Dance

Style

One of the main ingredients of the DAZZLE 2020 project is dance, our choreographer Ruth Gibson began by researching social dancing of the time. The post WWI dance styles included Ragtime, Charleston, Waltz and Tango. 

We introduced our dancers to these styles and all of the dazzle concepts, influences and artwork, prompting them to create improvisations from these rich sources. Movement ‘flavours’ evolve from these interpretations — we work with expert dancers from well-established companies; their performance knowledge enables them to learn new dance forms rapidly. Percussive sounds and rhythms help to piece together specific steps. For the tour, our dance captain Hannah will work with local companies to teach the material, accompanied by with the principal dancer Harry, who will assist choreographing each scene. 

Mocap

Pre-recorded movement data is collated via a motion capture process. (Mocap is a special effects system where a performer wears special markers which are recorded by the computer as points in space, typically for use in 3Danimation or games)

A library of dancers’ phrases and choreographies develop in the animation pipeline, and these formations in the game engine are loosely derivative of Busby Berkeley and his spectacular ensembles. Our performers re-learn the movement material from their avatar animations instead of from each other or video recordings. 

The animations consist of palindromic loops meaning that dancers recall and memorise the material playing both forwards and backwards. Through this process, the dance language becomes fragmented and different rhythmically, and the design of of the body avatar whether a mocap skeleton, or an abstract figure, or rendering, gives a different physicality. 

Perhaps ‘a new body’ emerges through this technology. 

With this system, the dance progresses and evolves, micing contemporary and traditional. We compose dance taken from old forms but amalgamated with new techniques – influenced by the steps choreographed in the computer. Assembling and disassembling motifs, and sequences, building up and paring back. Groups, repeats and canons reflect this process to affect timing as dancers learn from the virtual, building new rhythms giving rise to surprising encounters. 

Interaction

In the Live VR experience, dancers ‘listen’, and observe how participants behave  how they respond to the two worlds, both in the realworld and in the headset, with the virtual dancing avatar they engage within VR. The dancers act as a guide.

Dazzle themes the idea of concealing, revealing and disorientating inform the development of the duets between audience and dancers. These arrangements become a new choreography — a ‘ Dazzle Style’.

As duets unfold, the audience enters this experience with wonder and awe, the compositions fresh and lively. My decision to allow the dancer to control the encounter is an interesting one, concerning agency in the virtual environments. Audiences can kick virtual balloons and make sounds with their virtual bodies, yet it is dancers who drive the action. Our dancers only see what participants are doing in real life. These relationships create an enjoyable, sensitive and friendly environment. The dancers ‘listening’ carefully to each audience member, watching and feeling how they approach the material. The audience member has to trust in the experience. Playfulness occurs early on through experimentation.

Costumes play a considerable part; in this case, digital costumes replace the physical clothes. At first, our audience finds themselves looking into a mirror, they seemingly view themselves, but actually, what happens is that dancers copy their movement. This game continues in the labyrinthic section where the dancer hides then surprises by stepping out from behind a pillar. Outstretched as an invitation to touch, the dancers offer their hands to the audience as if to partner with them – The avatar’s hands and the dancer’s real hands make a familiar gesture to enter the social dance. There is much more to be developed, for example, a nuanced relationship in each scenario, movement through the sections and the intimate duet with the individual. We need to pay attention to the liminal and the peripheral, making the experience fuller. 

As well as actions and dance gestures of partnering, we must not neglect the idea of chorus, extending the experience, multiple players and solos within the virtual and real worlds, a colossal dance extravaganza. A melange of actions riff on traditions of the early 20th Century, bringing them up to date through technological intervention.

Ruth Gibson

Mocap performers in custom suits