Dance and Media Arts and Sciences Graduate Students Explore the Struggle Between Perception and Reality in Vertigo

September 24, 2013

“Vertigo,” an original choreographic and sound score by two Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts graduate students at Arizona State University, shuffles the content of consciousness, eliminates our linear perception of time and transforms the space into a responsive environment. The use of interactive media and sensing systems allows the performing bodies (dancers) to transport the surrounding environment into their perception of the experience.

The artists – Michael Krzyzaniak (composer and Media Arts and Sciences PhD student in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering) and Julie Akerly (choreographer and Interdisciplinary Digital Media and Performance MFA student in Dance) – define the performance this way: “In a state of vertigo, the internal perception of movement differs from the external perception of the experience. The dancers in ‘Vertigo’ attempt to separate the mind and body by ignoring stimuli perceived through their senses or by attempting to eliminate habitual patterns, inhibition, and the sensation of passing time from their awareness. Throughout the piece the performers will wrestle with a struggle between perception and reality.” Photo courtesy of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Download Full Image

The choreographer Julie Akerly says, “My graduate advisor is Becky Dyer, a faculty member in ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre, and ‘Vertigo’ – the performance – is created out of ‘workshops’ that I did with a pilot study group.” The original project was a blind study with somatically aware dancers using the systems that were designed for those workshops.

When Akerly first came to ASU and entered into an interdisciplinary media design and performance degree, she thought she would be making films and static projections that played behind dancers. Never did she think that she would be learning to design interactive and responsive systems that have the potential to create a real sense of interaction where not only is the dancer responding to the media, but also the media is responding to the dancer.

Akerly says, “Arts, Media and Engineering (AME) at Arizona State University has introduced me to other graduate students with similar interests and provided me with the theoretical and technological resources I need to experiment with designing interactive performances.”

Akerly and Krzyzaniak met in the AME class “Understanding Activity,” where they worked in a team with other AME students to design a performance project. They – along with Arts, Media and Engineering PhD graduate student Muharrem Yildirim – continued to work on that project beyond the class and developed "Separation: Short Range Repulsion," which premiered at Slingshot Festival in Athens, Ga., in March 2013.

Krzyzaniak – the composer – says of writing for dance performances, “At its heart, composing for dance is very similar to composing other forms of music. However, dance additionally offers the possibility of translating the aesthetic experience of improvised movement in real time. Sensors can be used to evaluate the aesthetic content of the dance as it unfolds, and that information can be used to control the aesthetic content of real-time music. In this model, the composer becomes a meta-composer. Rather than composing music that has a particular aesthetic quality, the composer builds a system that is capable of maintaining aesthetic synchrony with the dancer.”

You can see Akerly’s and Krzyzaniak’s “Vertigo” at its opening reception on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 from 7 – 8 p.m.

Oct. 2, 2013, 7- 8 p.m. 
Digital Culture Gallery 

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Felicity Snyder
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Felicity Snyder

Internship takes senior to Thailand to teach English

September 24, 2013

Editor's Note: This story is part of an ongoing series about student excellence at the university. To read more about some of ASU's outstanding students, click here.

For many, summer vacation means hanging out with friends and lying by the pool. But what if you could trade this for the opportunity to change the life of child in need?

Brett Troeger, a senior at Arizona State University in the Department of English, spent his summer in a remote Akha village in Thailand teaching young women and children how to speak English. Download Full Image

The internship was coordinated through ASU and Winnie Cain, an Arizona local, who founded the Ahka Women’s Foundation to empower the women within the Ahka village by providing them with education and health care programs that would otherwise be unavailable, due to a severe lack of finances. In fact, many Ahka girls are sold into prostitution by their families who are in desperate need of money.

To combat this harsh reality, Cain and students like Troeger dedicate their time to educating the girls so that they may secure paying jobs. For Troeger, the three-month endeavor left a lasting impact.

Upon arriving in the village, he was introduced to his host family and immediately began learning the local culture. Due to its remote location, locals have acquired a self-sustaining way of living. They grow their own crops and keep cattle as a food source. For entertainment, villagers enjoy playing soccer, something Troeger had in common as he once dreamed of playing the game professionally.

“I didn’t speak any Ahka and I was the only white person in the village, so I was almost like an outcast. Once I showed them that I could play soccer they began to respect me more. It was a great way to connect with them,” he said.

When he wasn’t playing soccer, the Indiana native spent his mornings teaching the schoolchildren. He tried to make each lesson plan fun and educational to keep the attention of the youngsters. However, Troeger says that he quickly saw a power-shift between boys and girls. After their morning lesson, the boys would leave and play games. The girls would stay to finish their schooling and then return to the village to work in the fields or do other chores.

“The girls do everything in the village. It’s amazing though, because they are so brilliant and studious. The foundation is the only opportunity they have for education and the chance of life outside of prostitution,” he said.

If his lessons were completed for the day, Troegar would often hike around and explore the land. He would also go fishing with his new friends and sit under the stars joking around. The group became so close that Troeger said he had to fight back tears when his journey ended.

“I’m definitely going back. I learned so much from them and had a great time. It was also rewarding to see them go from not speaking English to being able to tell me their name, age and things about themselves,” he said.

Now back in the United States, Troegar is working to complete his final year at ASU. He is still unsure of his exact career path, but is considering joining the Peace Corps or breaking into the travel writing business.