Universal Everything: Presence

The International Art Collective Enlists Benjamin Millepied for a Digitally Abstracted Performance

“I found that myself and Benjamin Millepied had a shared motivation for breaking conventions, being inventive with technologies and finding new ways to represent the human form,” says Universal Everything-founder Matt Pyke, introducing today’s audio-visual performance he created with the renowned French choreographer and founding director of the vanguard LA Dance Project. Entitled Presence, Pyke’s digital art studio’s latest collaboration explores the intersection of human movement and computer coding, creating a CGI graphic flourish. It’s a pulsating film with bursts of color—“alive with primal expressions of gestural drawing and choreography,” says Pyke. Universal Everything’s grand installations have appeared in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and La Gaite Lyrique in Paris. The work is often partnered with sound composed by Matt’s brother Simon Pyke, as in today’s film, which forms part of the immersive, architectural installation Universal Everything & You, the inaugural exhibition of the London Science Museum’s new Media Space. “We had the dancers think about the multiple sculptures their bodies create as they move, and how these represent the music, the same rhythmic pulse,” explains Pyke of the way Nathan Makolandra and Julia Eichten reacted to the tribal-influenced electronic score as they were motion-captured for the piece. “There is a delicate balance in finding movements which feel alive, not synthetic. This point of tension is where the magic happens.”

Universal Everything & You runs at the Science Museum's Media Space, London from September 21 through February 7.

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    Io Echo: Eye Father

    Benjamin Millepied Directs a Kabuki-Inspired Collaboration with the Dark Pop Duo

    A lone kabuki dancer performs against an urban tableau wearing full kumadori makeup in choreographer Benjamin Millepied's video for the Io Echo track “Eye Father.” Since meeting at a party and bonding over masochism and The Velvet Underground, Washington D.C.-native Ioanna Gika and her London-born partner in crime Leopold Ross have scored films for Harmony Korine, toured with Florence and the Machine and opened for Nine Inch Nails’ last-ever show. In “Eye Father,” Io Echo’s koto harp, hazy guitars and ethereal vocals are visualized in the vivid palette of classical Japanese theater. “Kabuki sets are so beautiful and rich in color, I wanted to find urban spaces with that quality,” explains director Millepied, who shot the film at a number of scenic Hollywood spots, including Los Angeles Harbor and a SoCal supermarket. “It looked like we were in rural China, but we were in this all-American urban landscape.” The cultural mash-up resonates well with Io Echo’s own penchant for mixing musical influences. “We’re interested in the sound and aesthetic of Asian cultures, but we’re not trying to emulate it literally,” Gika explains. “You can listen to our songs and imagine a Far Eastern forest, but ours is infused with purple smoke and twisted willows.” Currently in the finishing stages of Io Echo’s debut album, Gika shares the dreams that inspire the work, and a custom haiku. 

    What was on the stereo when you were growing up?
    Ioanna Gika:
    Enya, Vangelis, chant, classical and new age. 

    Favorite new band?
    Haleek Maul, a teenage rapper from Barbados.

    Dreams: black and white or Technicolor? 
    IG: Technicolor. Once the sky was so blue I was terrified.

    Collaboration fantasy?
    IG: Kofi Annan or Philip Glass.

    Favorite Japanese restaurant in LA?
    IG: Sushi Ike––they do a great fresh octopus.

    Write us a haiku?
    IG: Wrote haikus all day
    and apparently I am
    still writing haikus.

    Click here for Io Echo and Benjamin Millepied's second video collaboration, plus a chat with Leopold Ross.

    Vote for your favorite film from this double bill on the NOWNESS Facebook page.  

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    Lil Buck: Aria

    Benjamin Millepied Hails the Dancer’s Mastery in Part Two of Our Jookin’ Double Bill

    French ballet dancer and Black Swan choreographer Benjamin Millepied captures the freeform movement of rising dance star Lil Buck in his new short. Set to an electric guitar rendition of Bach’s 1741 “Aria” from the Goldberg Variations, performed by Millepied’s brother Laurent, the film showcases the richness of Jookin’ as a dance form and Buck’s ability to navigate different melodies and rhythms. While shooting another film together, Bacchanale, the classically trained Millepied invited Buck to collaborate on the unscripted piece, shot over an afternoon and evening against the backdrop of downtown Los Angeles. Millepied played “Aria” to Buck in the car on the way to the location, before allowing the Memphis native the freedom to simply improvise on the street. “He knew the mood, and improvised in a naturalistic manner,” says Millepied, who has previously worked with the likes of David Lang, Nico Muhly, Thierry Escaich and Philip Glass. Leading his own dance troupe called the New Styles Krew, Buck sprang to fame through a series of viral videos to perform with Madonna at the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show and feature on her new MDNA tour. “Lil Buck's dancing embraces all styles. He does steps that can be baroque, Indian or Russian, without ever having been exposed to those styles. There's a complete physical freedom in his body,” says Millepied. “Buck makes me want to dance. He opens doors to my imagination.” Here the rubber-limbed Buck shares his discovery of carpet-gliding moves and the rib-tickling joys of touring with Madonna.

    How did you first get into ballet?
    A hip-hop choreographer who was teaching me introduced me to ballet. She saw some of my movements as being similar to ballet and got me a scholarship to train in it. I was always an open-minded kid when it came to dance. I saw something that I thought could help me out in my own dance style.

    What was your first experience of Jookin’?
    There was a guy named Harlan Bobo who I saw at a place called the Crystal Palace Skating Rink in Memphis. He was gliding across the carpet like Michael Jackson, but better. Everyone was looking at him in amazement and I'd never seen anything like it. It was the first time I had ever come across it. From then on I knew that that was what I had to do, I was about 12 years old.

    Where do you find your inspiration?
    Back in Memphis it really was about the other dancers. Jookin’ was the only dance style that we had that was original. It was started there and it was our own. So we just learned from watching each other, I learned from the other people we saw. Watching my fellow Jookers, my peers and learning from the original people.

    Do you preconceive what you're going to do or is it improvised?

    It is genuinely spontaneous. I like to act in the moment, that is kind of how my life is. Quite often I am dancing to something I have only heard once and I just let myself go. I'm quite an experimental dancer, so if my body feels like a project is a good one, I go with it.

    What have you learned from working with Madonna?
    Never stop being humble and never forget where you came from. And love your fans, because they are the people that have put you where you are. We talk a lot actually, we all go out with her on day trips, kind of like her entourage going out to museums with her. She is quite a joker as well, she cracks a lot of jokes and keeps you smiling. She gives you a lot of energy. It really is a lot of fun being on tour with Madonna.

    See part one of our Lil Buck double bill, directed by Jacob Sutton, here.

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