On the 19th June I am off to see Whilst at the Lilian Baylis Studio. This production is described as an experience which merges physical theatre, interactive Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies and an art installation, in an environment that blurs the boundaries between consciousness and unconsciousness, reality and fiction, the physical and the virtual, exploring the story from one of the 76 different perspectives.
I work in technology so when I heard AR and VR mixed with immersive theatre and what appears to be a make your own adventure book – I had to find out more.
I interviewed Aoi Nakamura and Esteban Fourmi, the founders of AΦE and the creators of the show.
PP – Hi, thanks for giving us some time to talk about this exciting production. Firstly, Can you tell me a bit about AΦE and how it was formed?
AΦE – AΦE is an Ashford-based dance company founded by ourselves (Aoi Nakamura and Esteban Fourmi) with the vision to bring the art of dance closer to audiences.
We’ve been performing since 2006 in companies across Europe such as Punchdrunk, Saarländisches Staatstheatre, Hessishes Staatstheatre Wiesbaden and Staatstheater Kassel. We met whilst working at Jasmin Vardimon Company, and decided to explore something together in 2013. Interestingly we both didn’t want to fall into our dancers’ habits, which was difficult for our body and mind. So we started to use a laptop, a microphone and other props to see what could come out of it. Our first residency at Choreodrome led us to create “Kinbaku”. Kinbaku was a combination of live music and visual projections, with a set made of a type of PVA material that melted upon getting in contact with water. Robert Pacitti was very supportive of us and we are very grateful to have the opportunity to perform it at SPILL Festival in Ipswich, which turned out to be a mind opening experience! KINBAKU was presented as a 3-hour durational performance at SPILL and 1-hour performance at Create Music Festival in Ashford – we are still really proud of what we managed to do with zero budget.
Since then we’ve also choreographed, directed and performed for works by other producers, including Sean Roggs’ immersive experience The Waldorf Project, a 360° film for Elbphilharmonie Hamburg (Google Arts & Culture) and short film “Kai”.
WHIST is our first funded production and led to the official launch of AΦE in 2016. It premiered in April 2017, and you could read the rest in our biography ☺
PP – This is described as merging physical theatre, interactive Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies and an art installation. What made you decide to combine them all and what should people expect?
AΦE – WHIST is made where the story and the form are weaved together.
Initial inspiration was Minotaur from Greek mythology back in 2013. When we first saw the power of VR technology on a TV programme the following year, we immediately connected Minotaur as Freudian’s “monster” in the subconscious that could be confined by a “labyrinth” that we would create in VR. We further investigated into Freudian Interpretation of Dream and Uncanny. We visited Freud Museum London where we met psychoanalyst Emilia Raczkowska who led us to explore Freud’s famous case studies “Dora”, “Little Hans” and “Wolfman”. What fascinated us about these characters was that they were real people with real dreams, and were written through Freud’s perspectives. So we decided to put the three characters together to be a family and see how surreal the story could become!
The piece evolved to the constant play between “real/virtual”, “conscious/unconscious” and “dream/fear”. It boiled down to the notion of perspectives in WHIST: physical installation/digital exploration, pre-judgments/intuition, fantasy or phantasy? Unconsciousness in particular is played on multiple levels – the subject matter of the film as well as the audience’s actions.
We wanted audiences to not lose sight of the physical world, and the art installation is the bridge between the virtual and the real worlds. We also wanted audiences to be active, where the page of the performance won’t turn without them taking actions – audiences’ physical presence and the role of their physicality is important to us, not just in WHIST but for our other works too.
It is a 360 film, so we can’t “move” inside the film. But this was a deliberate choice – audiences are meant to (physically) move freely, and so we won’t hook them to a high performing machine with dangling cables!
Expect to be fully immersed, shifting real to virtual, moving your body in the space and ready to be open minded. You will be going on one of the 76 possible journeys in this experience – with the number (and password) you receive at the end of your journey, you could go on www.whistvr.com to read an analysis of your path, written by Emilia from the Freud Museum. Of course why not compare notes with other audience members too and see what you think the story was about?
PP – Can you tell me a bit about the show and who it is aimed at?
AΦE – See above ☺ Of course there is choreographic elements in the work, but we wanted this production to bring in audiences beyond dance and theatre. We also visited festivals and venues of film, technology, media art and digital culture. Young audiences, with parents’ permissions, could also experience the work. We hope that audiences become open to the art form that they have been never been interested before. We always aim to create work that audience can interpret with their own knowledge.
PP – The information on this show states that the audience can experience the action from 76 different points of view, choosing their own path. How have you created something which will ensure no audience member will miss a critical part of the story?
AΦE – We do have audiences convene together in certain scenes. However the rest of the story is only as rich as the audiences’ imagination and interpretation! There is no absolute truth in the story of this family, just like real life. The sense of perspective is also one of the things that we want to give in the experience, and we especially encourage audiences to discuss what they have seen with other people. How do you piece together, or reconcile, what you see and what other people see? We hope audiences will walk away realising that there is always more than one side of a “story”.
PP – What’s going to surprise people about this show? And what are you most excited about?
AΦE – People seems to be surprised about the technology itself and the combination of the production. There is psychoanalysis at the end depending on the path that you are taking, written by our collaborator Emilia Raczkowska from Freud Museum, London who is a clinical psychoanalyst. We made so the production is closer to the Freudian theories, of course we are aware it could not be the latest psychoanalytical vision but we liked the way that we go along the line of Freud’s work.
We also actually appreciate when sceptical people come to try our experience, because in our experience those are the ones that actually are blown away by it. I am also really surprised that a lot of seniors love to come and be challenged by the tech. In WHIST, we actually tried to make the tech aspect invisible. The experience is really intuitive in a way and they don’t have to interact with anything technology related. Instead we are asking them to move, interact in the space, where objects and audiences are. Audience became the live elements of the performance and each show is a new choreography.
PP – What do you hope your audiences will get from the show?
AΦE – Every audience member takes something really personal from WHIST, relating to whatever is in their minds and lives. This is how we created it. Even both of us (Aoi and Esteban) have different interpretations of it. People are completely individual and we love that. Our wish is that we can bring questions and thoughts in everyone’s life to better understand ourselves as human.
PP – The idea of adding AR and VR into a show is fascinating (my full time job is in tech and I have recently written some pieces on both technologies). What made you decide to add emerging technology into theatre?
AΦE – We create from total freedom with the body and our inner thoughts as a starting point. We are not fan of tech at all (PS: the AR elements are really low in this show because of budget), but as mentioned, the form was mainly a need for the work, rather than a wish to work with those technologies. The technologies came in to use as a tool to achieve the vision of the production, the same way as lighting, costume and set function in normal theatre. VR happened to be needed for WHIST. In our next production we are looking at other technologies that are also going to be necessary to convey our ideas in the production.
PP – What’s next for AΦE?
AΦE – We are researching, planning and fundraising for our second main production REBOOT. The subject of death, birth and transhumanism are where we are at the moment. There will be live performance element, but we will also be reinventing the form as well based on the creation process with our wonderful creative collaborators and technology partners.
We have also been commissioned 2 AR projects which are really exiting as we are working with really interesting collaborators. We also working on making a project that is branded “made in Ashford, made by Ashford”.
Well, and WHIST is continuing to tour to other countries until end of 2018 and most possibly returning to the UK next year.
2018 only sees the second year of AE company, we are working hard to make things happen as much as possible!
So there we go – I will be off on the 19th June to experience one of the 76 routes and I cannot wait.
WHIST comes to Sadler’s Wells’ Lilian Baylis Studio from Tuesday 19 – Saturday 23 June.
For more information go to www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/2018/whist/