How and why we built the Connected Studio System – John Collingswood
TaikaBox first started experimenting with remote performance in 2015 – before moving from Wales to Finland we spent a week in the studio with dancer Lucy May Constantini, choreographing a duet that we could continue to work on after we moved to Finland.
The result was A Study in Telesymbiosis – a short performance that was shown in June 2015 as part of the Wales Dance Platform, with Lucy dancing on the main stage of Newport Riverfront and Tanja dancing in Oulu Theatre – connected using Facetime and SoundJack.
Since then, we have experimented with various ways of using technology to collaborate with artists who are in different locations. Later in 2015 we performed at the Global Forum, with a soundtrack created live by Antony Ryan from his studio in Denmark. It was, essentially, a simple setup that proved to be much more complex than we had planned. We were booked to perform on the small stage at Radisson Blu Hotel, in the gap between main course and dessert, for 500 international delegates who had spent all day in a conference. The organisers installed a superfast WiFi for us and we tested connections the night before.
The problems started when we were still setting up in a room at the other end of the building, we discovered that the delegates were all so hungry that they had demolished their food and didn’t want to wait for their next course, so could we start 25 minutes earlier than scheduled?
Cue a frantic scrabble to get everything connected and working, struggling to shift laptops from the wrong WiFi and onto the fast option, and trying to communicate with Antony as the system crashed a number of times whilst trying to connect.
What had been planned as a 7-minute performance became extended to something like 12 minutes, with the first half consisting of Tanja standing and staring at everyone in the room while I struggled to reconnect the system, sweating and swearing until we got a clean audio feed from Denmark and a video feed to the projector.
I think that experience was a little discouraging, and we put our research on a shelf for a few years.
Living in Northern Finland means that we are generally pretty far away from everything that isn’t Oulu. Our work regularly took us overseas, visiting venues, festivals and organisations all across Europe and as far afield as Japan.
Tanja started a collaborative research project with Katariina Angeria in Lapland, meeting each month online. They discovered the benefits of using projectors to take the video feed out of a small window on a laptop screen and onto a wall, approaching life-size, and were surprised at how well they managed to sense each other’s energy – despite the distance. The Connected Studio System was born.
We began to be concerned about how our travel was impacting the environment and developed a strategy for reducing the amount of travel involved in working internationally, developing systems that use technology to reduce the need for a full company of artists to make the journey to perform. We found that working with artists who are local to the venue can produce stronger connections with communities and initiate partnerships between artists and venues, creating a more meaningful legacy to our projects.
Fast-forward to 2020. Coronavirus hits and countries close their borders. It is no longer possible to travel to other countries to work. We are halfway through a major project initiated by Dansinitiativet in Sweden, planning to create new short dance works in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia, and then tour them to each partner’s city. All of a sudden this is no longer possible and we need to rethink the project from the ground up. This process is outlined in an article we wrote for Dance Info Finland.
Back in 2021, when Finland seemed to be emerging from the grip of the pandemic into a post-viral reality. We saw it as an opportunity to continue using the connected studios to work internationally without travelling. It opens up so many more possibilities for borderless collaboration. Presenting Out Of Urgency to an international audience showed us that remote performance does not always have to be a compromise, that there is massive creative potential in making and performing work like this.
The next stage in the development of the Connected Studio System involved using it in Oulu Dance Hacks in 2021 and 2022, and an extended period of research with a collective of performers in Kazan, Tatarstan. TaikaBox were initially connected with ALIF collective as part of an initiative by Dance Info Finland and met together online once or twice a week.
The outcomes were a short film and a performance at SMENA book festival in Kazan, with plans for more collaboration curtailed by the outbreak of war in Ukraine.