Motion Bank at Hochschule Mainz

Overlay of 21 versions of the solo choreography “No Time to Fly” by Deborah Hay (still image of a video), made during Motion Bank’s first phase of work with The Forsythe Company in Frankfurt. Deborah Hay later used the overlay-video as starting point for a new choreography for the Swedish Cullbergbaletten called “Figure a Sea”.

Since 2016, the research project Motion Bank has been located at Hochschule Mainz — University of Applied Sciences and is co-directed by Florian Jenett and Scott deLahunta. Together with partners worldwide, it is dedicated to researching the documentation and translation of contemporary dance practice into digital form, opening up key questions regarding the relationship between embodied and machine based knowledge forms. In cooperation with a range of partners, Motion Bank is developing low-threshold, standard-compliant open source and free systems designed for use in a variety of contexts, including dance education, creation, research and archiving. In addition to the design and development of these systems, Motion Bank is engaged in ongoing methodological research into the practice of annotation, the documentation and presentation of processes involving tacit, collaborative and embodied forms of knowledge and bringing these this into alignment with research into linked data, semantics and ontologies from information science.

Continuation of research into annotation systems and methods

Piecemaker is a web-based application originally developed by the dancer David Kern for annotating video recordings of the creation process of new works of The Forsythe Company (from 2008 to 2014), recording video and dramaturgic notes simultaneously during rehearsals and automatically linked the two. With Piecemaker additional information added to recordings goes beyond the limitations of video to capture and communicate concepts, thoughts and intentions, which often play a key role in contemporary dance. In 2017 Motion Bank was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) to investigate in the possibilities to preserve and study the extensive rehearsal archive that was created through the use of Piecemaker by The Forsythe Company. In the course of this research, Motion Bank was able to explore the unique possibilities of the material for dance research and to demonstrate solutions for long-term preservation, automated data analysis and software migration. Since Motion Bank took over the Piecemaker application in 2011 and continues to develop it today, the findings from the review of the software’s origins are supporting Motion Bank’s future research work.

Motion Bank was founded in 2010 as a research project of The Forsythe Company Frankfurt. A grant of 2.8 million by the Federal Cultural Foundation, the State Hesse and other sponsors between 2010 and 2014 provided the basis for today’s project.

During Motion Bank’s first phase (2010–2013), Piecemaker was developed further to be used in the collaborations with choreographers Deborah Hay, Jonathan Burrows & Matteo Fargion, Thomas Hauert and Bebe Miller, with the most visible implementation on Deborah Hay’s score website Using the Sky. After 2014, this version of Piecemaker (PM2) has been used to support annotation research with several Motion Bank partners such as the international choreographic centre ICK Amsterdam and the Masters program in dance education MACoDE at HfMDK Frankfurt. Since 2016, Motion Bank is updating Piecemaker to the current state-of-the-art in web technology (e.g. implementing the W3C web annotations standard), opening it up for the annotation of any kind of time based media and making it more versatile and easier to use in the dance studio.

View of Piecemaker 2, showing a video with the corresponding annotations next to it and a blank form beneath to enter new annotations.

The Motion Bank presentation system MoSys is an online platform designed to publish annotated videos on the web and combine and link it with other materials, including videos (from YouTube or Vimeo), images or texts. In that regard, one can imagine it as a kind of web-editor to create small websites. Motion Bank’s Online Scores, created to publish works of the renowned choreographers named above, form one example of how these sites can look. However, the so called “cells” of MoSys can contain and display almost anything, as well as link it to anything. Hence, MoSys enables to build complex maps and model relations of multidimensional content going beyond the two-dimensional timeline.

Currently, MoSys is being developed further with a closer integration with the next version of Piecemaker (PM3) and an intuitive user interface. It is being prepared for broad application and use with partners such as the Pina Bausch Archive and the EU-Creative-Europe project Dance On, Dream On, Pass On, which involves collaborations with Codarts Rotterdam and choreographer Jan Martens’ company GRIP. While experimental software development and user interface design tightly coupled with methodological research in the domain of dance practice lie at the core of Motion Bank’s research, these are accompanied and influenced by theoretical reflections from the field of dance studies, with contributions from the field of software studies and the digital humanities.

New team and facilities at Hochschule Mainz — University of Applied Science

Professor Florian Jenett brought Motion Bank as his research project to Hochschule Mainz in 2016. It is now part of the Institut Designlabor Gutenberg of the Communication Design Department and has joined the digital humanities network mainzed. Motion Bank is now being co-directed by Jenett and Scott deLahunta (Professor at Coventry University / UK, Senior Research Fellow at Deakin University / AU), who has been researching and testing the digital methods and interdisciplinary approaches to dance documentation, creation and study for many years and directed Motion Bank in its first phase with The Forsythe Company. His associations with artists and researchers world wide form an essential part of the Motion Bank network.

Thanks to the successful acquisition of several grants and cooperations since 2016, the Motion Bank team has grown to accommodate its current development covering various fields of research. Anton Koch an expert software developer with many years of experience in developing and running complex web applications joined the team. His expertise also supports the investigation in the potential of current and upcoming technologies for dance, experimenting with Artificial Intelligence, Motion Capture technology and Virtual and Augmented Reality. As he’s already been engaged with Motion Bank for several years and has collaborated with choreographers himself, he has a deep understanding for the demands on software development in the field of dance. Christian Hansen and Ronja Butschbacher are developing the front-end side of the Motion Bank applications, which includes the design of the user interfaces and user experience, facing a demanding challenge in terms of linking complex content and ease of use in the very special context of dance practice. David Rittershaus is a theatre and dance scholar with significant experience in the use of media technology in the field of performing arts for both documentation and artistic purposes. He is mediating between artistic practice and software development, working on the scientific analysis of the current Motion Bank research projects and contributing to the conceptualization of the actual tools and methods. To facilitate the growing team, Hochschule Mainz provided a small building for Motion Bank in the historic centre of Mainz.

Motion Bank team on the terrace of the Motion Bank facilities at Hochschule Mainz (from left to right): Florian Jenett, Scott deLahunta, Anton Koch, Ronja Butschbacher, David Rittershaus. Christian Hansen is missing. Photo: Vanessa Liebler.

Upcoming projects and research

Motion Bank is looking forward to a range of upcoming research projects and other related cooperations. Together with the Centre for Dance Research at Coventry University and the Motion.lab at Deakin University, Motion Bank is developing a concept for an International Dance Data Network (supported by the Aventis Foundation) that would support the further collection, management and sharing of dance related data (videos, annotations, documents, motion capture data) in a decentralized way. In a three-year collaboration with the sports science institute of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research, Motion Bank is exploring the possibilities of digital tools and methods in the context of dance in school education. For the #digitanz project Motion Bank is developing digital tools and researching their use within dance classes, as well as investigating the possibilities of video annotation for both the students and ethnographic approaches of the researchers. In summer 2018, Motion Bank will begin a collaboration with two other major cultural institutions of the Rhein-Main area: the art gallery Kunsthalle Mainz and the tanzmainz ensemble of the Staatstheater Mainz. A new choreography of tanzmainz and its creation process will be captured and translated into the digital realm. The choreography and the related data will then serve renowned visual artists as inspiration for the creation of new works. In a final exhibition in 2019 the choreography, the open data and the artworks will come together in the art gallery.

These are exciting times for Motion Bank with fascinating tasks and challenges and great opportunities to shape and critically reflect the impact and possibilities of digitization in a rapidly changing world. We will keep you informed.

Preview of Piecemaker 3, Workshop at Codarts (Rotterdam) in March 2018