Q & A: Daniel Belton on combining his love for dance and film. — 13.06.18

We caught up with Laureate Daniel Belton to talk technology and combining film and dance.

OUTDOOR DANCE CINEMA with live dance
FRI 29 & SAT 30 JUNE / 7PM – 10PM (free to public)
Te Papa Promenade Ahi Kā - Matariki Ki Poneke, Wellington

We are looking forward to seeing ‘OneOne’ when it comes to the Wellington waterfront for Matariki on the 29-30 June. Could you tell us about how this work came about?

OneOne had been attracting attention at the Prague Quadrennial and World Stage Design Festival in Taipei. Designer Stuart Foster was integral to both those installations, and so we started talking with Linda Lim from DANZ about bringing OneOne outdoors to Te Papa for Matariki. Stu conceived the water stage idea and we chose the site, then WCC came on board and we had a timely green light from Creative NZ. It's a great team behind this edition of the project - including Streamliner, Goldfish Creative and NZSD graduate dance artist Jill Goh. We are all excited about the potential to connect OneOne with the people of Wellington at this significant time of year. OneOne is free to public on the 29th and 30th June 7-10pm, running in 25-minute loop cycles (folks will find it by walking along Te Papa Promenade).

For your installations, do you find the location that your work is placed effects or changes the work? I read that the dance element of ‘OneOne’ will be performed on a specially constructed water stage for the performances on the Wellington waterfront.

Yes, it really does. Last year we created AXIS - anatomy of space - a world first for contemporary dance film in full dome format and 5.1 surround sound, with guest artists from Singapore. This project pushed us to develop a new approach to capturing and projecting digital dance - we created a 360 immersive cinema environment for projection and choir. By contrast in 2015, we mapped Soma Songs, with a fleet of 10x21K wireless projectors onto DOKK1 for Aarhus Festival in Denmark. On this big scale, the form of the architecture is key to determining a successful design for the work. We have also installed projects as interactive museum exhibits, expanded cinema, for found spaces, theatres and media facades. Each location opens a dialogue with the space, the history of that place and the people who are there. 

With OneOne in Wellington, we project outdoors and a custom built water stage will support our live dancer. It is the first time OneOne has been on this scale in a public setting. The new design for the film emphasises our connection to the stars and promotes the idea of a great Celestial Waka for Matariki.

AXIS by Daniel Belton

Your work often intersects dance, technology and film. What interests and excites you about using these mediums? Are there any new technologies you are currently exploring?

In Miyazaki's recent film The Wind Rises, Giovanni Caproni says "Inspiration is more important than scale. Inspiration unlocks the future, technology eventually catches up". I like this statement! 

I am very interested in new technologies - technologies that support us to live better lives without detriment to the planet and our co-habitors. It is through our being and doing, our sharing and our stories that civilisations evolve and that we affirm a greater sense of belonging, together. A dance will also do that, anywhere, anytime, and for anyone - that is the power of dance; dance is a universal language. 

How did you decide to become a choreographer and a film-maker?

It was a natural progression - my work as a professional dancer and ongoing visual arts practice led me to choreography and film. I have always choreographed dance as a painter paints - the stage and screen are my canvas. When I make dances I am thinking about the rhythm of the space, the texture and pulse, and about the spaces in-between. I had to make a tough decision when I was 18 - whether to study at Arts School in Canterbury or the New Zealand School of Dance. All these years later I am combining both of my passions.

Composition in relation to the human figure is fundamental to how I create. The design and aesthetic of any project are very important - which is why I make models and maquettes to test the ideas before enlarging them. I do think of dance as kinetic sculpture and the theatre or screen as an access point to the kaleidoscope of energy that is the human in motion. People have called my work "cinematic paintings".

[Pictured: Daniel Belton, left, with Arts Fission director Angela Liong and collaborators for their 8 Immortals project - Joyce Beetuan Koh (composer), Jen Ehr (writer/poet), and Jeremy Chua (producer).]

Do you have any key subjects that you often return to explore in your work?

We know that space is charged with energies and contains particles of very real matter. Our relationship to Nature, to natural space, to each other and to the environments we live in are thematics that repeat and recycle in my work. Human beings are standing wave patterns of energy - we are complex harmonics - our bodies seem solid, but from another frequency, we might look like filaments of light transmitting as energy fields. Ultimately our physical bodies are the products of wave actions in space. Space is porous, biomorphic. 

The digital space enables us to expand ideas around balance and dimension. As a choreographer and filmmaker I look to shift perception of the moving body when it interfaces with architecture and audiovisual technologies. When we project film on a building the aim is not only to embody the facade as a stage but to re-frame the structure so that the surface of the building becomes a new choreographic instrument. The material of the wall is a membrane that is brought to life through the happening of projected light. The facade is an invitation space for the imagination. 

What are you working on at the moment?

Good Company Arts is developing projects between New Zealand and Singapore, Australia, Taipei and China. Right now we are mastering the film files for our Wellington gig with OneOne, and we are preparing to bring projects to Dunedin Arts Festival and Tempo Dance Festival in spring this year. We are also initiating a new dance and VR project with exciting Asian-NZ partnerships. I am collaborating with Arts Fission Company in Singapore towards their new project drawing inspiration from the Chinese legendary 8 Immortals.

Watch video extracts from OneOne:

https://vimeo.com/276396974

https://vimeo.com/275995698