In addition to working on the music and movement that we’ve been writing about recently, David was telling me about 360 video, which is something he has been working on that could have interesting dimensions for our project, to potentially document the performance piece that we work towards. I’ve been spending some time familiarizing myself with this medium and thinking about the possibilities.
I started with a tutorial that David shared with me which gives a lot of nuts and bolts information about how 360 videos are made. It gave me a good foundational understanding, but also made me glad to have David as a collaborator to do the nitty gritty technology and processing pieces! 360 videos are pretty cool in that you record in multiple directions at the same time, and the end result is a video that the viewer can drag and pan around to view different parts of the video for a more immersive experience (or, if watching on a mobile device or VR headset, just move the device / your gaze around).
I then started looking into examples of 360 videos, which really run the gamut. I found videos that ranged from scientists climbing redwoods and showing the view around them as they went up, to car companies showing the inside of a new model, to realtor listings of houses on the market. I encountered a number of videos that were simply shots of natural places - forests with running streams, rustling leaves, and bird songs, nothing staged or modified or added besides post-processing, just like being in the woods...except not. These seem to have spurred some lively internet debates on whether or not 360 video is a good tool as far as getting people more connected with nature. On one hand, utilizing these technologies may help to engage more people in outdoor activity through a novel methodology and through technology, which is now so ubiquitous that we all rely on it daily. On the other hand, even the most realistic version of nature is not nature at all.
I looked into some examples of how 360 video had been used in dance, and noted themes and differences across how the technology was utilized and what was successful. Some positioned the “audience” (the camera) at the center and staged everything around it, as if the center was downstage. This manner of staging resulted in a lot of direct interaction with the viewer regardless of where you panned the video, and a feeling like you were always seeing the piece from the front as well as feeling seen by the performer.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Avl50Izo1p8&t=199s - contemporary
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNHDV4iR_p4 - contemporary
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWpfQkQv_OY - hip hop dance battle
Other videos placed the camera at the center of a traditional proscenium stage, which had the effect of feeling like you were on stage with the dancers. This gave an interesting feeling of being an invisible, up close viewer with the action of a performance going on around you. This intrigued me, but sometimes it felt like the choreography was not changed substantially for this new orientation, but an application of the technology to an unmodified piece.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEk2poiXSFU - Dancing with the Stars opening
https://virtualrealityreporter.com/the-first-ballet-experience-in-vr-360-video/ - ballet with “spatial music” violinist moving along with the dancers
There were a number of behind the scenes videos that place the viewer in the studio. I enjoyed this dynamic view into the process behind creating the dance performance, an element which is often unseen. Some of them gave me a feeling of being inside a Degas painting which had been activated.
A few pieces (probably the ones that intrigued me the most) were site specific or relied heavily on the place in which they were situated for the effect of the video. This particular approach seems like the kind I would feel most likely to approach artistically.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfSfbsNZl0A - contemporary dance in two different indoor spaces
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39hE_uQlTrE - Sergei Polunin
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BL-As0CMctE - site specific
Which brings me back to the idea of whether technology like this can help develop deeper connections between people and nature. I think if a 360 video can activate a space to help people see and notice things about it that they might not have on their own, which is part of what I see as one of the most important roles of an artist. I’ve been chewing on a lot of ideas about staging a dance in a natural space could look like, so that the viewer could pan around the scene and discover dancers in various spaces to highlight different elements of the landscape.
One difficulty I found about 360 videos is that I was always worried that I was missing something. In a traditional performance in a theater, what the audience sees is much more directed and controlled - you’ll only miss something if you close your eyes. But with a 360 video, if you’re panned to one area and something pops up behind you, you might miss it. This resulted, for me, in a kind of digital and artistic FOMO, but also intrigued me about how it might be possible to create a piece in which nothing was lost by not seeing every element of it. Successful examples of “choose your own adventure” type performance come to mind, like Sleep No More.
My last observation from geeking out on 360 videos is that when I was panning through the video by moving my phone around, I realized how much my body was moving around as I did it - in a way, watching 360 videos became its own kind of dance.
Visit our other residency group's blogs HERE
David Lagomasino is an award-winning research scientist in Biospheric Sciences at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, and co-founder of EcoOrchestra.
Christina Catanese is a New Jersey-based environmental scientist, modern dancer, and director of Environmental Art at Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.