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Inside the New Dance Film That Makes You One of the Characters
In many ways, virtual reality is the perfect vehicle for dance. Viewers experience a simulated world with their whole bodies, and can make choices about where they want to watch. Cameras can capture movement happening in all directions around them. Performers feel up close and personal—almost like a live immersive experience.
But other than a few recent experiments that brought ballet into virtual reality, it's largely untouched territory. Until now: A new dance film directed by Saschka Unseld and Lily Baldwin creates a movement-filled world where the viewer is as much a part of the story as the performers.
Through You stars choreographer and Bessie winner Joanna Kotze and former Martha Graham dancer and founder of UC Berkeley's dance program Marni Thomas Wood, who share the role of Julia, and actor Amari Cheatom, who plays her husband, James. Kotze and Baldwin told us what it was like to film dance in virtual reality:
Kotze and Cheatom, PC Cameron Bertron
Can you describe the film for those who haven't been able to watch it?
Lily Baldwin: It's about putting you inside the feeling of being a lover and then becoming a memory. You're in love with this woman, Julia, then eventually she breaks up with you and from that moment on you become a memory. You watch her grow older, marry somebody else, then eventually in her 90s she confronts you, sets herself free and lets the past go.
Joanna Kotze: There's a lot of emphasis on physicality that makes you drawn into the story in a different way than a normal film. It's this short, intense experience of these people moving through time and in and out of love and all that love brings.
Baldwin directing Thomas Wood and Cheatom, PC Cameron Bertron
What are some of the challenges of filming for VR?
LB: In film, anything in the performance that isn't authentic is obvious. Especially in virtual reality, it really asks for the performer to not over-perform and be clear about intentions. The challenge is how to engage this camera in front of you.
JK: Dancing for a VR camera, there's no front, it can see 360 degrees. It's this real presence in the room, rather than being off to the side. It's amazing for dance because you can be anywhere in the space and the camera can capture all of that. Lily was interested in me looking at the camera as if it is a person. Because only one person is watching it at a time, it's a very intimate experience as a performer and a viewer.
Baldwin directing Kotze and Cheatom. PC Cameron Bertron
How do you feel like watching dance in VR differs from watching dance on film?
LB: I like it because I always want to give people their bodies back. I try to have the movement jump off and ignite them. We had people standing on their own legs and we had the movement circle around the viewer. They had to move in order to stay with the action. It gives the viewer a sense of body.
What's it like to watch yourself in VR, since the viewer is so embedded in the film?
JK: It's tricky. It's challenging to watch myself on video under any circumstances and this being so intimate can get pretty emotional. This process of making the movement was very improvisational. I never set anything and I never saw it until the edit was done. It's intense to watch yourself in general but it was even more so, since I didn't know what it would look like because they're creating a story through the editing.
Through You is currently available on Oculus' Samsung Gear VR via the Oculus Video app and will be making a wider release on Jaunt this October.
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.
The ballet world will converge on San Francisco this month for San Francisco Ballet's Unbound: A Festival of New Works, a 17-day event featuring 12 world premieres, a symposium, original dance films and pop-up events.
"Ballet is going through changes," says artistic director Helgi Tomasson. "I thought, What would it be like to bring all these choreographers together in one place? Would I discover some trends in movement, or in how they are thinking?"
Several weeks ago, Youth America Grand Prix announced that the lineup for tonight's Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater would include Bolshoi Ballet principal Olga Smirnova and first soloist Jacopo Tissi. But an article in Page Six published last night states that Smirnova and Tissi were denied visas to enter the US.
YAGP organizers "believe the Department of Homeland Security's decision may be motivated by the myriad tensions between the superpowers," says the piece, noting that "Smirnova is so revered in Moscow that her treatment could create a Russian backlash."
Is it any surprise a world premiere by choreographer Uri Sands and musician Justin Vernon, both renowned for the profound beauty and gorgeous musicality of their work, immediately sold out? We're hungry for creative collaborations that take reflective deep dives into what constitutes our humanity—and then there's the undeniable cool factor. Nine members of TU Dance will perform alongside Bon Iver (Vernon's band) during the evening-length piece. Presented as part of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music Series. April 19–21. The work will also appear at the Hollywood Bowl Aug. 5. tudance.org.