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IJPAN project closes with Illinois and Tokyo dancers plus avatars

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John Toenjes

Butoh dancer Jun Makime tests the motion capture equipment that will be used in “Timings, an Internet Dance.”

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12/6/2013 | Dusty Rhodes, Arts and Humanities Editor | 217-333-0568;

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — For three years, the Illinois Japan Performing Arts Network has been using the powerful computing resources of the University of Illinois to foster collaborations and interactions among Japanese and American artists, scholars and audiences. The project’s first production, in October 2010, featured Yoshi Oida performing his acclaimed solo show “Interrogations: Words of the Zen Masters.” Since then, the network has hosted 15 events, including performances by Japan’s most revered Noh and kabuki theater artists; musicians renowned for their mastery of the biwa, koto, sho and angular harp; and live streams of performances from the Japan Society of New York.

But the three-year project is coming to an end, and John Toenjes, IJPAN’s technical director, decided to try something new for the network’s final production. A dance professor at the U. of I., Toenjes envisioned a production that would involve more than just a collaborative performance live-streamed from remote locales.

“Those have been done since 2004,” he said.

Instead, Toenjes created a piece that involves not only live dancers in three different locations (the U. of I., Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., and Digital Hollywood University in Tokyo) but also their avatars. Motion-capture and video looping technology will enable the dancers to respond to each other and to the avatars, recasting the dancers’ original gestures. The work is called “Timings, an Internet Dance.”

“The idea came to me when I had something scheduled with my father, who recently became ill,” Toenjes said. “We were going to connect on a certain day, but it didn’t work out because he got sick. I just started thinking about the role of timing in our lives, which, of course, is crucial.”

For the dance, Toenjes decided to exploit the pesky data-transfer lags and delays that can normally hinder live stream events and use them instead as a metaphor for real life timing snags.

“The fastest way to transmit a motion from one place to another is with just pure data,” he said. “If we use motion tracking, the data can get to another site quite quickly. If we take that same motion and live-stream it, it takes seven or eight seconds, maybe even longer. And if we record it on video, then loop it, that’s an even longer process. What I’m doing with this dance is just kind of layering all these different media with the same information.”

At 7 p.m. on Dec. 12 (Thursday), three Illinois dance alumnae will perform live in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts second-floor dance studio. The Illinois dancers are Laura Chiaramonte, Claire Happel and Alana Parekh. They will interact with six dancers in DeKalb and with two well-known Butoh dancers in Tokyo, Jun Makime and Yumi Sagara. Live music will be provided by Michael Junokas, a doctoral candidate in music composition at the U. of I.

The event is free and open to the public; seating is limited.

Editor's note: To contact John Toenjes, email
The pronunciation of his last name rhymes with “hinges.”

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