Substratum | Research & Development
Last year Full Tilt Aerial Theatre engaged in an exciting practice as research collaboration with Creative Technologists Limbic Cinema to investigate the meeting point of Vertical Dance performance and animated and projected visual arts. This project was seed funded by circus city - Bristol’s Biennial circus festival and received further support from Arts Council England. Research was conducted in a series of laboratory style investigations which took place in newly equipped training space for Vertical Dance at Scotch Horn Leisure Centre in Nailsea.
Limbic Cinema are a collective of artists who work at the intersection of technology, art and design. Based in Bristol, they work with moving image and projection to bring environments to life, from small spaces and intricate sculpture to large-scale architectural mapping with narrative driven stories. They have illuminated Iconic buildings such as Bristol Old Vic, and The Wren Library in Cambridge and immersed theatre audiences in critically acclaimed work as the Stick House and Infinite Lives.
In preparation for the collaboration Full Tilt’s Artistic Directors Rowan Fae and Dela Seward identified three distinct approaches for the laboratory investigations with Limbic Cinema. Each one designed to shift leadership emphasis, working towards creating an 'Inclusive' climate of collaborative discovery which would further the group potential for breaking new ground within the work.
1 - We created choreographic movement and asked the technologists to respond.
2 - Technologists proposed an animated scene and the dancers responded to it.
3 - We developed work in a series of layering exercises, material was bounced back and forth between dancers and technologists during creation.
Each method produced a very different result. Each uniquely effective depending on the desired outcome / effect. We found that when we asked the technologists to respond to our choreography that video art naturally highlighted the choreographic quality of the work . From these investigations we created a scene in Substratum which we named ‘the seed’ in this scene small movements triggered changes in the animations that spread out across the entire performance space.
To create our primitive interactions with the technology we worked with a click track and counts. we would give the technologists a notated script and mark out the counts where an effect would be created e.g. on the first 3 the second five and the final 8. It was very exciting seeing the movements and images come together during the initial stages of each investigation.
“A Dancer on a huge wall is tiny and almost invisible, their limbs even smaller, using projections we were able to extend gestural movements across a huge space, drawing attention to choreographic detail and quality, I found this to be very effective”
- Dela Seward, Choreographer
Here is an image of us testing this idea using a rudimentary animation during one of our early lab sessions.
From the second method we developed what was one of our most exciting scenes in Substratum which we named ‘the city’ Here Limbic Cinema presented us with an animated city scape that included several changes of perspective shifting between birds eye view, profile and landscape point of view. We then asked dancers to explore movement within the projected images. The resulting work saw a dancer moving impossibly within a cinematic scene, running, leaping and flying through an animated city-scape. This scene prompted a great response from audiences many commenting on the powerful immersive experience created by combining the real and virtual worlds in this way.
Here is a photo from our lab sessions of our first play with ‘the city’
Here is what our audience members and collaborating artists had to say about the resulting scene in ‘Substratum’
“Amazing, like spiderman” - 6 years old audience member.
“It was really clever how they interacted with the projection leaping from roof-top to roof-top and scaling skyscrapers, It was outstanding” - Audience Member
“Personally I found it quite exciting to develop a photorealistic scene that interacted with an aerialist. It was quite surprising how well your eye was tricked into synchronising the two worlds.” - Limbic Cinema
The third and final method we explored within our research and development yielded the most interesting results. We used a series of layering exercises to develop a strong 360 degree augmentation which saw the performer rolling in the stars in a scene which we called ‘space’ For this method we first discussed an idea and outlined the physical limitations of changes of perspective for the vertical dancers, i.e. “we can turn endlessly on this axis but only 90 degrees on this axis before we need to return.” We experimented with ideas and then went away and created a short sequence of movement, recorded it and gave it to the technologists to work with - the process of creating the scene required several layers each team taking the work and developing it slightly before swapping back. In this way of working Limbic Cinema developed a method of superimposing ideas for the projections onto clips of our choreography from the rehearsal room. We found this to be very effective, allowing both teams to work simultaneously on a sequence remotely from different studio spaces. Here is a clip of one of one of these superimposed videos from the laboratory sessions.
The resulting scene was one that both Full Tilt Aerial and Limbic Cinema felt broke new ground in terms of pushing the boundaries of what is possible within the interaction between vertical dance performance and visual augmentation. We were really pleased and excited with the result. The method of working was also a really interesting process, Having the challenge to take on another artists work and develop it further kept us invested, inspired and moved us into new territories that we may not have delved into otherwise.
Here is what Limbic Cinema said about working on ‘Space’
“The complexity in the choreography and the visuals were timed perfectly and the perspective changes were mind bending and very effective. Space is one of our favourite themes to explore and generally offers up some interesting opportunities visually. It’s an awe inspiring subject which lends itself to shows that want to create a spectacle for an audience.” - Limbic Cinema
From our laboratory explorations show directors Dela and Rowan then went on to make a storyboard and artistic brief for substratum, outlining which explored ideas to carry further into show production and a basic timeline for the work. This brief was then given to our composers Ahmet Kenan Bilgic and Serkan Emre Cifci who composed 22 minutes of bespoke contemporary electronica which formed the bedrock of the piece with both the visual artists / technologists and dancers creating the work for ‘Substratum’ to the soundtrack. This was necessary in order to synchronise movement with projected visual content without using high-tech tracking technology.
The whole process was incredibly rewarding and both Full Tilt Aerial Theatre and Limbic Cinema learnt a great deal throughout the R&D and performance project. We found that within the creation period It was quite difficult to get a sense of scale of the show or to imagine how much impact something might have in situation and from the audience's perspective.
“This could be achieved in the future by creating a virtual world, using VR software to put yourself into the 3D world at the correct audience perspective.” - Limbic Cinema
As a result of the R&D we have learned some of the possibilities and limitations with vertical dance movement and projected visual content. We are really excited by the outcome of the process and the work we created together for ‘Substratum’ which was received incredibly well by audiences, partners and peers alike. Here are some comments regarding the final piece.
"It was absolutely mesmerising, beautiful and very well worked choreography, incredible mix of multi-media, produced a very consistent, breath taking and elegant result!”
"I'm so in awe of Full Tilt's extraordinary combination of multi media and multi disciplinary performance"
"Unique skilled beautiful incredible"
"both inspirational and innovative."
And lastly we have created a documentary short about the research and production process and would like to invite you to take a quick look - enjoy :)