How technology takes Japanese artist Hiroaki Umeda in new directions

Multimedia artist, in Hong Kong for workshop with local performers, demonstrates how to add extra dimension to a show through technology such as a sensor to turn movement into images

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 June, 2016, 5:18pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 June, 2016, 8:57am

Adapting technology to dance is how Hiroaki Umeda adds layers to his choreography and performances. “As a [creator], technology can take you in another direction easily,” the Japanese multimedia artist says.

Umeda is in Hong Kong to lead a five-day exchange workshop organised by the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA). At the workshop, a performer has a body sensor attached to his back that detects the speed of his body movement. The data is transmitted to a laptop, which generates something like a pulsation of an irregular human heartbeat on the screen, which is then projected onto a wall. The visual representation helps viewers to “see” something as ephemeral as rhythm and action.

Things don’t always turn out the way Umeda intends, though, and can be a mess when he tries some technology. “I have to use the technology I need,” he says.

On June 25 , audiences will be able to learn about the process of this artistic collaboration between Umeda and local artists in a public forum to be held at the City University of Hong Kong’s Creative Media Centre in Kowloon Tong.

This is Umeda’s first visit in Hong Kong and he says he is enjoying working with the dozen participating Hong Kong dance and multimedia artists, including Keith Lam, Daniel Yeung Chun-kwong, Max Lee and Koala Yip.

“I’m Japanese but I don’t know much about Asia. I want to discover and understand the Asian countries,” says Umeda, 39, who has spent the better part of his career performing and choreographing in Europe and the United States.

He started dancing late – when he was 20 – and has dabbled in a variety of genres, including ballet and hip-hop. His big break came after he stopped taking dance classes and started to develop his own signature performing style. He set up his own dance company, S20, in 2000. Since then he’s been alternating his role as a choreographer-dancer, visual artist, composer, and light and sound designer.

His solo works, such as Adapting for Distortion (2008), Haptic (2008) and split flow (2013), were performed at some of the world’s major dance festivals and theatres, including the Festival d’Automne and Pompidou Centre in Paris, The Barbican Centre in London and Sydney Opera House.

One of his most successful pieces, Holistic Strata, which the artist refers to as a “kinetic installation”, successfully blurs the boundary between dance and visual art.

WATCH an excerpt from Holistic Strata

Umeda is not passionate about dance on its own, but believes technology provides opportunities for artistic expression. To him, technology opens doors for connecting different media elements like sound, video and lighting.

His interest in multimedia work can be traced back to the time he first studied photography at Nihon University in Tokyo in the late 1990s.

Anna Chan Chung-ying, the head of artistic development (dance) at the WKCDA, has been fascinated by Umeda’s diverse repertoire for several years, and the two have met a couple of times over the past two years.

Asked what she thinks of the collaboration between Umeda and the Hong Kong artists, Chan says: “I’d rather say it’s a partnership; even in that relationship someone is leading a bit more, and there are always people who want to follow, but they also contribute.”

Follow this link to register for the June 25 forum.