Collaborative research networks and grids for dance research in Japan

In This Article

Introduction

In 2000 there were already several networked communities for dance research in Western countries but none in Japan. Over the last three years, I have worked to construct an interdisciplinary and networked community for dance research in Japan. The Japanese Society for Dance Research was launched in 1975, but because the Japanese education system viewed dance as either part of physical education or general arts, its autonomy in terms of a network was not considered.

In 2000 I established a website to facilitate a network structure for dance researchers in Japan. The website features archives of information including URLs, CFPs, and performance calendars. I wanted to create a digital environment for Japanese dance professionals and researchers, and to introduce digital products such as LabanWriter, as developed by Ohio University.

I have also been managing the Japanese Society for Dance Research website where I organised the Association for Dance and Performance Telematics, which helped the Dance and Technologies Branch of the Japanese Society of Dance Research. There are three grids of research networks; Tokyo area, Kyoto area and Tohoku area, in 2004. The outcomes of these grids will appear as Telematic Projects.

Background

Within the field of dance research there is sociology, anthropology, physical education and so on. There are many disciplines and many professions, all interconnected. Rose Lee Goldberg, known for her study of performance art, said the field of performance consists of music, dance and art. These fields are interconnected. Ted Nelson proposed the concept, 'Hypertext'. In his childhood, he played with water. By moving his hand in water, he felt the worlds interconnect. That was the beginning of his concept, 'Hypertext'.

In 1995, Carl Wolz indicated the necessity of cross-cultural research networks and predicted a computer-based research network for dance research. (Wolz 1995). As Wolz indicated, we need to build up research grids in the field of dance research.

For years, there have not been any interdisciplinary networks in the field of dance research in Japan. In Western countries, there are several online research communities in this field. I had been constructing interdisciplinary networks. In 2000, I proposed an interdisciplinary research network as solution to the many sub-divisions in dance research, which is made from a website and a discussion group.

Digital culture in Japan and Japanese dance research

Japan lags behind other countries in Asia in the development of digital culture through networks. Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea all have better environments. Why this should be so is not clear, since in other ways, Japan is a leader among Asian nations in digital culture. For example, Nuasoft web design,hosting and marketing http://www.nua.ie/surveys/how_many_online/index.html

In the Japanese digital culture, users like to use personal devices, such as cellular phones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). Japanese popular culture, such as Japanese animation, has a strong influence on other Asian countries. In the field of animation, computer graphics support the animation and they are very influential among Asian countries.

In the field of dance research, however, artists and researchers have not been interested in digital technologies for years and they did not connect with each other via the internet until the beginning of this century. In the field of music, artists and researchers have been connected for years and have been developing computer music throughout that period of time. In digital art, the fields of computer music and computer graphics have likewise had a networked community for years in Japan, although also without a widespread network of associations.

While music is a clearly defined field and has had a four-hundred-year history, dance is harder to define. While musicians have developed standardised notation for putting music into writing, dance has not met that challenge effectively. The attempts are notable. For example, Rudolf von Laban succeeded in inventing dance notation. But it is only recently, at the end of last century, that Labanotation and Notation Engineering got connected to each other. It was only then that computer science and dance research were able to be reconciled.

These days, video dance is developing among young dancers. But the topic, Dance and Technologies, is hard to develop. The technologies for dance were mostly imported from Western countries. Some famous video game companies, like Nintendo and SEGA, had their original technologies in this field.

Constructing interdisciplinary network: dance mailing list/Japan-DanceQuest

Since 2000, while I have been developing and constructing a network (as a volunteer) to establish an interdisciplinary network, other similar websites have appeared. Moderating a network is not unlike editing a magazine. Moderations of these websites, either paid or voluntary have a simple form-step process to follow:

  • Sending advertising messages
  • Making hyperlinks
  • Archiving information
  • Assuring free access

I was able to carry out these steps, checking the work of many fields with the support of search engines. With the support of free mail service, this work has been organized. In the 1990's it was very difficult to manage computer systems for end-users. At the end of the 90's with the support of an advertising agency, some free services appeared. With this system, users can manage the discussion groups easily.

Then I produced one webpage with very simple interface as a staring point. Dance Mailing List/Japan DanceQuest: http://web.sfc.keio.ac.jp/~yukihiko/danceml.html (in Japanese).

Data from the interdisciplinary network

Quantitative analysis of digital media is difficult, and one important key to analysing digital media is the traffic of messages. There are over 300 users in the interdisciplinary network. The users of the network are spread very wide, from Sado island (Japan’s westernmost island) to the Northern Area. From outside Japan, users access the network from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Some dancers check the network to follow their company’s tour overseas.

Diagram showing activity on the site. The users of the interdisciplinary network come from different professions, especially dancers themselves, including star dancers, researchers, organisers and fans.

Traffic averages between two mails per day and one mail every other day. In discussion, each message elicits, on average, two to three replies. About 60% of all messages are announcements of workshops, lectures, and performances. Most of the professional dancers in this group belong to the field of contemporary dance, and sharing different information among different professions is important.

As a moderator, it is important to share and match information with the user’s interests. A volunteer team was organised and began to support this network. The team tried to solve the problems in interdisciplinary networks. As one solution, the team produced Graphical User Interface (GUI) of the network. I was able to work full-time for the network because of their support. Volunteers are essential to network communities. The origin of these ideas came from ARPAnet, the forerunner of the internet, a legend of networking in the 20th century. Now, in 2004, Linux and Freeware are effective.

Before the team set up that GUI interface to this interdisciplinary network in December 2001, the traffic was huge. After setting GUI interface, the traffic decreased because many users found answers when they accessed GUI interface. Before December 2001, users got more than two mails a day. With GUI Interface, user inquiries were halved.

Now there are over 300 users in this network who are accessing information freely from GUI Interface. There are about 100 hits a day. The log of this network, which has been archived for more than three years now, provides important data for the Japanese dance world.

Benefits of an interdisciplinary network

Since establishing this widespread network in the Japanese dance world, everyone who has an interest in dance has been able to access the website freely. Some editors and their publishers hope now to publish annual reports of the interdisciplinary network.

When the Martha Graham Dance Company experienced controversy about copyright, and there was talk of preventing the company from performing in March 2000, principal dancer, Miki Orihara and I, released a petition on the internet. If the company did not legally hold the copyright for Graham’s works, they could not perform her dances and the work would soon be lost. No official organisations or universities were campaigning for the right for Graham's company to perform her choreographies and to use her specific technique to teach them. There were several magazines and newspapers which came to Graham’s aid in Western countries, but in Japan, only one newspaper wrote a very short article so my online petition was the only real case of support.

Yoko Inomata, a dancer with the Star Dancers Ballet Company, wrote a petition for funding support for the company. Star Dancers Ballet Company took pains to fund-raise. Ms. Inomata proposed to write a petition in support for that, and this was the first such case in Japan.

These two petitions had an impact on the Japanese dance world. The internet was giving dancers the opportunity to express themselves and to really be heard. In Japan there is no dancers’ union. Influenced in a large part by this newactivity, the Japan Council of Performers’ Organization began to start the following project.

A member of this interdisciplinary network, asked me to became involved in a mission—“mission collaboration”. There had been very little information available about protecting a performer’s body, for example. The website was able to provide a list of links to sites with valuable information on dance medicine and dance injury rpevention.

They showed interest in my work and we have started to work to establish a real network and a digital environment to help prevent performers’ bodily injury. In addition, the research and artist community created a data format in this field. It was necessary to arrange a data format for the human body. Since releasing a ‘Call For Participation’, researchers in many fields have gathered and begun to collaborate. Some of them are working in Robot Studies and are building a robot for the purposes of dance research.

From the point of view of Hypertext, we can share much information in many fields. Even in dance research, from text to motion captured body image, there are many kinds of information under many disciplines in the field of Dance Research. The original Hypertext project, Project Xanadu, can be found at: /www.xanadu.net/

In the tradition of Rudolf von Laban, dancers are known as “artist researchers.” We integrate many fields and knowledge in each field by using digital environments.

Japanese society for dance research and research grids in Japan

While constructing the interdisciplinary network, I began work as an administrator for the Japanese Society for Dance Research, and Carl Wolz asked me to work for the World Dance Alliance (WDA)–Asia Pacific Research & Documentation Network. I applied my experience when I designed the website for the Japanese Society for Dance Research.

The difficult point in constructing networks comes at the beginning. It takes time to learn the lifestyle and communication style of a networked community. But now, this network works very well, and successfully produced an image archive of The Second Japan-Korea International Dance Research Symposium.

Last year, the concept of a Research Grid was proposed by Miki Wakamatsu. There are three research grids in Japan: Tokyo Area, Kansai Area by Ritsumeikan University and Tohoku area by Warabi-za.

Ritsumeikan University has the best motion capture system in Japan. Warabi-za is known as their traditional folk dance. They are one of the few companies which have motion capture system in Japan. I am working as the leader of Tokyo Area — Association for Dance Performance Telematics Tokyo Section.

There are four kinds of grids: Computational Grid, Data Grid, Business Grid and Web service. Of these concepts, Data Grid will be an important keyword. By integrating digital contents on the internet, we will search for the resources like meta-databases in the near future. Web service is part of grid computing. But grid computing is not web services. For grid computing, we have to find our common research mission. [email protected] is wide-known project which is based on grid computing. They have a common research mission to find SETI by using computational grid. It will be important for us to construct an original mission among us and this process will need support from of the tertiary instiutions.

Japan Contemporary Dance Network (JCDN) is very well-known in the Japanese dance world and it is the first producers’ network. Mainly they produce Butoh performances and Japanese contemporary dance. Dance Forum was established last year (2003) as a researcher and dancers’ network. The Contemporary Dance Association of Japan has its own network whos main focus is on modern dance. Traditionally, they have their own network and research division. If these networks are disparate and do not collaborate, the networks come to nothing. So I feel that each network should collaborate.

Dance researchers have been changing their research methods as new technologies develop. Researchers from humanities and social sciences used collaborate in a project and create contents. Researchers from information science work with a network-based research style. By their activity, a new research style will be created. Now, one researcher can have at least one archive. Then, researchers can work in parallel fields. For example, a dance researcher in Cultural Studies, should understand the field of Documentation and Information Technologies.

For activity on digital networks, “network governance” is the first key concept. They mainly take ideas from network industries. Open Source is one of famous ways to produce products. For example, Japanese robots are popular in western countries. OpenPINO is the project which adapted this idea to developing humanoid. PINO’s flanked robot, POSY danced with a Japanese top ballet dancer. Voluntary action will be next key to develop projects. As moderator, I receive many petitions, not all from the dance world. These petitions call for voluntary action.

We should find the best idea for everyone as voluntary action. If we make a more powerful research grid, this will be an important concept for researchers and artists.
The second keyword/phrase is “studies on common basis”. Artists and researchers should change their understandings of network, archives, and databases. They are not only technological subjects—they are a common basis of our activity. Artists should have their own field of study, but they should work with these studies on a ‘common’ basis.

The third keyword is “coordination”. With the support of digital technologies, we can coordinate ideas and people from different fields. Dance research embraces a number of interdisciplinary fields which are interconnected with each other like Hypertext. We should coordinate ideas and people in the same grids and networks.

Conclusion

In the 1990’s there were a number of classic works in the field of dance and technologies, such as the works of Scott Fisher and William Forsythe. But we need to produce more outcomes and keep constructing networks. In short, as I changed the Japanese dance world by working three years as a volunteer, we were able to establish an interdisciplinary collaborative research network by seeking out transcultural and transnational solutions in ideas and methods. Every environment is different and such work must expand and grow.

These three concepts are important to create research grids in the dance world. By the support of middle-ware for grid computing, it will be developed. In this field, the process is not idealistic. We need to construct networks and grids from our experience. If we propose the projects across nations, networks and grids will be a powerful base. If we exchange ideas and information on this new field, it will develop the dance world.

References

  • Wolz,C. 1995, ‘Dance at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and Some Thoughts on International Networking’, in Solomon R. & Solomon J.,(eds)͆ East Meets West in Dance Voices in the Cross-Cultural Dialogue, Harwood academic publishers GmbH. p.99–117
  • Cyber Atlas Internet–How many online: http://www.nua.ie/surveys/how_many_online/index.html
  • Dance Mailing List Japan: web.sfc.keio.ac.jp/~yukihiko/danceml.html
  • Japanese Society for Dance Research: http://www.danceresearch.ac/
  • Project Xanadu: http://www.xanadu.net/
  • Association for Dance Performance Telematics Tokyo Section: web.sfc.keio.ac.jp/~yukihiko/adaptjp.html
  • Yasuda.Yuki. 2001 JISSEN Network Bunseki (Practical Social Network Analysis).Tokyo:Shinyo-sha.
  • OpenPINO http://www.openpino.org/