Created in 2014 by choreographer Mourad Merzouki, Pixel is an invitation to a journey between the real and the virtual, interpreted by the dancers of the Compagnie Käfig, from the Centre Chorégraphique National of Créteil (CCNC).
On stage: 11 dancers, surrounded by hundreds of pixels. In this original creation by Mourad Merzouki, a dancer and choreographer, director of the CCNC. The curtain and the floor are transformed into screens on which white pixels – the small squares that constitute an image on a screen – are projected, sometimes immobile, sometimes moving. The dancers do not only dance with each other, they interact with the movements made by the pixels, creating a conversation between the two: the digital effects become partners for the dancers. The latter walk on the pixels, are surrounded by them and move in this pixelated environment. For Mourad Merzouki, this is a metaphor of our everyday lives: “Those pixels remind me of our society. Their mass movement, which sometimes isolates the free spirits or ties them together, is a beautiful symbol”, as he explains on the official page of the show. More than a simple metaphor, the show is also an invitation to think about our relationship with new technologies that, with time, are increasingly more present around us. “How does the dancer evolve in a space made of illusions, on a three dimensional stage, with video either accompanying him in his movement on stage, or hindering him?”, Merzouki asks. The spectator can ask the same question. How do we deal with videos and new technologies? How do we act around them?
“We are constantly confronted to images, videos, the digital”
Pixel was the result of a collaboration between Mourad Merzouki, Adrien Mondot and Claire Bardainne, who were in charge of its digital creation. The three met at a festival in Lyon. Inspired by this meeting, Merzouki decided to try to merge new technologies “with and for” dance. “We are constantly confronted to images, videos, the digital.”, Merzouki argues. Yet, he insisted that dance shouldn’t be given more space than the digital. On the other hand, the digital environment was not supposed to erase the presence of the dancers either. The objective was to create a poetic show where the two would play with each other, in a perfect equilibrium, without one overshadowing the other. He explains that he wanted to “pave the way for a conversation between the world of digital projection and the reality of the dancer’s body”.
Dancers dancing with the filmed image of themselves
Merzouki’s dance piece is not the first example of a show arising from the cooperation between a choreographer and a tech-team. Before him, Lucinda Childs and Merce Cunningham had already worked with technology. Both of them, at the time, also tried to link the two, especially by bringing video on stage with the dancers. In 1979, Lucinda Childs used the same technologies for her ballet, Dance, in which the dancers were filmed before the performance. Then on the day of the performance, the filmed dancers were projected on screen while they actually danced. Twenty years later, in 1999, Cunningham, one of the most famous and influential American choreographers of the 20th century, created the dance show Biped. Using his software called “Life Forms”, developed with computer researchers from the Simon Fraser University in the United States, sensors were put on the dancers to then create images from their movements. Those images were then projected on stage while the dancers were performing. Those two shows, using technology long before Mourad Merzouki’s Pixel, result in the dancers evolving on stage while having their doubles dancing at the same time. More than reacting to them, they end up dancing with their digital doubles, creating a dialogue with themselves.
The three shows open up a reflexion, as Merzouki points out for Pixel, about “the place of the body in a space made of digital images and projections”. If Childs and Cunningham had worked on the creation of a double for their dancers, Merzouki’s use of technology went further, he created a new character on stage. After a worldwide tour, notably in South America, Merzouki’s dancers and pixels are back in Europe. A performance that will surely inspire many more choreographers in the future.