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Vol. 6, No. 1: June 15, 2000

Melding Dance and Technology with Exciting Results:
A Faculty Profile of Professor Joan Karlen

by Jennifer Smith

Regular readers of TTT are already familiar with new intersections between computer technology and the arts (see the special art and design issue from December 1999). As past TTT articles have demonstrated, new technologies are changing the tools of graphic designers and design educators, and innovative programs at UW System campuses are combining various art forms with technology to create exciting new hybrids. Continuing our coverage in this vein, this month's issue profiles Professor Joan Karlen of the Department of Theatre and Dance at UW-Stevens Point.

Professor Karlen has been teaching dance at Stevens Point since 1988. Upon her arrival in Wisconsin, she was already a seasoned professional dancer who had trained at the prestigious Juilliard School and performed in New York and regionally. In 1993, while completing her graduate studies at New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study, Karlen produced, directed, and edited her first video documentary, The Creative Process: Choreographers and Visual Artists Discuss Their Work. The documentary was selected for the permanent collections of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center and NYU’s Bobst Library.

Her video training continued a few years later, in 1996, at NYU’s Tisch Film School. During a six-week video production course, Karlen completed eight field and studio projects, giving her the technical and practical experience that is the foundation of her experimentation. Also in 1996, Karlen participated in the first of four Multimedia and Dance Preservation workshops under the auspices of The Ohio State University’s Dance Program. At OSU, Karlen began exploring the issue of dance and computer aesthetics and working with a variety of technologies, including non-linear video editing, interactive CD-ROM, and computer-generated choreography. Karlen found that creating dance works specifically for the camera (as opposed to works intended primarily for the stage and a live audience) and working with technology opened up exciting new artistic possibilities, since non-linear editing and other technical devices could create effects not possible in real time and space. As Prof. Karlen puts it, "There are no time and gravity laws in video."

When asked what she wishes to accomplish artistically by combining dance and technology, Karlen commented that she sees technology as a new, additional creative form -- in essence, another medium -- for the dancer and choreographer to work in. Karlen also stated that the freedom from physical and temporal constraints she has experienced in video and CD-ROM technology has affected her live work.

A still from the CD-ROM shows the dance called "A Window Open, A Curtain Pulls Back"
Prof. Karlen's CD-ROM allows viewers to play video clips and read about her choreographic process. Here, the 1996 work A Window Opens, A Curtain Pulls Back

Professor Karlen has been sharing her work with others through a variety of means. In 1998, she presented her video dances and interactive CD-ROM at the Continents in Movement conference in Lisbon, Portugal. In September 1999, she was invited to serve as a member of the selection jury for the International Dance on Camera Festival 2000 at Lincoln Center in New York. Closer to home, she shares her work through her teaching at Stevens Point and a recent presentation given at a March 2000 Emerging Technologies Conference hosted by the UW System Distance Education Study Group. At the Emerging Technologies Conference, Karlen presented her computer generated-dances and CD-ROM to an enthusiastic audience of instructional technologists, administrators, and other faculty. She also uses this same CD-ROM -- which grew out of her Ohio State experience -- as a teaching tool in the classroom.

The CD-ROM documents her artistic progression and shows experiments that would not have been possible were it not for technology. Among the courses Karlen teaches is an interdisciplinary seminar incorporating dance, film, music, landscape painting, interior architecture, sociology, and psychology, among other fields. She plans to create a new website that will showcase her experimental works melding dance and technology.

To learn more about Professor Karlen's work as a choreographer and dancer, read her artist's statement in this issue of TTT.

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