Features & Columns

'Creative Collisions' Mixes Wearable Technology, Dance and Audiences

ALL OF THE LIGHTS: Dance may never be the same once performers, technology and audiences all take center stage. Photograph by Alejandro Gomez

Ideas are colliding at the Tech Museum of Innovation. Next week, a brand new series, Creative Collisions, explores how artistic innovation crosses over with technological research. The first installment, "Ballet + Wearables + You," unfolds Tuesday, May 12. The + symbols are important, as the event will investigate how certain types of wearable technology can enhance the ballet experience for dancers, choreographers, composers and their audiences.

This will not be a ballet performance per se. Instead, members of Ballet San Jose School will join representatives from several tech companies, including Neurosky, Spire, Wearhaus, Rogue Making and Misfit Wearables. Some of those companies are already included in the Body Metrics exhibit currently at The Tech, but others will demonstrate specific wearable technologies. Misfit Wearables, for example, usually make products for tracking fitness and sleep, but they could be used in provocative ways for a dance performance. Another company, Spire, makes wearables that track one's breathing. Other tech on display will include headphone and audio-triggering devices. All or some of which, when applied to dancers, can be used to gather real time data in order to drive audio or lighting accompaniment or other components of any interactive performance.

For the Creative Collisions event, dancers and technologists, as well as the audience, will suggest ways in which these technologies can augment the ballet art form in general. Visitors should not expect a passive, static event. It will be an interactive experience, with attendees contributing their own ideas. Danny Haeg, the series director, says the stakeholders don't really know what will transpire. The goal is to mesh previously separated groups of people together and see what happens. That's often how new ideas emerge.

"Innovation happens when people looks at things differently," Haeg says. "We know that. We also recognize that the tech community, right now, isn't diverse, however you cut it. And so by connecting them with the rest of Silicon Valley, exciting things can come out of it."

No one knows what will happen with the Creative Collisions series, or how it will evolve, but that's precisely what everyone seems to be juiced about. Dalia Rawson, director of the Ballet San Jose School, says the Ballet is excited to explore the future of the art form, and how dance and technology can intersect. For them, the Creative Collisions series is a great way to kick around some ideas and find out what people are thinking.

"As a ballet dancer, it's very easy to get insulated," Rawson says. "You have to work very hard. Sometimes it's easy not to do anything else. But if we're going to be evolving the art form, having contact with people that are very passionate about technology, then it's going to lead to something really exciting. And it keeps ballet relevant."

Creative Collisions will be a recurring series, slotted to unfold for the rest of the year. The second installment, coming in June, promises to be another provocative art-and-science crossover, titled, "Space + Art + You." Creatives and scientists will hash out ways that artists can participate in space exploration via interactive tools and techniques. Think of it like NASA meets art grads, all to create a cosmic communal mural of sorts. Again, no one knows what will happen.

In the same way that the museum's Body Metrics exhibit debuted in vanilla form, only to grow more robust as more visitors participated and provided more data, such will be the case with Creative Collisions. I see the series as a startup, or a cross-pollination of different skill sets, exactly what I expect from Silicon Valley: people from disparate realms collaborating with each other to create something new. The muse becomes the connection machine. Or vice-versa.

"Regardless of what comes out of these events, or what ideas come from these nights, we think that connecting these communities together is important for each of them," Haeg says. "We're putting all the ingredients in and we're not sure what's going to come out. And that's what's really exciting."