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Choreographer James Batchelor has long been intrigued by the relationship between the human body and the built environment. Dedicated to dance since the age of five, he has since gone on to to complete a Bachelor of Dance at the Victorian College of the Arts, collaborate on projects with dancers from around the world, and undertake a Dancehouse Housemate residency.

So, it comes as no surprise that this lover of experimentation and exploration should search for a way to integrate the possibilities presented by 3D printing into his work. In August of 2014, he approached the XYZ Workshop with t11694980_10207415730131689_8413619101955969228_n_largehe proposal for collaboration on a project that would use 3D printed props/costume to form part of the storytelling dance process.

Obviously, XYZ Workshop wasn’t chosen just because they liked the letters (think about the axes of a 3D printer). XYZ Workshop was formed in early 2013 by Australian architects, Elena Low and Kae Woei Lim. The husband and wife team were intrigued by desktop manufacturing and when not performing their architectural work they found themselves tinkering around with their kit assembled 3D printer from Ultimaker. They found that the same fundamental aspects of architecture that appealed to them were present in 3D Printing as it fused aspects of Art, Sculpture and Technology. The couple explained:

“Having had past work featured further ashore in the U.S., Singapore, Russia, and the UK, having an chance to work with some local talent and having it staged at a performance space right in Melbourne city seemed like a perfect opportunity.”

The work that was created is called Metasystems and opens with Batchelor on stage, surrounded by a series of objects. Each one is 3D printed with a smooth surface on the outside but variation in the pattern that fills its interior. The pieces are moved and stacked and moved again by performers Madeline Beckett and Emma Batchelor, as James Batchelor and fellow dancer Amber McCartney move around the stage. The show explores the contrast between external similarity and internal difference, a theme that threads through much of Batchelor’s work.


The blocks themselves were created using Ultimaker machines with a little extra help from Imaginables, the Australian distributor for the product. Imaginables provided a non-standard 0.8 millimeter nozzle for XYZ Workshop so that they could print the pieces in less time than would have otherwise been possible. The faster flow allowed them to print the 128 pieces, using a total of 75kg of filament, in time for the performance. All told, the printing time still added up to nearly 800 hours spread across two 3D printers and might be considered an intricate dance of its own.11233779_10154018693353502_5893384571975518996_n_large

Throughout the performance, the constructions are continually created, repositioned, reshaped, and demolished as the dancers continue to work through the spaces. The shifting constructions provide a changing milieu of open space versus impermeable form as the commentary unfolds. The climax of the piece finds the brick background in shambles, overshadowed by a new tower constructed from 3D printed pieces, a clear indicator of the relationship that Batchelor sees developing between new technology and old.

This is, in and of itself, a theme that has been a source of continual fascination throughout history. It mirrors very closely the relationship between classical ballet and other forms of dance that have developed since. However, in Metasystems, the old is in ruins at the feet of the new, while in dance the initial desire for freedom from the classical strictures of ballet has not led to a destruction of ballet as a form. There is a lesson to be learned there for both the lovers of 3D printing and those who hail its existence as the end of hand craft: the beauty of one is enhanced by the existence of the other and the fear of loss may not be entirely well founded.

Let us know your thoughts on this incredible use of 3D printing in dance, in the 3D Printed Dance forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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