Projecting performance: new approaches to digital projection practices

Academics: Professor S. Popat and S. Palmer, Faculty of Performance, Visual Arts and Communications

Through the development of ground-breaking visual and kinetic ideas, the University of Leeds has enabled the creative and economic development of a digital arts company and catalysed the design of progressive digital projections for theatre.

Projected digital images are widely employed in theatrical productions, but their use is often limited to pre-recorded footage with the performer as strictly-timed soloist, or computer-controlled interactions where the performer must trigger the technology. Work that directly integrates performer and technologist in both process and performance is still rare.

Leeds collaborated with small-medium enterprise (SME) KMA Ltd to explore the choreographic and scenographic exchange between dancers and projected digital images.

Americans will be forced to sit-up, catch up, and may have to rely on the impressively artsy video-graphic-projections by (KMA) that sometimes create the set around dimly lit performers, overlaying on them like clothing, or sprayed across them like graffiti.

Culture Vulture (San Francisco)

Unlocking creative potential

KMA and Leeds used experimental workshops to develop new visual/kinetic ideas that contributed to the Phoenix Dance Theatre production, Eng-er-land (2005). In this theatre-based research, the operator becomes a ‘performer’, dancing with the stage-performer via a projected digital representation (e.g. a star) through the innovative use of a graphics tablet and pen.

KMA and Leeds developed the workshop approaches further to create KMA’s first interactive kinetic light installation, Dancing in the Streets. The popular public art installation for York City Council came to life through the actions and reactions of passers-by (who became both operators and performers), pulling them into a relationship with the artwork and inviting playfulness, creativity and improvisation.

KMA continued to employ the processes developed with Leeds to create an ambitious kinetic light art installation Congregation (2010: Shanghai Expo, China; Tate Britain, London) and ground-breaking visual design for the film The Knife that Killed Me (Autumn 2013, Universal Pictures).

Developing and diversifying a digital arts SME

Internationally acclaimed DV8 Physical Theatre also ran experimental workshops with Leeds, leading to KMA designing the digital projections for DV8’s international touring production To Be Straight With You (2008-9). This significantly raised KMA’s profile, helping the SME in the successful diversification of its work to be almost exclusively within digital light projection and film in theatre and the cultural industries.

Many of the design ideas used in the DV8 production were initially developed through the Leeds workshops, including the digital projection of a large globe which a dancer appears to spin around, turning countries different colours at his touch as he describes their rules on homosexuality. International reviews indicate the globe’s effectiveness and critical nature in communicating the political content of the piece which was seen by over 70,000 people.

(Leeds’)…openness and willingness to share research and resources was pivotal in the making of To Be Straight With You.

Lloyd Newson, Artistic Director, DV8 Physical Theatre
Funder: Arts & Humanities Research Council