Digital dance research: movement studies, interactive analysis and digital visualisation of the dance heritage
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Surrey
Unit of AssessmentMusic, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Specialist Studies In Education
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media, Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Summary of the impact
Since 2008, three coordinated projects have interlinked expertise and
resources in Surrey's dance division (including Surrey's National Resource
Centre for Dance, NRCD, est. 1982) with the institution's technological
The aim was to enhance access, visibility and experimentation with the
dance heritage by digital means. The project has generated an online
repository for dance resources, available for the education sector. It
also led to economic benefit for the non-academic project partner, digital
design company Bullet Creative, who were able to build both their
technical skillset and their knowledge base, in order to then continue to
expand their own dance-related business portfolio. The digital archiving
expertise is also disseminated to future online archive projects.
The Digital Dance Archives (DDA) project explored innovative
engagement and dissemination mechanisms for historiographical archive
material on dance and choreography via the construction of a public
internet portal (www.dance-archives.ac.uk).
Following the extensive digitisation of NRCD resources as part of the
project, the DDA platform currently provides access to eight online dance
collections covering a range of genres and time periods extending over a
century. The site was designed to produce a platform based on visual
content, searchable by both traditional text and innovative visual search
technologies (pattern recognition), produced by the Surrey team, who
created unique algorithms that would identify poses and colour in diverse
images and mixed media. The DDA was formally launched in May 2011 at The
Place/London, attended by 70 professionals from across the world of dance,
choreographers, academics, educationalists, performers, photographers,
promoters and archivists.
The DDA's bespoke "Virtual Scrapbook" function, envisaged by the Surrey
team, was developed by web designers Bullet Creative, a key
non-academic partner across the individual project streams, who then also
interfaced the search technology to the site. The scrapbook became a
unique feature, allowing for sorting and organising archive content into
personalised selections, thereby reflecting a variety of research or
teaching aims. Thereby, an interactive tool was prototyped which supports
new dynamic research and learning experiences.
A Surrey project "Contexts, Culture and Creativity: Enriching
E-Learning in Dance (CCC-EED)" further expanded the DDA content as
well as developing Open Educational Resources for use in HE and FE
colleges and guidance for teachers in schools to aid and encourage the
archive's use in different educational settings, fostering engagement with
these aspects of cultural legacy.
The project "Visualising Motion in 3+ Dimensions" (VM3+D) (www.moveresearch.net)
further expanded the engagement with historic sources. Research combined
chronophotographic and dynamophotographic movement analysis (from
Muybridge and Marey to iWEAVE and Kinect software) with dance analysis
(Laban), exploring the common problem of representation of kinetic
dimensionality in a digital context. The project included practice-based
research, leading to choreographic performance work that rendered
geometries and spatial logics in physical form based on archival drawings
from the Rudolf Laban Archive, a key NRCD collection with content
available via DDA. Another project digitised dances and costume designs
from the Natural Movement Archive, a pioneering British barefoot dance
form from the early 20th Century. This strand of the project
created an interface of dancers' sophisticated dimensional thinking in the
kinesphere with research problems and developments in gaming, aeronautical
engineering, security technology, and other aspects of visual computing,
thereby fostering intersections of creative-artistic and scientific
The interdisciplinary research collaboration was steered by Professor
Rachel Fensham (Surrey Dance Studies until June 2012) and Dr John
Collomosse in the University's Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal
Processing. Other key dance researchers contributing to the project are Dr
Nicholas Salazar-Sutil (initially project research assistant, now Lecturer
in Dance and Media, and leading research in this area following Fensham's
departure), Dr Melissa Blanco-Borelli and as external co-investigator
Prof. Sarah Whatley (C-DARE Lab, School of Art and Design, Coventry
References to the research
Published Outputs include:
1. Fensham, Rachel, case study chapter in Transmission in Motion,
ed. Maaike Bleeker, MIT Press 2013.
2. Salazar-Sutil, Nicolas, `Rudolf Laban and Topological Movement: a
videographic analysis', in Space and Culture 16:2 (May 2013), pp.
1-20 (REF submission).
3. Salazar-Sutil, Nicolas, `Laban's Choreosophical Model: Movement
Visualisation Analysis and the Graphic Media Approach to Dance Studies',
in Dance Research. Volume 30, Nov 2012, pp. 147-168 DOI
10.3366/drs.2012.0044, ISSN 0264-2875 (REF submission).
4. Fensham, Rachel; `Choreographic Archives: the ontology of moving
images,' in Rune Gade and Gunhild Borggren, eds, Performing
Archives/Archives of Performance (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum
Press, in print).
The research was funded by three external project awards:
• AHRC Digital
Equipment and Database Enhancement for Impact (DEDEFI) Fund,
£326,000, "Cross-collection interactivity and enhanced user engagement
with dance resources", 4/2010- 11/2011.
• JISC, £125,000, "Contexts, Culture and Creativity: Enriching E-Learning
in Dance (CCC-EED)", 11/2011-1/2013.
• EPSRC (Bridging the Gap), £65,000, "Visualising Motion in 3+
Additional (internal) funding came from the Surrey-based MILES (Models
and Mathematics in Life and Social Sciences) project.
Details of the impact
The digital dance projects have started the development of technological
innovation that allows for dynamic exploration of archives in digital
format. The DDA project has begun to make a contribution to methods of
digital presentation of archives within the performing arts sector, where
expert advice is being sought from artists, companies, other archives, and
other user groups.
Evidence at this stage indicates that the system is fostering wider
public engagement with archive resources, as well as providing easily
available online resources for use in education (see access analysis below
which shows that DDA resources are beginning to be used in dance
Furthermore, the innovative dynamic technology that has emerged from the
project will be further exploited in a Heritage Lottery-funded project
"Black Dance Archives" (http://blackdancearchives.co.uk),
in conjunction with Somerset-based State of Emergency production company.
The archive aims to record and share the contribution of British black
dancers to the wider dance ecology and to Britain's cultural life and will
continue to exploit the technology and digital infrastructure created by
the Digital Dance projects so far.
The DDA not only ensures that cultural heritage is preserved, but also
offers the unique opportunity to explore and search across a variety of
archive collections, with the resultant website acting as a portal to
explore the integrated collections.
Visitors to the website are able to explore the digital archive
materials; select and compile items into personally created virtual
scrapbooks; tag and share content; play and annotate video. An example of
the participation is shown below; November 2013:
||There are 220 registered users in 21 countries; visitors have come
from 97 countries around the world, including countries in Europe,
South America, the Middle East, Africa, the Indian continent, the
Far East, and Australasia. The users typically exploring the archive
are from a range of sources. For example, by November 2013 the
make-up of the registered users was academia (49%), school teachers
(7%), Companies/Organisations (12%), and unknown (32%).
User testimony includes:
The former artistic director of Extemporary Dance Theatre stated:
"This is a fabulous resource for researchers, students and for the
artists themselves, allowing us to explore dance archives in many
Dance UK's Information and Communications Officer commented that the
"... really inspiring and holds incredible implications for dance
research and widening access to the art form."
A dance lecturer from University Campus Suffolk, commented:
"It has been particularly useful to see early footage of Laban when
introducing his movement analysis. Incredible to be able to watch the
The projects created significant impact for the non-academic project
partners in the digital industries, in particular the web design agency
Bullet Creative, based in South London. Bullet worked on several of the
stated digital dance projects and continues to work on ongoing projects
with the School. They were contracted for the DDA development and have
continued to work on the CCC-EED project and are also involved in future
developments around the DDA website.
The agency, established in 2000, benefited through the specific
engagement with dance and subject-related artistic and academic
perspectives which they gained and extended from the project. The
involvement in the projects allowed its staff to increase their knowledge
capacity in producing enhanced web design through the engagement with
Surrey. They were able to increase their subject knowledge in order to
intensify and expand their commercial portfolio of clients in the dance
sector. Bullet Creative Ltd.'s Creative Director offered the following
"Working on Digital Dance Archives has helped Bullet Creative expand in 4
key ways: Technical Knowledge, Academia, Dance, and Creativity.
Technically we have learnt new skills and, being able to work alongside
staff from University of Surrey, it has been really interesting to see
bleeding edge technologies being put to practical use. From an academic
point of view, we have found it rewarding to see how research staff work
in the National Resource Centre for Dance and the Department of Dance. In
terms of dance itself, working on DDA has crossed over with our work with
Siobhan Davies Dance and Shobana Jeyasingh Dance. We have found crossovers
from our commercial work and the DDA project. As artists ourselves, Bullet
are interested in creativity in all forms of art, we have found DDA itself
to be a great inspiration ranging from Laban sketches through to more
dance modern works."
Sources to corroborate the impact
a) Dance Archive : http://www.dance-archives.ac.uk/
b) Creative Director, Bullet Creative Ltd. Contact details
c) Former artistic director of Extemporary Dance Theatre. Contact
d) Former Information and Communications Officer at Dance UK.
Contact details provided.
e) Content Management, The Alston Studio.com, The Place, London.
Contact details provided.