Reflections on the making of Camouflage, a virtual reality and dance installation

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Patricia Okenwa and Renaud Wiser reflect on their personal experience working on Camouflage, a virtual reality and dance installation based on the game of hide and seek, created by choreographer Patricia and digital artists duo Mária Júdová and Andrej Boleslavsý and commissioned and produced by Renaud for his company. Camouflage was presented at the Brighton Digital Festival in October 2017 and will be part of an evening of dance by Renaud Wiser Dance Company to premiere in Spring 2018.


Patricia Okenwa:

“ This autumn I had the opportunity to continue my collaboration with Maria and Andrej. This was the fourth time we have had a few days to spend together developing a new VR dance experience.

This is a very special project for me as it comes out of a beautiful invitation from Renaud to create an evening of work together and have the opportunity to support, intervene, challenge and witness each other’s processes in detail.

The part of the evening we were focussed on this autumn was something that blends a social game, an installation and a participatory dance performance. We had researched content, themes and motivations earlier in the year and now it was time to test what we found most successful with dancers who would perform and interact with a live audience.

In my limited experience, working in VR has a specific pace to it. At times much has to be set up and calibrated, even when the main work is done, while at other times we would come up with an idea and it could be created or added in moments. In the beginning of the week, the dancers relied a lot on understanding the VR world they were interacting with and us three creatives needed them often to try and try again to record or finetune an animation.

In the last two days we tried what we had created with a live audience. This was the moment we all learned the most. My intention was to be precise about how the audience would be introduced to the game and how they would learn their roles. I wanted them to feel intrigued, but not lost or intimidated. We found that almost each individual responded differently to what we had created. It was more about creating a range of hints and tools in the visual and audio experience within the VR and in the live interactions the dancers would have with audience members, than creating a script.

In our previous collaboration, Dust, I had found that working in VR made me relate to time and space in a very different way. I had no control over the viewpoint and even sequence or duration the audience member would interact with my choreography. I had to discover material that would work regardless of these parameters and this made me look hard for emotion and sensation in the physicality of the dancers.

In this new work this feels even more prominent, because there is no image of the physical body and we are very much focussing on the dynamic potential of movement itself to express personhood, intention and emotion.

There is no doubt that this process will inform my choreographic work in the future as well as the next part of the process. “

Renaud Wiser:

Camouflage at the Brighton Digital Festival was in many ways a collection of new and exciting experiences for me and for my company. Launched in 2013, Renaud Wiser Dance Company  has so far mostly been an output for my personal choreographic endeavours and for the development of stage works created for a traditional theatre context.  

With Camouflage, I diverted from this previous format by giving the choreographic direction of the project to another artist. I invited my friend and fellow choreographer Patricia Okenwa to continue a collaboration she started while at Rambert in 2016 with digital artists Mária Júdová and Andrej Boleslavsý. I stepped back and adopted the position of creative producer, ensuring all was in place for the creation of this dance and virtual reality installation. At first, it was challenging. The desire to step in and play was strong, but soon it became fascinating to be an observer, to let myself be surprised by artistic decision I wouldn’t have thought of or made and to see the work develop from ideas to physical actions.

Choreographers are lucky that contrary to many other art forms, we are constantly interacting and in dialogue with our main collaborators, the dancers. In the right circumstances, this facilitates immediate feedback and a possibility to bounce off ideas. We are not isolated and can seek support from our collaborators. Yet, as a choreographer, opportunities to see other choreographers’ practices in action and to reflect on our own methodologies, in contrast, are rare. Most choreographers’ working methods remain fairly hidden, each developing them in the intimacy of the dance studio,sharing the process mainly with their cast or via the often controlled and elaborated outlet of a public sharing.

I believe taking this new approach with my company on this project has been really beneficial for my own practice. It will feed the next step of our development as both Patricia and I will return to the studio in April next year to create two stage works based on themes present in the making of Camouflage. I am curious to observe the degree of conscious and unconscious creative cross-pollination that will arise as a result of this initial process.”

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