Graduate fuses dance, technology in transdisciplinary master's degree – ASU Now

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2021 graduates.
Ri Lindegren is graduating from Arizona State University with a degree in a unique area — dance and interdisciplinary media and performance.
Lindegren, who is earning a master’s degree in fine arts, is the Outstanding Graduate Student in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts this semester. 
She calls her area of study “dance and technology” and describes it this way:
“Before I got into this program, I did a lot of dance videography. So I did a lot of dance on camera, or dance on film,” she said.
“Dance on camera is a very specific genre. The director is directing the gaze of the camera. It’s not just dance documentation.
“I applied to film schools and dance MFA programs, and I chose ASU because the School of Arts, Media and Engineering had more options for tech — tech I never heard of and was terrified of at the time.”
She took a lot of engineering classes.
“I did a smorgasbord of different technology to understand the field. My experience was exploring what the field of dance and technology could be and what it looks like now,” Lindegren said.
“I had a lot of supportive faculty in the dance department who said, ‘We don’t quite know what to do with you, so you can figure it out.’ And I appreciated that. I had a lot of freedom while still meeting the requirements.”
Lindegren has explored how to merge dance and technology in the context of body movement.
“If I want to project work onto a backdrop, I’m thinking about the movement that would work with that projection and how I can use technology to amplify what’s happening in the body.
“For me it’s been a lot about reclaiming technology and giving agency to the body, and to the dancer and to the human that’s in the space, rather than having the human adapt to the technology.”
Here, Lindegren talks about her time at ASU.
Question: Can you describe Body Sleuth, your virtual-adventure thesis project?
Answer: My research has been trying to find ways to remind us that we have bodies and reimagine how technology could be enhancing our quality of life in a different way, a holistic mind-body connection.
It’s like, “Look at this augmented reality app on my phone” or “Look at this cool new interactive game.” And you realize your body has hunched over and you have no awareness of it because you’re playing the game. Technology slowly starts to transform your body and how you’re experiencing yourself.
I was interested in creating an online community during the pandemic that brought people together, specifically by and for a queer community. Everyone who was a performer in the Body Sleuth project was LGBTQIAOften used to encompass the following identities: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex and asexual/agender., and the people who played could be LGBTQIA or allies. It wasn’t trying to tokenize people or make them be out. It was an intentionally queer space, a space meant to uplift and support LGBTQIA people during the pandemic when a lot of people had to move back home, which might be an unsafe living environment.
They had avatars they could move around, and they interacted with different characters in this world that was totally fantasy. They met different characters that represented different levels of connecting to the body. It was all tied into movement in some way. They had a structured improvisation. It was very task oriented: “I have to walk across there in a robotic way or in a very free and fluid way or by rolling.”
They received boxes in the mail with tactile objects. During COVID, a lot of what I experienced was lack of touch and connection to people. There were little tiny skateboards and tufts of soft fabric that they had to create a scenario with. There was an instant soup packet, and we made soup together that they could eat at the same time over the camera to experience taste. It was giving a more expansive sensory experience to people behind the camera.
Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study dance and technology?
A: My undergraduate degree was in anthropology, interdisciplinary studies and gender studies at New College of Florida in Sarasota. (The college) didn’t have a dance program, but I took a class every semester and I loved it. I decided I wanted to pursue dance even though I had not majored in it, so I needed a lot of training. I was going to all these dance intensives, one-week to five-week programs where you take three to five classes a day, every day.
I went to the Bates Dance Festival in Maine. They made this interactive space with all this tech in this large studio. They had projectors and cameras attached to projectors and lights and video, and you could remix the room however you wanted. We learned how to do videography and how to edit and the tech skills behind the work. All of a sudden it just clicked and made sense. I love to dance and I love some parts of technology, definitely video camera, and I love interdisciplinary work.
Q: What’s something you learned at ASU that changed your perspective?
A: For me, the biggest challenge was the technology hurdle, feeling like I wasn’t technologically savvy enough. There’s no class in the dance department that’s like, “Here, dancer, here’s how you learn the basic skills of computing or coding to get into this AME concentration.” I had to take the undergrad class as a grad student to get the basic skills to catch up. And the professors were so patient and supportive. It really helped build my confidence that I could learn these technological skills that I was very intimidated by. I learned how to solder wires together and look at JavaScript and code basic things. I still have a long learning curve ahead of me. But it gave me the confidence to pursue technology in a way I didn’t think I was capable of.
Q: Who were your faculty influencers?
A: I really appreciated Jessica Rajko, who’s an alum and was a professor here (who’s now at Wayne State University), and the work she was doing and how she talked about technology and dance. And Grisha Coleman mentored me here.
There’s a professor, David Olarte, and I’ve taken Afro-LatinxA gender-neutral term for Latino/a preferred by some individuals and groups. salsa with him and TA’d his class in “History of Afro-Latinx Salsa,” and I love how he talks about the body as technology. There’s no computers or coding. I love the reframing of technology as the body.
I also loved Marcus White (who died in 2020), who was a mentor and my thesis adviser. The first class I ever took at ASU was his vogueing class, and I love vogueing. I’m not a member of the community and I don’t do vogue, but I appreciate it. And I’ll never forget that first class and I thought, “Oh cool! They have it all! They have vogueing, they have house dance, hip-hop, salsa, all of these options.”
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I am passionate about social justice and making technology available to more people. Realistically it will probably be something related to media design or production consulting work.
Ri Lindegren, who is graduating with a master’s degree in fine arts, outside the Nelson Fine Arts Center. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Q: What’s your favorite spot on campus? (Asked at the courtyard outside the Fine Arts Center.) 
A: I love this place, and it has a lot of great memories. They always host what’s now called Sol Power and used to be called Urban Sol, and that’s one of my favorite events. I’ve done a lot of dance performances in this space. My other favorite spots are in (rooms) FAC 28 downstairs and FAC 122 that has this balcony where they do full-length shows because they have a light grid. Those are my favorite dance spaces. I love the Matthews Center for AME, which is a grad student space and we have our own desks and it has the iStage. And any spots with plants or nature.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million, what would you do?
A: My dream is to have my own multimedia production consulting company, so I’m able to network people together. I hear a lot from my artist friends about their dream visions, and now knowing what I know on the other side of it with tech, I’m like, “This is what you actually could do with that, and here’s a person you could talk to.” It’s a matter of being like a translator between the two. It helps to have someone in the middle if you’re not from both worlds to help see the full possibility of what you could make.
So I would definitely start my own multimedia company that would include training and internship programs where people are paid to learn technological skills. I would do a lot of movement-oriented classes, as well as classes that support the mind-body connection. I have a very strong yoga practice, and I take it very seriously and I would love to do trauma-informed yoga and yoga that supports healing in different ways. There would be dance therapy and counseling that also connects people to technology and art and performance. And I would make sure a lot of the resources supported Indigenous communities, BIPOCBlack, Indigenous, people of color. communities, queer and marginalized communities, as well as creating accessibility for differently abled people to come together.
Top photo: Ri Lindegren is the Outstanding Graduate Student in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts for fall 2021. Here she’s in one of her favorite spots on the Tempe campus, the courtyard outside the Nelson Fine Arts Center. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
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A class of Arizona State University students, who were the first to use the new Dreamscape Learn virtual reality platform, unveiled their time-traveling climate-change scenario on Friday.The 35 students in the “Designing for Dreamscape” course presented their 15-minute final project to their peers and to visitors, including Walter Parkes, the Hollywood producer who is now CEO of Dreamscape Imm…
A class of Arizona State University students, who were the first to use the new Dreamscape Learn virtual reality platform, unveiled their time-traveling climate-change scenario on Friday.
The 35 students in the “Designing for Dreamscape” course presented their 15-minute final project to their peers and to visitors, including Walter Parkes, the Hollywood producer who is now CEO of Dreamscape Immersive.
Parkes, who was the producer of blockbuster movies including “Gladiator” and “Twister” before moving on to virtual reality, praised ASU for embracing the new media.
“We look at Dreamscape as a set of tools,” he told the students. “The fact that this class could happen this quickly and we could put these tools in your hands is not just important for the university, and hopefully interesting and important for you, it’s also very important for us.”
The course was co-taught by Robert LiKamWa, assistant professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, and Ed Finn, founding director of the Center for Science and the Imagination and an associate professor with a joint appointment in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the Department of English.
LiKamWa said the students ranged from second-year undergraduates to PhD students and came from a range of disciplines: computer science, digital culture, architecture, design, electrical engineering and others.
They were divided into four teams: narrative storytelling, art, sound and pod integration.
Over the 13-week semester, they collaborated to create timelines, develop characters and animation, record and edit sound, and then put it all together. They worked in the Unity game-development platform to produce the project, called “Theta Labs.”
“Designing for Dreamscape” students (from left) Adin Dorf, Mason Manetta and Alireza Bahremand study a computer monitor to make sure everything is set before Walter Parkes and Michael Crow experience the new “Theta Labs” virtual reality program in the Dreamscape Learn lab in Creativity Commons on the Tempe campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Dreamscape Immersive was created in 2016, when computer scientists combined the motion-capture techniques used in movies with computer programming in a platform that can track people in real time to create avatars in a virtual world.
In 2020, ASU partnered with the company to form Dreamscape Learn to create fully immersive virtual reality learning systems for the ASU community and beyond.
At Friday’s presentation, ASU President Michael Crow told the students that virtual reality is an important way to teach.
“As things have become more complicated, like global climate change, scientists keep teaching in ways that a few people really master, a few people understand, and most people don’t,” he said.
“That creates massive levels of science illiteracy. You can imagine that there could be a thing like a pandemic that some people don’t even believe in.”
Teaching through storytelling is one way to change that, Finn said.
“Science itself is a vast system of storytelling,” he said.
Dreamscape can take an abstract concept like climate change and make it real.
“And most importantly, we can make a hopeful story,” Finn said.
“Because the biggest challenge we have right now is that too few people feel empowered to act. The technical solutions are there, but what we lack is the collective will and decision-making to take action.”
Crow and Parkes were the first to experience “Theta Labs.” In the Creativity Commons on the Tempe campus, they donned the virtual reality headsets, backpacks and hand and foot trackers and went into one of the two Dreamscape pods, a room-size “black box” that amplifies the VR experience with haptic sensations like a shaking floor and blowing wind. Two additional pods are being built on the first floor of the Creativity Commons for biology students, who will use Dreamscape Learn for their labs. Each of those new pods will accommodate 12 learners.
In “Theta Labs,” an animated koala bear tells the participants that they’re summer interns and must go on a mission either into the future or the past to fight the effects of climate change.
After the demonstration, Crow said the visualization was very powerful.
“You’ve got this fantastic intellectual construct where you can create time travel as a way to address the complexities of climate change,” he said.
“It allows you to visualize something you can only think through.” 
Walter Parkes, former Hollywood movie producer and now the CEO of Dreamscape Immersive, gave the students feedback after experiencing their project “Theta Labs” in the Dreamscape Learn Lab on the Tempe campus. At left in the background are the headsets and backpacks used in the Dreamscape Pods. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Parkes sat down with the students to give constructive feedback on their project, telling them that they had the technology down and could refine their storytelling.
“We’ve learned that less is way more when it comes to dialogue and narration,” he said of Dreamscape Immersive. “You’re inviting me into this extraordinary environment that is, even in this form, a mind-blowing reality. And I just don’t want to hear a lot of stuff.”
The mission is set in an imaginary city, and Parkes suggested the team could have used Phoenix.
“Strangely enough, the way to be universal is to be very specific because when you generalize, it’s less engaging.”
He said their environmental sound design is good but that they should add music.
“You don’t have what movies have. You don’t have a frame. You don’t have cutting. You have to use other tools — lighting, sound design, music,” Parkes said. “Moments of revelation have to be supported musically.”
Noemy Esparza-Isaacson, a master’s of fine arts student in digital technology, was on the pod integration team and said Parkes’ feedback was great considering that Friday’s presentation was the first walk-through.
“To have been able to put together this experience and demo it in such a short period of time was like watching magic happen before my eyes,” she said, noting that a typical virtual reality experience takes years for the Dreamscape team to create.
“We were trying to engage the audience above and beyond what they already hear — ‘recycle’ or ‘don’t drive your car.’
“By having the koala and this way of traveling back and forth, we were hoping to plant that seed, ‘How am I going to do that out in the world?’ ”
Assistant Professor Robert LiKamWa (left), who co-taught the “Designing for Dreamscape” class, chats with ASU President Michael Crow before the students’ presentation Friday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Frank Liu, a graduate student in computer engineering, was on the narrative storytelling team and said the project started with a lot of strong opinions.
“We wanted something that was for everyone. We had some crazy ideas — a ‘Mad Max’ apocalypse world, maybe,” he said.
“We worked with the professors to hone the story down and put together something that we had creativity and agency on.”
Liu is one of LiKamWa’s PhD students, researching virtual reality.
“I work on developing haptics, but I wanted to expand my story-writing skills to not just be pigeonholed into technical things,” he said.
LiKamWa said that “Theta Labs” is not the final product.
“The product you’re going to see today is actually the students,” he said.
“This is the product of the university and the class engaging these students to work with each other, both inside their teams and across teams, at this intersection of the skills of the future.
“In my eyes, this is the creative workforce of the future.”
Top photo: Walter Parkes (left), CEO of Dreamscape Immersive, and ASU President Michael Crow experience the student-created virtual reality project “Theta Labs” in one of the Dreamscape pods in the Creativity Commons on Dec. 3. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
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