Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Virtual Reality in Ballet

HTC's marketing director wearing his company's equipment
Author: Maurizio Pesce
Creative Commons Licence
Source Wikipedia

The Dutch National Ballet presented Night Fall with considerable publicity at the end of last month (see Dutch National Ballet presents the first virtual reality ballet in the word on the company's website). I was very excited and watched it on YouTube and my mobile phone (see Looking forward to the Gala and trying to get the Night Fall Video to work 31 Aug 2016). I could see from YouTube that it was a beautiful ballet in which some of my favourite dancers had been cast but the sensation of being on stage with the dancers completely eluded me. I tweeted something to that effect and the company replied with the suggestion that I should visit the VR Cinema while in Amsterdam which I did (see Three Days in Amsterdam 12 Sept 2016).

There I could see what the film was supposed to do though the film did not achieve its task because it was blurred and no amount of adjustment with the focus wheel could improve the picture.  More guidance on how the technology is supposed to work is to be found in Dutch National Ballet's video How to create a ballet in virtual reality.

The film was discussed on the BalletcoForum website (see Dutch National Ballet Presents First Virtual Reality Ballet In The World where reaction was less than favourable, Trog wrote:
"Perhaps this is a peek into the future? I for one, hope that it isn't."
zxDaveM added:
"oh my (very) giddiest of giddy aunts! Not for me either"
Janet McNulty agreed:
"Definitely not one for me ... retreats to a darkened room and lies down to recover from the thought!"
Melody was no more flattering and observed:
"Somehow when something like this turned up, it's sort of inevitable that it'd be the Dutch National Ballet"
John Mallinson wrote about virtual orchestras and a Bjork installation at Somerset House.

As a Friend of the Dutch National Ballet I leap to its defence to say that this was an experiment. I congratulate the company for its boldness and innovation. It may not have worked for everyone - indeed it did not really work for me - but that does not mean that it should not have been tried. Secondly, in answer to Melody's observation about my beloved Het I should add that HNB is not the only company to be experimenting with this technology.  At the end of last year our own Royal Ballet published The Nutcracker in 360 degrees which has received 121,333 hits and the comments on the Royal Opera House's page have been favourable. One DaveM described it as "fun" and another commentator called Timmie wrote:
"Thank you. As a ballet lover and a gadget lover I love it! How about some 3-D ballet…"
I think the reason why the Royal Ballet's video worked so well is that it was not ballet as such  There were scenes from The Nutcracker, a class and rehearsal and a focus on one of the dancers but it was more documentary than ballet. Night Fall  was ballet and ballet is designed to be seen in the theatre and not from the stage. In so far as I experienced VR at all when I saw the film in Amsterdam I felt that I was getting in the way, That feeling was reinforced by the violinist's stare at the end of his piece. It was as if he was saying "What on earth are you doing on our stage? Kindly get back to your seat at once."

However, there are occasions when one does need to feel as though one is on stage and one occurred to me only last night when I attended Sara Horner's class at Dance Studio Leeds. Sara was rehearsing the class for a show which will take place at the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds next month. She asked us to film her on our mobiles and then she filmed us on hers. Spacing and positioning is an issue that is still to be resolved. VR would have been a great tool had it been available to her and we can see something of its potential in the shots of the class in the Royal Ballet's film.

There are other applications too such as dance education.I have never really mastered pirouettes to the enormous exasperation and acute despair of all my teachers. I think a VR shot of how it is supposed to be done followed by one of how I don't do it would assist me tremendously. Marketing is another application and the number of hits that the Royal Ballet film has received shows its effectiveness there.

So I think HNB (like the Royal Ballet) has to be congratulated and encouraged and I hope that everyone involved in this project takes the technology further,

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