Holly Newlands, Marin Vesely, Sandrine Malary, Terri Ayanna Wright, Thomas Wester, Valencia James, Simon Boas: Suga’ — A Live Virtual Dance Performance

  • ©2021, Holly Newlands, Marin Vesely, Sandrine Malary, Terri Ayanna Wright, Thomas Wester, Valencia James, and Simon Boas

  • ©2021, Holly Newlands, Marin Vesely, Sandrine Malary, Terri Ayanna Wright, Thomas Wester, Valencia James, and Simon Boas
  • ©2021, Holly Newlands, Marin Vesely, Sandrine Malary, Terri Ayanna Wright, Thomas Wester, Valencia James, and Simon Boas

  • ©2021, Holly Newlands, Marin Vesely, Sandrine Malary, Terri Ayanna Wright, Thomas Wester, Valencia James, and Simon Boas


Artist(s):



Title:


    Suga’ — A Live Virtual Dance Performance

Exhibition:


Creation Year:


    2021

Medium:


    3d virtual reality

Category:



Artist Statement:


    Suga’ is a live volumetric dance performance experience presented in Mozilla Hubs’ social virtual reality space. The performer appears as a live-streamed 3D video within a photogrammetry scan of the Annaberg Sugar Mill Ruins in the U.S. Virgin Islands, when in fact she is performing from her living room. She traces the point cloud rendering of the mill with her movements as if preparing the space for ritual, recalling events that happened there. Through movement and soundscape, the performer tells the story of her own deep connection and mixed relationship to similar sites as a Black woman growing up in the Caribbean.

    The performance weaves together dance, family history, and 3D cultural heritage to explore virtual environments as a possible site for healing and to reclaim spaces that were historically filled with pain and injustice. It raises questions around Black femme representation in theatre and digital spaces. The work seeks to reimagine virtual environments as a possible site for what the scholar and Vodun priestess Dowoti Desir describes as spatial justice and African descendants’ right to collective memory of their struggle and resistance.

    The work is a bold reimagining of immersive webspace as a venue for live dance performance and communal art experience. The audience experience starts by choosing from a selection of avatars to embody while inside the performance space. A collective movement orientation exercise then follows in order to help familiarize the audience with movement in 3D space. The live, dynamic connection between audience and performer found in post-modern in-person performances is recreated in virtual space by allowing audience members to move around, and change their points of view in relation to the performer throughout the performance. A sense of intimacy and liveness is created by the consequent interplay of audience movement and direct interaction with the performer via webcam during the culminating question-and-answer session.

    Suga’ pioneers innovative advancements in live volumetric capture of dance performance for online immersive webspace. The work was developed as a research pilot performance of the Volumetric Performance Toolbox. Volumetric Performance Toolbox is the collaborative project of Valencia James, Glowbox, and Sorob Louie. It responds to the dire need created by theatre closures due to the global pandemic by envisioning live online 3D dance performance as a new way for artists to create and perform from their own living spaces and audiences to communally experience art, using minimal equipment and open source software.

    The toolbox is an open-source prototype for volumetric dance performance in Mozilla Hubs. It consists of a low-cost hardware kit and custom software that allows movement artists to capture and stream their performances in real-time from their own living spaces, using minimal equipment. The performance can be accessed via web browser across most devices and is not limited to virtual reality headsets.

    Our starting question was: How can there be new dance creation and performance in the time of COVID? In the crisis faced by thousands of theaters and dance companies, performances have been cancelled and the creation of new work halted. Suga’ is the first performance in an ongoing effort to give artists access to tools that allow them to express themselves in live, virtual space. With the future of large social gatherings uncertain, this project helps performers create their own virtual spaces that audiences can access with no special equipment beyond a web browser.

    We are particularly interested in the critical questions raised by live performance in immersive webspace. Who builds the tools of immersive technologies and who is it created for? How might virtual spaces be reclaimed by those communities that are often left out of these spaces or subjected to harmful representation or exploitative cultural appropriation when included? How might live performance in immersive webspace be used for decolonial strategies that affect real-world change and justice?

    Our mission is to help movement artists create their own live volumetric performances by providing low cost, lightweight equipment, tutorials and building a community of creators. We are beginning this process by running a pilot artist residency for making volumetric performance with a cohort of seven multidisciplinary artists from BIPOC, LGBTQ, and disabled communities coming together to envision a decolonized, decentralized future for online performance.


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