Dance Goes Interactive with ZviDance

Do you know when you go to a dance concert — or any formal performance — and they ask you to turn off your phones? Well, that won’t be happening when ZviDance performs Zoom at the Aronoff Center this weekend

Jan 30, 2013 at 9:16 am

Do you know when you go to a dance concert — or any formal performance — and they ask you to turn off your phones? Well, that won’t be happening when ZviDance performs Zoom at the Aronoff Center this weekend. In fact, you’ll be encouraged not only to leave your phone on, but to use it during the performance.

Zoom marks a step outside the typical theatrical mode and experience — for both the illustrious New York City-based dance company and the audience. Call it art imitating life.

This experimental evening-length piece will be highly interactive. ZviDance Founder and Artistic Director Zvi Gotheiner invites the audience to take photos with their phones before (or during) the performance, then to email or text them to the company. The photos are compiled, then get quickly modified — often morphed — and projected, thanks to the automated technologies developed especially for this piece. In this way, the audience becomes a creative participant and collaborator.

“It would be very similar to what we usually do daily, just extended to the stage,” says Gotheiner.

Fittingly, the production was designed to be like opening links on Facebook: fragmented, jumping from one subject to another. The music — a contemporary mix meshed with an electronic score from Scott Killian — reflects this hodge-podge feel, too.

With the technical wizardry of collaborators such as Video Designer Tal Yarden, the company spent two years developing the piece. Gotheiner sought to create a nonchalant flow in real-time info sharing via cell phone.

“The technology is all there,” Gotheiner says, “But to make it accessible for the theater, to make it simple, that was not easy.”

Zoom also presents unique challenges for the dancers: They had to adapt and develop new skills.

“The dancers tend to adjust to a different kind of task,” he says. “They’re not just acrobats doing amazing things with their body, they’re also in a conversation with the audience on an entirely different level.” 

By texting with audience members, for instance, with the conversation projected in real-time.

“You send us a message, and we answer you through technology,” Gotheiner says.  

Still, there’s plenty of high-caliber dancing to be enjoyed.

“Those dancers are beautifully trained, but it’s not just the training,” Gotheiner says. “There’s a kind of naturalness to them and they are able to adapt from a task from being precise and clear to where they are able to take a phrase and are able to morph it into another direction in the theater if it’s necessary, and so on.”

Invariably, each performance is different. Gotheiner says it’s loose and democratic — and fascinating. But what happens if the audience doesn’t participate?

Gotheiner acknowledges that it may not work for everybody.

“We see it as always successful even if the audience is not willing; that means something already,” he says. “Specific communications are going on that may not be the most positive flow, but they’re happening anyway.” 

Just like life.

Contemporary Dance Theater last presented ZviDance here in January 2010 and is bringing the popular company back as part of its 40th anniversary season. CDT Founder/Artistic Director Jefferson James is also interested to see how the audience will respond, and she thinks it will be fun.

“It’s several new generations’ approach to the way they live: You go someplace, and you check in,” she says. “You kind of keep your fan base or your friends involved but you also promote what it is you’re doing.”

On a broader level, Gotheiner wants to examine whether or not we really are more connected these days… or are happier for it.

“We’re expecting technology to [instantaneously] get us connected in a way that we’re never alone,” he says. “There’s an ongoing perception of communication, in that when we are connected, we are happy. The piece is kind of bringing into question if it’s is true or not.”

At heart, dance means community; it connects people.

“Zvi is different, but there is that sense of humanity and of presenting human beings doing something that only human beings can do: dance,” James says. “And who doesn’t like beautiful movers?”

Contemporary Dance Theater presents ZVIDANCE Friday and Saturday at the Aronoff Center. More info: