Bruce Beasley’s Rondo Sculptures Come to Life in “Berkeley Dance Project 2016”

As UC Berkeley student dancers spin and leap onto stage this week, they will bring to life a unique collaboration, a year in the making, between sculpture, movement and technology.

Renowned sculptor and Cal alum Bruce Beasley’s Rondo series consists of large scale elegant intersecting metal rings. The five sculptures in the series were displayed on the Berkeley campus in 2013 and one piece remains permanently installed near the Mining Circle. Says Beasley of the project, “There was always a question in my mind about movement. Even though the sculptures themselves are static, there was always a little tickle saying, ‘Movement. Think about movement.’” As he watched people interact with the sculptures, he began to wonder what it might mean to make a static form move, and what would it might mean to join sculpture with performance.

Then Beasley was introduced to Theater, Dance and Performance Studies professor, choreographer and new media artist Lisa Wymore. The two began to explore creating new sensor technology that could animate the rings and allow dancers to communicate with those animations. Over the course of the past year, the dance piece “Rondo Variation” emerged, which is a highlight of Berkeley Dance Project 2016, presented April 21-30 by the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies.

In “Rondo Variation,” six dancers wear iPods built into their costumes. As the dancers move, Wymore explains, “the accelerometers in the iPods send data to a centralized computer that uses specially designed technology to map the motion data onto animated rings, which are then projected onto the back wall of the stage.” Additionally, off-stage operators track each dancer’s spatial location on the stage, sending that data to the computer and adding yet another dimension to the animation. The end result is dancers and rings communicating together through the mediums of movement and technology.

Says Beasley, “We didn’t want the rings to be a background for the dancers, nor did we want the dancers to be independent of the rings. The goal was to create a new subject: the connection between the two. Hopefully you are torn between looking at the rings and looking at the dancers, but then there comes a point when you are watching both at the same time and seeing the real relationship.”

Berkeley Dance Project 2016 also features original works by Katie Faulkner and Amara Tabor-Smith, both award-winning Bay Area dance artists and TDPS faculty members. Faulkner’s piece asks viewers to examine what happens when a community grows so much that there is no more space for its inhabitants, while Tabor-Smith’s piece draws on the Bay Area’s history of local social justice and Black Power movements. Additionally, for the first time in over fifteen years, original student choreography is featured as part of this annual program: TDPS students Heather Brown, Hesed Kim and Sebastian Hernandez present original solos.

Berkeley Dance Project 2016 opens Thursday, April 21, and continues through Saturday, April 30 at the Zellerbach Playhouse on campus. Tickets are $13-$20 and can be purchased online or at the door.  The show runs 90 minutes with one intermission.

To learn more about Berkeley Dance Project 2016, visit the event page on the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies website.

April 21, 2016