Mediating dance on stage, on site, or online, and an introduction to implications for documentation


From an exhibition earlier in 2014 at the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst: "Sacré 101—An Exhibition Based on The Rite of Spring," Kenneth Archer andMillicent Hodson Strawinsky et les Ballets Russes 2008 Single channel video on monitor (color, sound) 36:47 min.

From an exhibition earlier in 2014 at the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst: “Sacré 101—An Exhibition Based on The Rite of Spring,”
Kenneth Archer and Millicent Hodson
Strawinsky et les Ballets Russes
Single channel video on monitor (color, sound)
36:47 min.

While having discussions with several artistic friends, we talked about how we’ve observed people habitually using technology to frame their perspective. In a public dance performance, iPads and cameras come out to record movement. Is the live experience traded for the creation of a fixed object? Secondary to it? Is technology necessary nowadays for people to understand and create context for life activities? Even before social media and computers, technology has had an important role for mediating what audience members see in performance. The progression to include technology as a mediation tool has been inevitable, and the work being created today with virtual reality and online worlds is important to document and preserve. Just like performances that came before new media and technology-integrated performances, archiving these types of performances appropriately depends on the intended audiences for the work. How a work was intended to be experienced depends on the original environment and context provided by a mediated point of view. 

In a theater performance, the curtain opens and the lights come up. A performer’s preparation in the wings is not seen as part of the performance, and this is the director or choreographer’s choice. An extreme wide shot video recording includes the most information to demonstrate what the performance would have looked like live, and can include information on choreography, staging and spacing, lighting, music cues, costuming and special effects. Scholars studying a dance work may be interested in the motivations for creating the work, and so other information like working movement phrases, oral histories, and choreographer notes are also integral for knowing the piece. Companies that are interested in restaging the work would do well with as much information as possible, including the detailed musical score and lighting design. For example, the influence of Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring cannot be denied. Many companies have been determined to mount their own production using Stravinsky’s iconic score. However, much historical research went into the Joffrey Ballet’s reconstruction to present Nijinsky’s original version with Nicholas Roerich’s designs. Musical scores with notes, interviews, photographs, drawings, and newspaper articles all shaped the context of the piece, which allowed the work to be further understood, and the reconstruction decidedly possible. These various types items that were invaluable to the reconstruction are preserved in archives. Performance archives and documentation has grown and changed with the developments in the field of dance. Joffrey Ballet restaged the original work, but the restaging is a unique historical performance as well. Kim (2011) notes that “each time a dance piece is performed or staged, it is fundamentally different from previous iterations…. To be truly effective, documentation needs to be usable by dance practitioners for both practical and scholarly purposes while maintaining revision control” (p. 3). A Cunningham dance capsule, for example, contains “performance videos, sound recordings, lighting plots, décor images, costume designs, production notes, interviews with artistic personnel, and licensing information” in order to allow reconstructions of new versions, with new dancers (“Dance Capsules,” 2014).

Dancers have ventured into new performance venues; the especially prominent partnership between museums and performance art presentations should be focused on. Although the practice of presenting live work in museums has occurred since the late 1960s, as evident with Meredith Monk’s “Juice: A Theatre Cantata in 3 Installments” at the Guggenheim Museum, RoseLee Goldberg noted in 2012 that performance is “finally gaining recognition among museum professionals.” Delaware Art Museum presents its first performance art exhibit this year, The Tanks at Tate Modern are specifically designed for live art, all the while museums such as the MoMA, the Walker Art Center, and the Whitney Museum of American Art have welcomed performance artists into their gallery space to show works for decades. The Whitney’s chief curator and deputy director for programs Donna De Salvo noted “In the age of the digital and the virtual and the mediated experience, there is something very visceral about watching live performance” (Pogrebin, 2012). Continuing into virtual space, the live performance becomes an idea of real-time creation. Performances are presented in settings only accessible through internet or networked connections. Steve Dietz (1998) writes about the changing mission of museums, where hybridity and fusion of art has shifted the role of the curator. Similarly, virtual worlds provide a sense of blended and hybrid reality platform for performance.

Whether on stage, in a gallery space, or hosted virtually, the medium of humans and movement is still central to performance art. The mediation frame of a work provides specific experiences to audiences. When we consider archival migration activities, questions to consider include whether the work is ideally performed on a proscenium stage, whether it can be performed outside, in a gallery, private home, and where, if any, the line between audience and stage should be drawn. Archivists now have the foresight to choose a system of documentation to best preserve works of art. With technology increasingly used to mediate performance and art, there is an additional challenge of preserving the creative work so that it may outlast its original technology medium. Digital preservation informs us of best practices for storing, describing, and providing access to digital objects. A recent Library of Congress summit Preserving.exe provided a list of projects of interest and recommended resources that demonstrate the range of projects that are meeting the complex needs of preserving software.

Preserving the original performance environment is key. Still, an archival collection of items and the context around a work provide valuable information—in the example of reconstructing Nijinsky’s 1913 performance, Millicent Hodson only felt a reconstruction was feasible after consulting Marie Rambert’s score with choreographic notes. Even if a technology platform is available to show or present a work, there are many more details that are relevant and required to show the significant properties of the work. When game worlds disappear, perhaps the environment can be recreated but it will be an empty world, void of activity. How will one know the importance of the activities that world hosted? Similarly, if a historically significant dance work is presented without re-mediation or some sort of context, the importance will not be as well known. Showing The Rite of Spring without knowing that audiences almost rioted at the premiere in Paris would leave an audience with a missing link to understanding the piece. Collections of blogs, video recordings, still images, and detailed attribution are key pieces of information for an archive. The context of activity within a virtual world or performance is as important as reviving the technological components of the world itself. In the Preserving Virtual Worlds final report (2010), McDonough et al note that in order to prove the historical significance of a game environment, there must be equal effort in preserving the context of gameplay as the software that enables it. Winget (2011) summarizes a game performance archive conceptualized by Henry Lowood, which would include “ artifacts of participatory culture such as machinima, game mods, and speed runs as well as mash-ups not related to game play, fan- generated fiction, wikis documenting group behavior, or other records that document the effect a given game has on individuals, groups of individuals, or society” (p. 1880).

I am following this idea for an approach of virtual world performance archiving. Virtual worlds provide artists a new medium to explore and create, and many creations culminate in a presentation of work, either in a virtual world, in a museum exhibit installation, or both. The technology involved in supporting these works is a parallel archiving project, whereas documentation of the ephemera becomes a practice in archiving the culture around the performance. Winget further states: “Ethnographic studies of players, makers, and various other stakeholders will provide valuable information on the role of videogames within our culture.” Videogame platforms as a performance environment makes hybrid-reality performances possible, and consideration of participants in a virtual world—whether as artist or audience—will be fundamental to an archival collection.

Dance Capsules.” (2014). Retrieved July 20, 2014 from

Dietz, S. (1998). Curating (on) the web. Retrieved July 20, 2014 from

Kim, E.S. (2011). ChoreoSave: A digital dance preservation system prototype. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 48. 1-10.

McDonough, J., Lowood, H., Kirschenbaum, M., Krauss, K., Reside, D., Donahue, R., & Phelps, A., et al. (2010). Preserving virtual worlds: Final Report. National Digital Information Infrastructure Program. Washington, DC: Library of Congress. Retrieved July 20, 2014 from

Pogrebin, R. (2012, October 28). Once on the fringe, performance art is embraced. The New York Times, p. F8. Retrieved July 20, 2014 from

Winget, M. A. (2011). Videogame preservation and massively multiplayer online role-playing games: A review of the literature. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 62(10). 1869-1883.


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