Boston Ballet’s Dance in VR Series breaks the wall between the viewer and the performer

For an audience member in a proscenium theater, watching ballet unfold on stage is a great experience. As you sit quietly in the dark, you can change the view from side to side, up and down, but the perspective remains basically the same and there is a definite sense of elimination among the viewer. and the interpreter.

With its new virtual reality project, Dance in VR Series on Facebook, Boston Ballet explodes the fourth wall, offering home viewers a way to get in the middle of all the action. The dancers seem to pass over their shoulders and you can almost feel the breeze of a stream of pirouettes that unfold as if they were a few inches away. It is an intimate, visceral, immersive and interactive experience. And since the company won’t be performing live at the Operapera until “The Nutcracker,” it may be the next best thing to sit in the audience this summer.

“You can experience the performance in your home as if you were sitting in the center of the city [performance space], seeing everything from the inside, ”says Ernesto Galan, a Boston Ballet videographer for the past twelve years. “It’s like being transported to another world.”

For the new series, the company commissioned three works designed specifically for virtual reality: Ken Ossola’s “Zoom In”, adapted from his work of the same name for the recent “Process & Progress” program, a recently modified version of the acclaimed “Petal of Helen Pickett”, and a new work by the dancer of the company My’Kal Stromile, “On (my) line, In (my) mind”, filmed in December in a department store in New Bedford. All three pieces are choreographed to be visualized through high-end Oculus headphones, but even some gaming headphones can take a look at this new way of seeing dance. (If the only option is your tablet or smartphone, the best option is to sit in a swivel chair in a darkened room. Change perspective by moving the device.)

Paul Craig and María Álvarez in “Zoom In” by Ken Ossola.photo by Brooke Trisolini; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Virtual and augmented reality in dance has been around for a long time, but Boston Ballet believes it is the first major company to delve so deeply into ballet technologies. The project builds on the forays made last year during the company’s first virtual season, which not only expanded the spread to audiences around the world, but also strengthened understanding of the technology.

Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen says it’s part of being “a living theater” for contemporary audiences. “I didn’t want to be a museum or a church, but to be part of today’s society,” he explains. “We explored this technology five or six years ago, but the viewer’s limitations were so narrow that I thought it made no sense to jump on the bandwagon. Now that technology has grown by leaps and bounds, it has opened up many possibilities. In the future, it could be almost a new art form for people to experience dance, music and theater. That’s just the beginning. “

It is not a simple or economical process. The dances are filmed with a balloon-like device embedded with six different cameras placed in the center of the space to capture a 360-degree envelope. The images in each camera become “joined” into a perfect flow that the viewer controls. Although each dance was filmed in one day, the editing process of each was an intense week of post-production that, according to Galan, pushed his system to the limit.

Still, he says he’s excited to be a part of exploring new perspectives for the company’s ballet. And you can imagine moving from virtual reality to augmented reality once this technology is more developed. “In the future, you could be at the Operapera watching a performance, wearing RA glasses and seeing‘ Swan Lake ’ [performed] on a lake, or “Corsair” could be on a pirate ship crossing the ocean. It could really improve performance. “

For the current VR series, the challenge for the choreographers was to adapt the dance so that viewers could look in any direction and at any time and watch them dance. Ossola’s approach maintains part of the tradition of putting important material, such as duets, at the forefront. Stromile choreography draws the eye around the space in a circular fashion. Pickett’s work, however, filled every corner of the space with simultaneous movements. For the dancers, this meant treating all the phrases as a single in case someone chose to look their way, and it was a cardiovascular feat to dance continuously for the duration of the piece: the technology could not be edited to start and stop.

“Usually in a theater, you could get off stage and catch your breath,” explained Stromile, who danced to Pickett’s play in addition to choreographing his own play. “But we had to fill in all the gaps and do it all at once. The dancers agreed that if something happened, we would move on! “

Stromile believes that embracing new technologies could be a way to attract more people to Operapera for “the real in person,” he says, adding that he would like to see the company provide a range of interactive virtual experiences, including previews and visions. behind the cameras. “Give people who are not your avid ballet lovers another path to the world of ballet. People are very interested in achieving this inner aspect. You could get funding to get some VR glasses and turn the whole building into an interactive space for people, who would then go buy tickets to see the performance live. I think we are really on the verge of something incredible that puts us in front and that definitely makes the Boston Ballet a leader in the field. ”

“We like to explore boundaries and push them,” Nissinen says. “When no one is following, you have to lead.”


Karen Campbell can be contacted at [email protected]

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