsi senza una vera meta, abbandonati, persi e questo lo ritroviamo in modo diverso rappresentato dalla voce, dal suono, dal corpo. Non abbiamo voluto fare uno spettacolo naturalista, è una composizione astratta su cui creiamo atmosfere suggestive, evocative ma aperte al dialogo col pubblico.

Anna Monteverdi: When was the software Terra y Vida programmed?

KONIC THTR: The development of the software application TERRA Y VIDA emerges in the frame of the research project The Augmented Stage that Kònic Thtr hass undertaken, during 2006 in the medialab of Metrònom in Barcelona and in collaboration with Martí Sánchez Fibla, researcher at the Spanish Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC). Terra i vida responds to the inputs of three multi-user physical data capture systems: video cameras inform us about the position of the interpreters, postural sensors capture their
movement and biometric sensors give us information about their physiological state.

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Anna Monteverdi: What is the augmented stage?

KONIC THTR: The Augmented Stage will focus on the creation of tools in the form of intelligent computer software as well as wireless sensor technology and computer vision. All of them will aim to the treatment in real time of multimedia information and the mediation between performers and computers. The Augmented Stage takes as a starting point the analysis and application of multimedia systems that codify the human gesture, in real time, in visual and sonic expression and in how the mediation between the body and the computer establishes new communication patterns. 

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