Over the summer of 2020 two international teams made up of dancers, artists, technologists were incubated by Art-A-Hack, producing two breakthrough dance performances which feature live biometrics in response to lockdown.

Art-A-Hack 2020 Special Edition Covid-19 “DANCEDEMIC” premiered online on Friday August 21st as part of the 39th Annual Battery Dance Festival, which this year was fully virtual for the first time.

The two works show new possibilities of live performance within the constraints of strict lockdown due to Covid-19. Each piece highlights a unique way to embed live biometrics using open source EmotiBit devices strapped to the body.

A remote custom built streaming platform developed by eˉlektron from Tallinn, Estonia used the constraints of strict lockdown due to COVID-19 to showcase the performances. Teams of hackers worked with dancers to create interactive media which responds to the biometric data feeds as part of the livestream.

Hussein Smko and an EmotiBit biometric device
Hussein Smko and an EmotiBit biometric device

Battery Dance performers Razvan Stoian (Romania/USA) and Hussein Smko (wartime Iraq/Kurdistan/USA) strapped the custom-built EmotiBit sensors onto their bodies. The sensors measured indicators like blood oxygen, electrodermal activity, and physical location in space, among other data.

Hussein Smko still from Walk With Me
Hussein Smko still from "Walk With Me"

The majority of the collaborators had never met before. The dancers, located in the Battery Dance studios in Manhattan danced solo in front of a camera. Teams members who worked remotely live time with the dancers came from all across the continental United States, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Ukraine and India.

Stoian and his team drew upon language describing the perceptual experience of otherness. Shifting between his native tongue of Romanian and adopted speech in English, the work Hieroglyph used both interactive visuals and audio to evoke the tension of moving through unfamiliar landscapes, both literal and perceptual.

Razvan Stoain still from Hieroglyph
Razvan Stoain still from "Hieroglyph"

The choreography was a study in contrasts: turbulence and calm, dark and light, highlighting reflections of inner and outer worlds. Data collected from the EmotiBit on Stoian’s finger measured his blood oxygen and muscle tension. That data changed the color, size, speed, and sound of the cascade of graphically generated words and interactivity of his body on the screen with those words.

Smko’s team presented Walk With Me, an individual’s journey about finding mental strength and resilience in the face of adversity and chaos. Smko’s memories of growing up in wartime Iraqi Kurdistan formed the backbone of the piece. He also embodied the practice of a Ronin (a masterless Samurai) where, no matter the situation, one must find calmness from within and stay grounded.

The biometrics read by the EmotiBit worn on his forehead were represented visually in the form of changing multi-colored strokes that surrounded his body throughout the duration of the performance.