Creating the ultimate show, step by step

Curiosity as the basis of creativity for David Middendorp

Creativity requires patience, as choreographer David Middendorp knows better than anyone. It took him 10 years to develop ‘Airman’ into what it is today: a performance in which a dancer interacts with twelve drones. The core idea actually dates back to 2001. The next step is for technology to make decisions itself. Middendorp hopes this will encourage interest in artificial intelligence and how it’s affecting our lives. You can judge for yourself, as Airman will be performed during the opening of CWF2019.

A major part of Middendorp’s life is dominated by dance. He studied at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, followed by the dance academy in Rotterdam and then the Juilliard School in New York. “However, I was also interested in technology. My father’s an engineer, and he’s always stimulated my curiosity. When I had a bit of free time, I’d be inventing things, making stuff, and experimenting.” These two elements, technology and dance, are strongly reflected in his work as artistic director of the company Another Kind of Blue.

‘My creativity is usually the result of curiosity. That’s something I play with’

“In fact there are three elements, as curiosity also plays a part. It’s my main driver,” he says. “My creativity is usually the result of curiosity. I play with it. It’s a way for me to learn, to be creative, and avoid becoming imprisoned in obligations. I want to be able to work on something without constraints. It involves a lot of trial and error, and trying things out. Sometimes you take two steps forward, and one step back.”

In 2001, he devised a choreography in which a remote-controlled bread roll seeks interaction with dancers. It’s quite a funny piece, as the bread roll could drive, tremble, and eventually got romantically involved with another bread roll.

Made his own drone
After researching the effects of animation for some time, the idea for a show with drones arose 10 years ago. However, where did he start? Middendorp explains, “In the beginning, I started building drones myself. At that time, you couldn’t find them in the nearest electronic store. I had an idea, but I already knew that it could never be realised in 6 months, because the technology simply wasn’t advanced enough.”

That idea was to let a swarm of drones take the form of their maker, the human, and then to completely take on different shapes. The shape had to be ‘malleable’. “I was determined that it would be at least interactive, and preferably able to make decisions by itself.” Step by step, the choreographer worked towards his goal. He started with one drone, then added another; first remote controlled, and later reacting autonomously to the dancer’s specially designed suit. “That interactivity now exists; the drones follow the dancer’s movements in part of the performance. This creates tension in terms of who’s controlling who? The dancer is also free to move, his steps are not decided in advance. The next step is get the technology to make its own decisions.”

 ‘Artificial intelligence is a totally undervalued social issue’

New audience
Middendorp mainly receives positive reviews and reactions to his performance. He believes that incorporating technology also draws in a new audience that is not necessarily comprised of fans of dance, but that this nevertheless brings them into contact with it. “There are obviously people who just want to see a dance performance, and find everything around it distracting. I understand that, but my show is not designed for them. My goal is for the dancer and the surroundings to enhance each other, rather than be a distraction.”

Personally, Middendorp is fascinated by AI, and he hopes that his productions will stimulate others to share this interest. The choreographer believes it’s ‘a totally undervalued social issue’. “It’s expected that most cars will be self-driving in five to ten years. That’s a huge shift, and we’re only talking about transport. That’s why I think it’s important that I’ve incorporated AI in my performance.”

Sustainable and artistic
Middendorp is happy to let visitors to the Creativity World Forum know about how his ideas arose and his plans for the future, which may well involve environmental and sustainability issues. “Something that I really occupy myself with is the transition from the internal combustion engine to electric drive. I’m also interested in solar energy and the issue of eating meat.” Will we see this reflected in his work? “I’ve thought about it, But I haven’t yet found the right idea that is both sustainable and artistic.” He’s looking forward to getting some inspiration on 21 October during CWF2019.

Meet David Middendorp @CWF2019

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