How to best enjoy the show of people dancing on a stage? This question has been with me for quite some time now. Here are a few thoughts.
TV vs theater
Of course seeing a ballet in an opera house is ideal. But is it still worth it when one’s seat is all the way at the top of the theater with only an ensemble view? The mise en scene capacities of the director and the number of dancers on stage thus become key criteria to enjoy the performance. The focus of the dance show shifts from the art of movement to the art of displacement on a stage… when it should remain a mix of the two. The feel is quite different when watching a dance performance on TV. The camera focuses on the movement in all its intimacy and emotion thanks to close ups on dancers. The spectator is often trapped inside the eye of the director and cannot freely wander around as it would during a live performance.
3D vs 360 vs VR
The film Pina by Wim Wenders was a first successful answer to that dilemma between live and TV as the spectator could join the actors within the screen through a 3D immersive experience.
A few experiments with 360 videos were put together by the most prestigious venues such as the Lincoln Center or the Royal Opera House. It is a very tiny step as the 360 videos available on YouTube only presents a look behind the scene. Moreover these videos are very classic in their making, with the necessary voice over of a ballerina and the unremarkable look behind the scene. Finally the 360 aspect does not provide the viewer with any sense of novelty since the action only happens in one angle that would have been covered with a regular camera and the quality of the video is today still very poor. The real breakthrough would be to be in the middle of the show with dancers spinning around the spectator or an intense solo side by side with the dancer. This is what the Opera National de Paris has tried to do with the ballet Clear, Loud, Bright by Benjamen Millepied. For now the spectator can only look around where the director decided to set the 360 camera. What if the spectator was able to evolve on stage, move next to the dancers to get closer to the very essence of movement?
The next step should be virtual reality. There is another experiment around the ballet La Peri being currently developed. The spectator has the possibility to move around the dancer, which creates the feel of a real immersion in the dance. Nonetheless it is still motion capture and CGI rendering. The real human beings, the real dancers fade behind their 3D rendered avatars. The emotion is thus impaired.
The entertainment trend is moving toward more and more immersion, from book to film/TV to theme parks 3D rides to Virtual Reality now. The spectator is supposed to be placed by the storyteller in the middle of the show, right next to the characters. So far only Wim Wender’ work was able to transcend the technique used to capture the movement… maybe this is what techniques such as 360 and VR are missing, a moving picture artist to go beyond the technical achievement and reconnect with the meaning of entertainment.