Thanks to both America’s Got Talent and Britain’s Got Talent, dance group Another Kind of Blue became a household name. Their stirring dance performances incorporate moving projections in a way that creates exciting illusions and helps viewers to understand the moving stories. Another Kind of Blue is currently touring their mixed bill, Flirt with Reality. In this interview, choreographic mastermind David Middendorp takes some time to chat with Dance Dispatches about their new show and how technology plays a role in his dance pieces.
Another Kind of Blue Interview
Hello David. Thank you so much time for taking the time to speak with us, as you’re preparing to tour your Flirt with Reality show in London!
Can you tell us how has appearing on Britain’s Got Talent and America’s Got Talent affected your creative journey?
I first worked at quite a small theatre here in the Netherlands called the Korzo Theatre. [Here,] I was given free reign to do whatever I wanted artistically, but on the other hand I was limited by a very tight budget. And then I got this phone call from a lady from America’s Got Talent, who had seen my work on Youtube, asking me if I wanted to perform my work on their show.
I had my doubts initially as I was afraid my work and message would be compromised, but in the end I greatly enjoyed the experience [on America’s Got Talent] far more than I thought I would.– David Middendorp, Another Kind of Blue
… I really enjoyed the experience; I think it encouraged me to continue to make pieces that are very accessible for a broad audience.
The filming for television essentially turned your performances into a screen dance for millions of viewers at home. What do you feel the audience gains from viewing your work in person, and would you consider filming dance specifically for screens?
They both have their own merits, but I think seeing the performance live is a far more personal and powerful way of seeing it. For me it’s not really interesting to just put technology or a screen on stage – what I want to show is the relationship between people and technology.
I also believe that this works well as a recording, and that is why it did well on the show. But ideally you should see the piece live so you can see the duet between man and technology. I think the closer you are to both of them, the more you can gain from them, and the more it becomes a collaboration.
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Did you find it more challenging to create digestible narrative pieces for the talent shows or to create five longer pieces for your Flirt with Reality show?
The shorter narrative pieces are definitely more challenging. It’s very tricky to say something within a two minute timeframe that doesn’t fall prey to formulaic ‘cool’ tricks and instead make something that is entirely unique and one’s own. Sometimes I succeed, other times I don’t, but I always enjoy trying to solve the puzzle.
I think it is definitely harder to win over people who are not a natural dance audience. Which is why I use technology to draw people into it. Once they take that first step, they usually gain something from the experience.
Dance is a language that is not so woven into our culture like say music is, so it takes time to understand that language and derive something from it on an emotional level. And I think using technology can help with that process.
Of course [technology] can also compete with dance for attention, and finding that balance is the great challenge for me.– David Middendorp, Another Kind of Blue
The incredible video sets that you project on stage give viewers much more information than lighting changes and props alone. This makes narrative pieces easier for audiences to digest. How do you feel about incorporating technology into more abstract pieces?
Flirt with Reality has a diverse range of pieces that range from quite abstract to really narrative, [so I have created] more abstract pieces. I do want to find a balance of work, [and] I think I’ve achieved that in this program.
Some pieces ask a bit more from the viewer, and you really have to take your time and let it happen. There are others that are much easier to access and have a narrative, where I’ve used technology to tell the narrative – but I’ve also made pieces where technology is more the main subject.
I would say Game Engine and Airman are more abstract pieces. Game Engine is a piece where we use black and white blocks to build an abstract computer; the blocks can turn and in that way they can make [forms]. These bits influence the dancers. I would say it’s a reasonably abstract piece.
Airman is a duet with a cloud of drones that can take any shape… At some moments they are completely abstract shapes and at others complete recognizable shapes. I definitely try to use technology in an abstract way but still in a way that people can relate to it.
I think there is a fine line between using technology artistically and in a way that may appear gimmicky. How do you navigate this in your choreography?
It’s true; it is indeed a fine line. Part of my work is to research that line. I do think dance and technology have been in a good marriage for a very long time. Basically if you take all technology away from dance, it probably means you are dancing somewhere naked and in the dark. So I think technology and dance belong together.
But the amount put into it is more intense for me and my company because I personally find it the most fascinating question facing our culture today. Often people will think technology is something cold and distant and far away, but I think it’s the thing that literally made our homes, dressed us, made our clothes, our food, brought us to the place we work. I think its very much part of us… [It’s] an ever evolving quest to find the right balance between these two forces.
Ha! Dance without technology would indeed leave us all dancing in the dark – or perhaps by a campfire…
Your dancers perform lots of floorwork to create interesting illusion with your floor projections. What kind of training do they do to prepare for this?
Most of our dancers have solid backgrounds in ballet and modern dance. We do modern quite a lot when we are working on counter technique. Most of them … have worked a lot with floor work and modern dance styles. [That experience is] definitely something I look for when choosing dancers.[It is also important that dancers] are open to working with me. Sometimes there are periods where we are mainly researching [new concepts] to see what happens, ad often things don’t work. So people have to be really open, patient and willing to play around with new ideas, which need time to develop and can often fail.
… [The dancers also] have to be really spatially aware. Of course, any dancer has to master this skill, but it is an especially important part of the performance when the projections are interactive.
Another Kind of Blue is at the forefront of weaving technology into dance. How do you think your company will continue to define and differentiate yourselves, as more artists move into the same creative space?
I do hope and believe that we have a little bit of a unique position in the dance world because I am very interested in both dance and technology. I used to be a dancer and I am also a digital designer. When I work with technology I am completely hands-on, I spend months sometimes years on end learning how something works; I really like to build.
I think for now at least, it is really unique to have somebody who does both the technical side and has a background in dance. How that will go in the future, I don’t know. I still have lots of exciting plans that I want to achieve and work on. But I welcome other like-minded creators to the party and I look forward to learning from each other.
Thank you so much for sharing your unique creative perspective on the marriage of dance and technology. We really enjoyed learning about your journey with Another Kind of Blue and your choreographic philosophy. We also look forward to catching your Flirt with Reality show in London next week!
Another Kind of Blue Flirt with Reality Show Details: London
Show Dates: 9 Jul – 14 Jul 2019
Show Times: Tue – Sat at 7.30pm | Sat at 2.30pm | Sun at 4pm
Price: £18 – £40
Theatre: The Peacock (a Sadler Well’s venue)
Address: Portugal Street, Holborn, WC2A 2HT, London
Nearest tube station(s): Holborn, Covent Garden, Temple
Ticket office phone number: +44 2078 638222
You can also view upcoming shows and book tickets through their website:
Did you see Another Kind of Blue on America’s Got Talent or Britain’s Got Talent? Which performance do you think is the most memorable? Tell us all about it in the comments section below!