Last week I received a package in the mail. Among the contents: pieces of thick copper-colored sheet; water vials, air and gold paint; a pamphlet with photos of gold-painted dancers amid giant, crumpled pieces of the same aluminum foil; and a Google Cardboard viewer to turn my smartphone into virtual reality glasses.
All of this was equipment for the “at home” experience of “The Other Shore,” from Seattle dance and visual arts team Zoe Juniper (directed by choreographer Zoe Scofield and visual artist Juniper Shuey) .
The brochure turned out to be the essential item, as it contains QR codes that link to performance videos. On Tuesday night, after a Zoom presentation by the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival (which commissioned the project from Carolina Performing Arts and sent the boxes), some of the links were activated and some of “L ‘another shore’. (For now, if you haven’t purchased any boxes yet, you’ll need to settle for my report).
Virtual reality experiments are still rare in dance, and for me, some parts of the “The Other Shore” experience were excitingly new. The play is divided into two sections, books 1 and 2, but all that is available so far are segments from book 1. It is a series of 25-minute solos filmed with a 360-degree camera . Seeing them in virtual reality gives a new meaning to face-to-face dance.
The instructions recommend a swivel chair – a good idea, as your perspective is centered, and you often have to keep turning to keep a dancer around you in sight. It really feels like you and the dancer are in the same room, almost touching. Intimacy is intense.
This room is a little weird, though, full of giant pieces of crumpled gold foil (a trademark of Zoe Juniper). The three published solos follow the same basic sequence. The dancer comes out from under the foil, orders it, uses a bowl of water to get wet, and then pulls out a pot of gold paint from a hole in the ground and swallows it all over his body. .
As this structure is repeated, with the same music, each dancer differentiates, experiencing a different transformation that manifests itself physically. To further distinguish each of the performers, we are also provided with an independent audio track, in which the story of the birth of this dancer is told by members of his family.
There is a certain tension between the ordinaryness of these stories and the mythical aspirations of the play, between the mundane materials sent to viewers (to help make the virtual experience more tactile) and the numinous intention (the title, the mystery of birth, the suggestion to extract divine essence from the navel of the world).
So far, all the gold packaging promises more than it contains, although the technology definitely shows a potential for ritual magic. When I tried to look without VR glasses, I was far beyond enchanted.
Zoom’s previous presentation of several clips and montages was even flatter, barely serving the project. But he did take a look at Book 2, a series of group pieces in which the viewer’s perspective lies beneath the dance, lying on the floor, looking up. Even without VR glasses, the images showed some exciting fun mirror effects.
So there is a lot to look forward to, as more videos will be released in the coming months. A live version will premiere in Seattle next year, but Zoe Juniper has already shown that there are other sides to home dance experience that are worth exploring further.