Thanks, Skype. Dancers at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University can now connect with dance studios in South America, Europe or Japan. NOW is the name of this internet-based innovation that allows dancers to perform duets, as well as ensemble pieces, with partners from around the world.
In setting the “stage” for a duet, a student technician makes the Skype call – a bit of logistical suspense with every ring – before the dancers gave their names, locations and local time. NYU choreographer Pat Catterson wants her dancers to take their material phrases that sometimes wander into whimsy – and make them their own, a process that Skype facilitates and subtly alters. Occasionally, the physical virtual pairs moved in unison, their synchronization loosened by technological glitches as well as by idiosyncratic timing.
NOW “performances” (75-minute installations) have been described as one of those the-way-we-live-now kind of works, both homespun and high tech, with elements familiar and unsettlingly novel. Whatever it may be or eventually become, NOW is certainly an innovative example of how technology can support artistic collaboration on a global scale.
So we all know that Japan has been a world leader in producing technology that has changed our modern lives. And of course we probably all think of Tokyo, Osaka, and other Japanese urban centers as the leading metropoloses of the 21st Century in forging such technological change. I was fortunate enough to have spent an academic semester in rural Japan, north of Osaka in the fall 1997, and made frequent return visits to all parts of Japan over the first decade of this century. Many innovators in the Japanes schools were sure that educational technology would be adopted by the Japanese Ministry and find its way into the Japanese schools as seamlessly as was the case in the U.S. This was not to be true in Japan, for a variety of reasons, but perhaps most importantly that a centralized Ministry of Education in Japan was still in control of curricular and instructional decisions across the country. Individual teachers and other educational leaders certainly championed the advantages of educational technology at all levels, but making such “official” changes rested with the Ministerial officials, many senior career bureaucrats.
Now it seems that technology may be changing the very life styles of many young Japanese professionals working in tech-related industries. They can work in a more relaxed rural setting not so much regulated by the ticking of the clock but much more by the sharing of time with colleagues and families in a less structured urban setting. Similarly, these families also seem to enjoy the collaborative community aspect of working there which already seems to support more creativity in their professional lives. Technology becomes the tool that they use to make their lives and work more meaningful. They are not tied to the ticking of the clock and the timing of the trains in their urban commutes.
Please know that I feel that the Japanese culture and people are to be commended for their generous and innovative spirit. We too have much to learn from them, and technology can help us learn more about more of what Japan has to offer outside of its urban centers too.