Immersive Dance Experiments
Meet Three Companies Leading the Immersive Dance Revolution
WORDS BY NICOLE DECSEY | DANCE - Issue 9
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,
Blink Dance Theatre: Heart of Glass - Photo by Jane Acopian
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.
Hit & Run Dance Productions
Anisa Tejpar and Jennifer Nichols have been creating immersive work for almost 20 years via Hit & Run Dance Productions, a company whose mission is to bring dance right to your doorstep. Hit & Run’s most recent and largest production, Haunted Cinema, was a live immersive drive-in experience combining theatrical and cinematic elements. Anisa and Jennifer share how they bring consistency to innovation and create opportunities for performers and audiences alike.
Hit & Run Dance Productions: Jennifer Nichols (L) and Anisa Tejpar (R)
sM | What inspired your combination of dance and the immersive arts originally?
AT ── Dance is so three dimensional, and Jennifer and I always felt that dance could be presented more dynamically than just on proscenium stages. Hit & Run began with our desire to create our own opportunities and to be the agents of our own careers and creations. We cultivated our audience, one event or activation at a time, all the while tailoring a unique experience for our audience. Being up close and personal with our audience is important to us. It allows us to see performance and art-making through an intimate and joyous lens. Dance can be an escape, something beautiful, something thought-provoking, something fabulous, and what better way to showcase a medium that we love so much than by constantly engaging new audiences, and surprising them when they don’t expect it.
JN ── I think we could say that our work has always been built upon the premise of ‘immersive’ presentation simply by virtue of where and how we perform, which is site-specific and uniquely adapted to each space. Shifting performance out of traditional venues not only enabled us to create and present more consistently, but we also discovered that we could offer audiences a more textured, visceral experience. Immersive works offer an intimacy and immediacy that cannot be replicated in a theatre. Dance in particular lends itself to an ‘enveloped’ state, an opportunity for the audience to not merely view, but actually reside within the work. Dance, when presented from every angle and in various degrees of proximity to the audience, can provide a transcendent state for the viewer, a sense that their own body is a part of, or even facilitating, the movement in front, behind, above, or beside them! An immersive show is a collaboration between performer, viewer, and location. All of these moving parts have an equal contribution and stake in the final performance of an immersive work.
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.
Blink Dance Theatre by Marcus Struzina
sM | How does the space and audience-interaction inform your immersive work?
LQ ── 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.
Cie Gilles Jobin
Geneva’s Gilles Jobin talks about travelling into uncharted territory to transition his self-titled contemporary dance company into a digitally immersive dance company.
Gilles Jobin: DT Sundance 2020 Egyptian
sM | How does your multi-user VR work, and live motion capture equipment, deliver an immersive and global dance experience?
GJ ── My interest in the 3D world is the multiplicity of access into the digital space. I like the Sundance Chief Programmer Shari Frilot‘s concept of the biodigital continuum, which suggests that we are connected on a daily basis, in and out of the virtual world, through many different doors.
When the pandemic lockdowns began in March 2020, we decided to transform our stage company into a digital company and develop our own digital tools for real-time performances. Acquiring our own motion capture equipment, and the diligent work of our team, allowed us to create with total liberty. We are a contemporary dance company and for us the immediate solution to the crisis was digital. In June 2020 we presented a prototype for a live multi-user show in virtual reality, La Comédie Virtuelle. We performed the piece in front of a global audience, and some days we had 14 different countries simultaneously watching the piece in real time.
Our latest project, Cosmogony, which has been selected for Sundance 2022, is an attempt at live cinema. It can be a 2D projection on a screen or video mapping on a building. The dancers perform live from our Geneva studio and the spectators are together, in real time, in a cinema or outdoors. As a director, I control the framing and the movement of the camera and, unlike in VR or on a stage, I control what the audience sees. In this sense, Cosmogony is different from my previous creations where the spectators can choose their point of view.
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