High culture gets the motion

25 August 2014

Motion.Lab helps dance, theatre and opera get digital.

Given its ubiquitous adoption across society, it was only a matter of time before digital technology made its presence felt in modern theatre, dance and opera.

Going to contemporary dance or theatre may never be quite the same again – since the recent performance of “Multiverse,” where the audience donned 3D glasses to participate in a whole new experience of contemporary dance.

Throughout “Multiverse” three dancers performed alongside computer-generated imagery that featured dazzling 3D displays of swirling planets, spirals of coral and cuboid planes inspired by the physics of String Theory.

Performed at the Adelaide Festival Centre – and set to tour to Paris in 2015 - the production was a joint initiative of Deakin’s high tech Motion.Lab and the Australian Dance Theatre.

With several other productions in the pipeline, this is just a small taste of what is to come.

Multiverse was the result of a two-year “Thinker in Residence” visit to Deakin’s Motion.Lab by the Artistic Director of the Australian Dance Theatre, Garry Stewart, who is one of Australia’s most respected and innovative choreographers - and has collaborated with leading international artists such as Canadian robotics artist Louis-Phillipe Demers and New York dance photographer Lois Greenfield.

During his visit to Deakin, Mr Stewart worked closely with Motion.lab Director and choreographer Professor Kim Vincs, research staff and PhD students, to explore new ideas about dance and technology.

“Motion capture and computer-generated imagery are now part of everyday cinema. It was inevitable that these techniques would come to transform dance and live theatre performances as the technology developed,” said Professor Vincs.

“Garry is one of Australia's most celebrated contemporary dance choreographers, and someone who has - perhaps more than any other Australian choreographer - investigated the transformative potential of technology.”

“Motion capture has become an integral part of the animation, filmmaking and game design industries,” she explained. “It involves recording an actor’s movements, which are then used to animate a digital character in a film or computer game, and is responsible for movie characters like Gollum from ‘Lord of the Rings’ and the aliens in ‘Avatar.’”

Established in 2006, the Motion.lab works closely with Deakin’s Centre for Intelligent Systems Research developing new approaches to movement, art and technology, and is the only motion capture and interactive performance development lab in an Australian university.

“I believe that emerging interactive performance technologies offer some of the most promising possibilities for aesthetic and conceptual innovation – and some of the most important challenges,” said Professor Vincs.

Two other performances are also featuring Motion.Lab technology this year. The contemporary dance performance 'Emergence' recently juxtaposed a 'live' and an 'AI' dancer in an interactive duet, while a new transmedia dance work, 'The Crack Up' (by Kim Vincs) will not only combine dance and stereoscopic imagery, but also incorporate audience ipods and mobile phones within the production.

The work will premiere at the Merlyn Theatre, Coopers Malthouse, in October.

Perhaps one of the most exciting projects for regional Victorians will be in the area of opera. Motion.Lab has just received a three-year ARC grant to investigate, with Opera Victoria, creating virtual backdrops for large touring productions.

This project promises to make the touring of larger, more elaborate opera productions not just more feasible, but, according to Professor Vincs, a lot more spectacular.

The first work to premiere will be Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at the Palais Theatre, St Kilda in February 2015.

Artistic Director with the Australian Dance Theatre, Garry Stewart, Motion.Lab Director, Professor Kim Vincs, and Director of CISR, Professor Saeid Nahavandi. Artistic Director with the Australian Dance Theatre, Garry Stewart, Motion.Lab Director, Professor Kim Vincs, and Director of CISR, Professor Saeid Nahavandi.

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