Can virtual reality and digital performance replace the proscenium stage? It’s only a matter of time (and creativity).
Blink Dance Theatre - Photo by Marcus Struzina
Imagine a night out to the theatre where you don’t sit on cushioned chairs, separated from the performers by a framework stage. Rather, you are completely immersed in the action, a movie happening all around you, where everything hinges on your reactions. This is the reality that immersive dance has created for audiences around the world. From outdoor site-specific pieces in every place imaginable, to virtual reality performances delivered digitally so everyone can enjoy them. Immersive art has found its footing in the dance scene. As this type of work becomes more mainstream, there are many companies dabbling in its inner workings. smART Magazine welcomes three companies tinkering in this dynamic space: Hit & Run Dance Productions, based in Toronto, who started their immersive creations in 2004; Blink Dance Theatre, based in Geelong, Australia, creating immersive pieces since 2013; and Cie Gilles Jobin, a Swiss company that began experimenting with virtual reality work in 2017.
sM | How does the space and audience-interaction inform your immersive work?
KM — We make mostly devised theatre with a humanistic approach to movement. Works are often structured in a montage style: a series of overlapping images, weaving dance with gesture, story, text, image, and sound.
Performances and workshops are often situated in alternative spaces. We tend to avoid traditional theatres and prioritize site specificity, always considering the design of the space, how that affects the power balance between audience and performers, and the notions of intimacy within that space. We also like to work with ‘untrained bodies’ alongside trained movers, helping to disrupt preconceived ideas about who has the right to dance.
We begin in the studio with some movement phrases and improvisation tasks, then transpose the material into found spaces, utilizing the specific architecture to give further shape to the work. And sometimes we do the whole thing in reverse too; start in the space, find out its history and allow the texture and stories of the space to inform the concept.
Humans have always craved experiences that enable us to enter into spaces of transformation. And perhaps the tradition of the theatre curtain rising at the start of a performance was once a signifier for audiences to enter into the story. But more often in modern Western culture and traditional theatre models, there’s this perception of audiences as passive observers; the idea that audiences watch but do not do, is still very prevalent. Immersive performance can challenge the nature of dance spectatorship, offering agency and greater investment from audiences.
Blink Dance Theatre_ Heart of Glass - Photo by Jane Acopian
Hit & Run Dance Productions - Jennifer Nichols (L) and Anisa Tejpar (R)
Gilles Jobin_ DT Sundance 2020 Egyptian
Immersive Dance Experiments
Meet Three Companies Leading the Immersive Dance Revolution
BY NICOLE DECSEY | April 26, 2022
Blink Dance Theatre
Lyndel Quick, the Artistic Director of Blink Dance Theatre, talks about creating immersive pieces that grow within the space they are situated, and take into account the input of performer, viewer, and location.