Last night saw the first performance of a new piece by Wayne McGregor, Phase Space, given partly by his own Random Dance at Snape Maltings, and partly by the Gothenburg Ballet in the DansenHus in Stockholm. The two venues were connected by video conferencing links on multiple ISDN lines, and each company was seen, in real time, projected on to screens at the other venue.
It's an idea that McGregor has been working on for some years, and a short film beforehand gave some explanation of what he was trying to do. At Snape, there was a black mesh screen hanging at the front of the stage, and a blank wall at the back, so that the projected images were seen twice over and the 'real' dancers appeared to be surrounded by their virtual counterparts. Most of the time the two sets of dancers were performing different steps, with just occasional short passages when they were in unison. The Swedish dancers were seen from various different angles, the most interesting perhaps being the view from vertically above.
It's an interesting concept, and seeing it for the first time I spent a lot of time thinking about what was happening rather than watching the dancing. What, for instance, makes it a different experience from watching dancing accompanied by a projected film? How did we know it was really live? Were the Swedish dancers really hearing the same music? ... and so on. And of course we had no idea what the audience in Stockholm were actually seeing - to enjoy the experience to the full you'd need to dash over to Sweden to watch it from the other end tonight, though then of course you wouldn't actually know if the Snape end was the same as it was yesterday...
McGregor said that one of the things that attracted him about the Snape/Stockholm combination was that they were such different places - depths of the country/busy city - and I think it would have been a good idea to show them both in the preceding film - not that many of the Suffolk audience will know Stockholm and even fewer vice versa. Also, almost everyone I spoke to afterwards wished it could have ended with a shot of the two audiences. An interesting experiment - what next? (Incidentally it was simultaneously webcast but although you'd probably see more of the choreography I think you have to be in one or other of the locations to get the full psychological effect.)
The Snape performance also included McGregor's Nemesis (seen recently at Sadler's Wells and reviewed by Brendan at http://www.ballet.co.uk/magazines/yr_02/mar02/bmc_rev_random_0302.htm ), which looked good on this stage but seemed much too long - the first half had started late, presumably to synchronise with Stockholm, and there seemed to have been lots of stops and starts, none of which did any favours to the second half. (Tom Sapsford was in Nemesis, incidentally, replacing an injured dancer.) The Snape end of the evening was supported by DanceEast, who are bringing some really high-quality dance to this area.