In theater, there’s a concept called the "fourth wall." It refers to performances that involve the audience, breaking down the invisible "wall" between performer and spectator. A new project from Pentagram goes even further, breaking down the "fifth wall" between the performer and a digital audience.
Fifth Wall is an iPad app that transforms the iPad’s 70-square-inch screen into an interactive stage, where choreographer Jonah Bokaer moves around the device’s frame. The app was designed by Pentagram partner Abbott Miller for the performing arts publication 2wice, where Miller is an editor.
Miller explains that he wanted to create a piece where the format (iPad) and the content (the performance) work together organically. "It seems like so much of what happens [in application design] is a translation or adaptation of something made for one context that is merely moved into another," he tells Co.Design. Rather than simply scaling performance down to fit a small screen, Miller explains that Fifth Wall "explores how the technological paradigm shapes design and choreography."
To capture Bokaer’s performance, the design team built a human-scale black box corresponding to the proportions of the iPad. They took video of the choreographer as he moved within the frame, spinning the mounted stage and letting Bokaer react to the spontaneous movement. Back in the studio, Pentagram’s developers programmed an app that uses the iPad’s motion-sensing accelerometer to correspond to the video. When the iPad user tilts the screen, the frame adjusts. Swipe the screen, Bokaer’s position changes. Over time, the frames aggregate on screen, and multiples of Bokaer move together. "We were able to create something physical and kinetic that is based on the experiential platform of the tablet," says Miller.
Dance, and performance, have been relatively unaffected by the development of mobile culture—at least in comparison to more static forms of art. A few years ago, it was tough to imagine what a small screen could do to transform theater. But Fifth Wall points out the potential of touch-screen devices, not only as a tool to preserve and archive dance, but as a medium that promotes entirely new types of performance.