By Sarah Behseresht, Hannah Juenke, and Kali Taft
Virtual Reality in the Dance World
While technology has been incorporated into dance for years, there has been a recent push to make performances increasingly interactive based on the swells of audiences’ desires to participate.1 This might look like asking audiences to make decisions that prompt choreography or a set phrase with a specific chosen word; in this way, audiences could contribute to the performance and therefore feel a connection with the dancers and the art being created. One way to accomplish this sense of interaction is through virtual reality. The goal of this research is to include audiences by transporting them to a virtual world. Virtual reality allows them to see what the dancer is seeing and connect with the movements of the dancer behind the screen.
Body movement is one of the first areas that gave rise to the motion capture technology of many gaming devices and virtual reality.2 Dance incorporates the whole body in movement, so it is a perfect pair for technology that maps motion. A study was completed in which angular movements and velocities were recorded by eight cameras using optical motion capture technology that translated into the ability to create a system that mirrored the user’s movement onto a virtual being.2 These advances in technology and virtual reality are a useful training tool to view the body in a unique way and help with advancements in the health and fitness industry.3 Virtual reality equipment has recently made its way into the aspect of dance performance, increasing the audience interactions and relationship with the creative process, and it will likely make large advancements within the next few years. Virtual reality contributes to media and technology in many ways and is continuing to move forward in its advancement and depth.4,5 As the equipment becomes more accessible to the public, it will likely progress toward becoming more prevalent in artistic mediums such as dance.5 These advancements open up a new realm of opportunity for the creative artist to merge the worlds of technology and movement. Our research seeks to further the incorporation of virtual reality in modern dance.
This choreographic work demonstrated the use of dance and technology to explore the expanding idea of what captures the attention of modern audiences in the performing arts. We planned to accomplish this goal through collaboration with the Visualization Department at Texas A&M to merge our areas of interest. Weekly meetings were held with the Visualization Department to keep an agenda with the updates in the technology equipment, as well as weekly rehearsals with the dancers to generate movement and develop the choreography of the piece. The majority of our choreographic vocabulary was influenced by the virtual reality equipment, including the sensors that the dancer wore around their wrists, the headset that allowed the dancer to see the images being displayed, and the cord attaching the headset to the computer. These props were a large determinant of the movement parameters. The cord presented itself to be the most limiting factor in the radius that the dancer was able to use, and the headsets and sensors determined the amount of movement the dancer could most efficiently perform. Another factor that influenced the choreography was the image being projected on the scrim in front of the dancer. In order for shapes to show up on the scrim, the dancer had to move in such a way that these shapes were formed in a manner that visually corresponded to our desired aesthetic. If movements were too small or intricate, the images on the screen would not be visible. These limitations presented a positive challenge for the creative process of the dance, since working around these obstacles required us to think of innovative movement that still translated as modern dance performance. The framework of this experimental process involved three main components that we designed. These components were pieced together to create the work.
Virtual Reality Technology
The first component consisted of the virtual reality technology designed by the Texas A&M Visualization Program. This technology included virtual reality goggles that one person, the dancer, wore and a controller that created lines or shapes in accordance with her movement that was projected on a screen for the audience. Incorporating this component required trial and error and visual exploration to determine how the images created by the technology corresponded with the location and quality of the dancer’s movements.
THE CHOREOGRAPHIC WORK DEMONSTRATED THE USE OF DANCE... TO EXPLORE WHAT CAPTURES THE ATTENTION OF MODERN AUDIENCES...
The second component to this study was the choreography of the dancer. The choreographer of this piece was in in close communication with the researcher in charge of learning the technology because that information was essential for creating a compatible set of movement patterns for this piece. A majority of the movements were designed based on the shapes created by the controllers, which played an important role in the overall portrayal of the virtual reality technology seen by the audience. Since certain motions had a more significant effect on the virtual reality equipment, a majority of the choreographer’s role involved discovering which movements created specific image qualities. For example, certain motions such as circling the arms with the controllers had a greater effect than other motions because the image displayed on the screen was more dramatic. Therefore, throughout the entirety of the piece, there were moments when the scrim was illuminated due to the large motions performed by the dancer, as well as moments of stillness, so that the dancer in front of the scrim could be seen by the audience. During the piece, there were three main movements that were repeated often due to their ability to create aesthetically pleasing images on the scrim. These moments included, as stated earlier, large circling motions of the arms, flicking of the wrists, and wave-like motions of the arms up and down. The dancer using the virtual reality equipment mostly performed choreography that involved the use of her wrists and arms because the sensors for the virtual reality equipment were located on her wrists. Therefore, the choreography for the dancer in front of the scrim consisted of motions that focused on her lower body to serve as a contrast to the dancer using the virtual reality technology. Even though there was repetition in the phrases of movement within this piece, the output displayed by the virtual reality technology was always different than the previous images projected, therefore creating a unique viewing experience for each performance of the piece.
Lighting, Costuming, and Music
The third and final component of this project was the lighting, costuming, and music. These three important aspects of a theatrical stage space were used to highlight the dancer and the virtual reality technology without detracting from it. The lighting needed to allow the audience to see both a projection on a screen and the dancer behind the screen creating the pictures with the movements. The costume corresponded with what looked best in the lighting that was chosen. Also, the costume had to somehow fit the controller inside of it without being noticeable to the audience. The music was a very important part of this performance because some of the cues of the controller were based on changes in the music, and the choreography had to rise and fall with the music or juxtapose the sharp and smooth qualities of the music to make for a more interesting dance.
All three aspects of this research had to occur harmoniously, so all three of the collaborators had to work through the decisions and the choreographic process to create an interesting and innovative dance work together.
Process and Reflection
Our creative works research began eight months prior when we first began discussing the collaboration between virtual reality and movement in live performance. Christine Bergeron, the director of dance at Texas A&M University, and Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo, an assistant professor with the Visualization Department, were awarded a grant by the Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts to fund the technology required for creating a virtual reality program. Our first semester working on this creative works research mostly included weekly meetings with our virtual reality program developer, Michael Bruner, from the Visualization Department. There were several limiting factors that affected our movement, which we had to consider before starting the choreographic process.
When choreographing with a prop, it is important to fully understand the prop’s advantages and limitations. The goggles, the scrim, and technology program were all considered props that affected every decision made in the choreographic process. Movement with all of these added materials was quite difficult, but the goggles posed a great challenge, as they prevented the user from using vision and proprioception in space while moving. Vision is particularly important in dance for balance, turning, and traveling through space, and the use of movement was further inhibited by the cord attached to the goggles. Because of the cord, the dancer was constrained to a specific radius from movement. Vision impairment required a higher level of caution when jumping or changing direction to make sure the dancer did not disconnect the cord. The next prop was the scrim, which was primarily used as a way to set the scene and display the images, but during the second semester of development, we incorporated the scrim as a prop and explored its purpose on stage. We also had choreography for lifting the bottom of the scrim and crawling underneath it to pass through the two different worlds portrayed in the final piece. While using props presented a challenge, they created the necessary parameters to enhance the overall performance. Without some of these parameters, our creativity would not have been pushed out of normal limits.
During the first semester of this research, we discovered that certain motions caused the intensity of the display to become brighter and that several shapes such as circles displayed more effectively than others. With these ideas in mind, we made sure to include these motions within our set phrase work for the choreography. As we became more comfortable with the technology, we explored movement choices and the creation of a solo piece for Sarah Behseresht. The cumulative choreographic work was made up of a brief phrase composed by each group member and integrated technology in such a way that the audience could interact. In the second semester of working on this creative works research, we already had set a strong foundation of choreography and an understanding of the program, but we realized we needed to continue to refine our work and create more of a narrative between the technology and our choreography. We added another dancer to the piece, team member Kali Taft, and explored the idea of dimensionality: if two worlds came together and lived in the same space. This idea was demonstrated by the incorporation of one dancer behind the scrim with the goggles on and the other dancer in front of the scrim without goggles. The dancer in the front would dance in reaction to the technology reflected on the scrim, whereas the dancer with the goggles initiated the images. Through the addition of this component, we found more purpose and meaning to our work and dove deeper into the realm of choreography and interaction between humans and technology, which was more than just an exploratory curiosity. One of our largest realizations was present in attempting to create each aspect of the project individually. It was evident from the start that we could not create choreography without using the time and space of the program. In contrast, the software developers needed our presence in the timing of the virtual reality equipment. Merging two different art forms requires the experts of both sides. This was apparent throughout our experimentation. Most of our progress was made when we were able to set hours to work with the technology in the performance space. In doing this, we were able to develop layers and create depth to our choreography by incorporating the use of the virtual reality equipment into our storyline. The feedback on the performance was quite positive. Many people who attended were able to see the progress from the first tested performance to the culminating product.
NOT ONLY HAS TECHNOLOGY CHANGED THE INTERACTION OF PERFORMANCE... BUT IT HAS OPENED UP QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER EXPANSION IN THE FUTURE...
Within the community of dance, incorporation of technology has become an extremely relevant and present topic. Not only has technology changed the interaction of performance, but it has opened up questions for further expansion in the future regarding the concept of combining live performance and technology.1 New artistic experiences are possible, which allow dancers to be pushed further into the depths of their creativity. As choreographers and dancers, we are always looking for new ways to stretch the mind, discover fresh approaches to pair with dance, and bring innovative ideas into the dance world and to audiences. The audience’s creative experience will be enhanced as well, because the addition of technology will enable them to view the performance in a new light. Stepping out into the forefront of this field was an amazing experience, one that would not have been possible without the LAUNCH: Undergraduate Research office allowing us to creatively research an area that we would not have experienced otherwise.
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2. Hegarini, E. A, B. Mutiara, A. Suhendra, M. Iqbal, B. A. Wardijono. (2016). “Similarity Analysis of Motion Based on Motion Capture Technology.” Informatics and Computing (ICIC) International Conference (2016): 389-393.
3. Chan, J. C, H. Leung, J. K Tang, and T. Komura. (2011) “A Virtual Reality Dance Training System Using Motion Capture Technology.” IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies 4, no. 2:187-95. doi:10.1109/tlt.2010.27.
4. Radeska, Tijana. “The Power of Love is a Silent Movie from 1922 and it is the First 3D in the World” Vintage News.comhttps://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/11/04/the-power-of-love-is-a-silent-movie-from-1922-and-it-is-the-first-3d-movie-in-the-world/ (accessed January 20, 2018).
5. Virtual Reality Society. (2015) “History of Virtual Reality.” www.vrs.org https://www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality/history.html (accessed January 20, 2018).