I am currently working on an interactive dance and video project called The Familiar. In European folklore, a familiar is a supernatural entity that takes on physical forms. It is a wizard's ally, a kind of sub-being that expresses one of the practitioner's powers.
In dance, the Familiar is a kind of partner. Neither human, angel, animal, nor pet, it is an animated sub-being, manifesting something simple enough to be expressed as an interactive algorithm.
The Familiar is about the power relationship between two beings, Wizard and Familiar, expressed as cause and effect. (Since synchrony would imply a third player, it’s not appropriate for this piece.) With two players, this relationship becomes a simple mapping from one being’s agency to the other’s.
The most interesting binary power relationships are hybrid, a mapping of mixed polarity; controller is sometimes controlled.
If A is a space of agency, then for each point in the Am x An product space, we define a control magnitude, c(Am, An), whose sign indicates the direction of the control (positive means that the first element controls the second), and whose magnitude is the tightness of the control. All of these magnitudes represent a mapping C from Am to An, one that varies with time. In particular, if the Wizard’s agency is represented by Aw, and the Familiar’s agency by Af, then the mapping C(Aw,Af) is, on the average, positive. That is, the Wizard is the master of the Familiar.
In using this structure for an artistic work, a clear exposition of the material is one which reveals the changing structure of the mapping.
Since the Familiar is a kind of sub-being, the breadth of the Familiar’s agency is extremely limited; but in certain areas (its powers), the depth of its agency is greater than the Wizard’s. For this reason, the first step of the process is the design of the particular agency space for the Familiar.
Finally, the control must promote symbiosis. Wizard and Familiar are allies–hunter and hunting dog, for example.
Examples of agency in The Familiar: dynamic accents, hits; flexion, extension; vocabulary of spatial signs; repetition; movement speed and intensity.
Control can be expressed through action-reaction, using mimicry, force, synonymy, cooperation, or state.
Four performances of dancer-video duets are currently planned–two in the US and two in Europe–involving a changing cast. If you would like to contribute or collaborate, or if you would like updates on the project, please contact me.