Digital Performance

From Leonardo

Digital Performance

A History of New Media in Theater, Dance, Performance Art, and Installation

By Steve Dixon

The historical roots, key practitioners, and artistic, theoretical, and technological trends in the incorporation of new media into the performing arts.





The historical roots, key practitioners, and artistic, theoretical, and technological trends in the incorporation of new media into the performing arts.

The past decade has seen an extraordinarily intense period of experimentation with computer technology within the performing arts. Digital media has been increasingly incorporated into live theater and dance, and new forms of interactive performance have emerged in participatory installations, on CD-ROM, and on the Web. In Digital Performance, Steve Dixon traces the evolution of these practices, presents detailed accounts of key practitioners and performances, and analyzes the theoretical, artistic, and technological contexts of this form of new media art. Dixon finds precursors to today's digital performances in past forms of theatrical technology that range from the deus ex machina of classical Greek drama to Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk (concept of the total artwork), and draws parallels between contemporary work and the theories and practices of Constructivism, Dada, Surrealism, Expressionism, Futurism, and multimedia pioneers of the twentieth century.

For a theoretical perspective on digital performance, Dixon draws on the work of Philip Auslander, Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, and others. To document and analyze contemporary digital performance practice, Dixon considers changes in the representation of the body, space, and time. He considers virtual bodies, avatars, and digital doubles, as well as performances by artists including Stelarc, Robert Lepage, Merce Cunningham, Laurie Anderson, Blast Theory, and Eduardo Kac. He investigates new media's novel approaches to creating theatrical spectacle, including virtual reality and robot performance work, telematic performances in which remote locations are linked in real time, Webcams, and online drama communities, and considers the "extratemporal" illusion created by some technological theater works. Finally, he defines categories of interactivity, from navigational to participatory and collaborative. Dixon challenges dominant theoretical approaches to digital performance—including what he calls postmodernism's denial of the new—and offers a series of boldly original arguments in their place.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262042352 832 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 235 illus.


$55.00 X ISBN: 9780262527521 832 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 235 illus.


  • A lively and contentious introduction to the history, theory, and practice of digital media in performance. Dixon's book provides the solid grounding this ongoing discussion so urgently needs.

    Philip Auslander

    School of Literature, Communication, and Culture, Georgia Institute of Technology

  • Like the performance art of which it represents such a brilliant history, Digital Performance is itself literally that—not only a superb history of new media but a field-defining performance of the trace of the digital in theater, dance, and installation. To read this book is to enter deeply into the creative artistic imagination which codes so much of contemporary digital experience.

    Arthur Kroker

    Canada Research Chair in Theory, Technology, and Culture, University of Victoria, Canada

  • There is a fine irony in the very 'bookness' of this vast and startling work. As book, what Steve Dixon has set out to produce here is stunning, monstrous in its dimensions—virtually impossible. If you have any interest at all in recent histories of performance, this is precisely why you need to get hold of it.

    Susan Melrose

    Professor in Performance Arts, Middlesex University, UK