Weather, on stage in Toronto, blends augmented reality technology with dance
Yesterday I attended the preview of Anandam Dance’s Weather, an interdisciplinary work integrating dance with the emerging technology of ‘augmented reality’ for mobile devices. The piece was partially about ecology and climate change, and partially about how we see the world in modern times – including the natural world – through our mobile devices.
When you arrive at the Bata Shoe Museum to see Weather, you are assigned to one of four groups, partnered up with someone within your group, and handed an iPad. (While the app is available to download onto your personal device, the version in the app store had not been updated for the preview yesterday – perhaps there will be less pairing up for the performances themselves). You put on a large set of headphones through which you will hear soundscapes that the pieces are set to.
You then follow your group leader around to four different stations within the lobby, where four dancers (Amy Hampton, Louis Laberge-Côté, Ryan Lee, and Michael Caldwell) repeat their dances four times, once for each group.
Augmented reality refers to the real-time insertion of digital content (images, video, or 3D-rendered objects) into real-world scenes via mobile devices (in the case of Weather, Apple-made devices). The concept, particularly when theatre and dance companies are trying to puzzle out what role our devices have in performance (tweet seats, etc.), is an intriguing one.
However, the commentary that our mobile devices distract us from the world is an accurate one in regards to Weather, and I found dealing with the various iPads much more distracting than enhancing. Two of the four dancers had iPads set up in front of them with decorative video overlays, and I spent most of the time trying to figure out what the overlays were and how they were achieved rather than observing the dancers. The other two dancers had soundscape only, playing through the iPads.
It was only when my iPad disconnected for one of the pieces (my group leader quickly and quietly took it away to be reset) that I actually got a proper, distraction-free look at what the performers in front of me were doing, although it was admittedly strange to watch a dancer dance in silence.
Each piece in Weather makes great use of the space, as the performances use the staircases, the windows, and the outdoor areas. Each dancer in the piece was also immensely talented, and from what I can tell, there isn’t a way for the performers to hear the soundscapes in the same way as the audience. I was highly impressed with their timing.
Ultimately, I’m not sure what the augmented reality adds to this particular piece, although the concept is an intriguing one for performance overall. I’d be interested to see where this technology goes in the future. In the case of Weather, I’d have much rather seen the dancers distraction free. Sometimes “please turn off your mobile devices” is a good thing.
- Weather will run June 4-6 at the Bata Shoe Museum (327 Bloor Street West)
- Show runs Thursday to Saturday at 8:30pm
- Tickets: $25, Students/Seniors/Artists: $20 and are available online at anandam.ca
- Download the Weatherworn APP for the show from the Apple APP store or go to anandam.ca for further information. Currently the APP only runs on Apple Devices with a current operating system. There will be rental devices available at the Box Office if you do not have an apple device.
Photo of Louis Laberge –Côté by Brandy Leary.