Arts & Culture

‘Your Ocean, My Ocean’ explores environmentalism

Brown, UCI, RISD collaborate on multimedia performance featuring dance, music, video

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, April 4, 2019

Combining dance, music, media and visual art, performances of “Your Ocean, My Ocean” on April 1 and 2 asked audience members to reflect on humans’ relationship with the ocean. 

The interactive media performance was presented by the Brown Arts Initiative in collaboration with Rhode Island School of Design and the University of California at Irvine’s Institute for 21st Century Creativity, which explores issues relating to environmentalism and social engagement. After debuting at UCI in February under the direction of John Crawford, professor and associate dean in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UCI, the show was performed for the second time at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts this week.

During the BAI Wintersession in December 2018, students and faculty visited UCI facilities. BAI then began its partnership with UCI to present this new performance in Providence. Butch Rovan, faculty director of the BAI, said that since its launch in 2017, the BAI has aimed to reach out to and establish partnerships with other institutions outside of the University. Given BAI’s ongoing three-year theme of “Arts and Environment,” Rovan believed that the message and interactive media elements of “Your Ocean, My Ocean” was “a natural fit for the Brown campus.”

The performance began with a section titled “EMERGENCE,” which was performed by student dancers from the University. A large piece of white cloth hung from the back wall of the stage. As the studio lights faded away, the dancers’ heads emerged from behind the cloth, which transformed into a large cloak that covered the rest of their bodies. As they moved across the stage, the undulations of the cloth resembled the waves of the ocean. The dancers were accompanied by live music, florescent lighting and narrated recordings of oceanic facts.

Because the UCI debut featured a different set of dancers, choreographer and Professor of Dance at UCI Lisa Naugle felt the need to rechoreograph the routine to highlight the strengths and capabilities of this particular group. “I like to get to know the dancers as we’re working together, (and) … I wanted to bring out more of their own emphasis and skills, rather than putting something on that was from somebody else,” she said.

Along with the new choreography, the Providence performance also incorporated a large sculptural instrument that sounded like chimes. The instrument was created by a student studying architecture at RISD and was played by percussionist Forrest Larson, a Providence local.

The show also included multimedia elements such as video, text and music. In the “INTERSTITIAL” sections of the show, which served as musical interludes between the dance sections, violinist and composer Mari Kimura wore a sensor prototype that detected the movements of her right hand as she played. The sensor generated texts that were projected onto the three screens hung around the stage. Crawford explained that, in the dance sections, multiple cameras captured the dancers’ live movements for display on the screens as well. By overlapping footage of the ocean water movements with the live camera feed, the composite video gave the impression that the dancers were  “moving in and out of the ocean,” he said. A blend of both preselected ocean clips and live dance performance, the show was meant to “create an environment where some things are happening in predictable and unpredictable ways to amplify the liveness of the performance,” Crawford added.

Many elements of the show revealed its environmentalist theme. At one point, the dancers wrapped a string of plastic bottles around their bodies. In another scene, they interacted with a net holding 3D models of sea turtles that Crawford explained were composed of recyclable filament. The dancers manipulated the net to recreate the movements of sea turtles in nature. “We’re interested in investigating other ways that scientific engineering, technology and artistic pursuits can work together to explore environmental issues and other aspects of social engagement,” Crawford said.

Speaking to the project’s connection with environmental activism, RISD Professor of Architecture Kyna Leski said, “Beauty grips you; it makes it very difficult to look away. You can have different ideas of what it is, but …it does make it difficult to look away, and that power in activism is important.” Leski led a “Your Ocean, My Ocean” studio class at RISD in fall 2018, which created many of the design elements and props for the show.

At the end of the show, Crawford explained the next iteration of the “Your Ocean, My Ocean” series. “We’re working on one project, which is the (“Your Ocean, My Ocean”) media environment — an interactive installation that doesn’t require live performance. It’s set in places like galleries and public spaces where there is live … interaction between screens and cameras and visitors,” he said.


Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that John Crawford is the associate professor of dance and media arts at UCI. In fact, he is a professor and associate dean in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UCI. The Herald regrets the error.

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