VR and dance at the Science Museum Lates

Lisa with Science Museum Lates participant, March 2017

We took the VR demo to the Science Museum Lates session ‘The Next Big Thing’ (29th March 2017).

We ran the VR demo as a multi-player platform, inviting up to three people in the space at one time. I had two other dancers and a theatre-maker assisting me in the space. As participants queued they spoke with scientists along the way (University of Bristol Chemistry dept. Glowacki Group of scientists who work with VR as a tool for their research). It was our ‘work’ as the ‘dancers’ to engage with the participants at the point at which they stepped into the ‘mapped’ area (mapped for the VR set-up), journeying them into and out of VR – alone and together – using words, touch, and materials (I had brought some lines of hemp thread which is strong string, a stick and some modelling wire). At the start, we would make sure the participant was ‘grounded’ and ‘prepared’ by using somatic/dance/movement-based language to enable a sense of embodiment and smooth transition between the physical and the virtual space. Once into VR, we invited the participants to: look around; be guided around the virtual space by us; reach out and touch the floor, the space around them and the molecules that were moving in the virtual space with them. Approx. half-way through the 5-10 minute experience, we handed over the (HTC Vive) controllers to participants, which made their participation ‘interactive’ in the 3-dimensional VR space i.e. they could use the controllers to move the molecules inhabiting the virtual space with them. Some participants were happy to just talk with us through the experience, others wanted to be guided via the materials and others wanted their hands on the controllers straight away. Participants were truly amazed at the demo and had a lot of things to say to us at the end of their ‘journeys’. Insights such as: loosing self-consciousness and feeling a sense of play when in the VR space, being able to communicate with us through the string, being able to interact with the molecules, being ‘in there’ with others they knew and didn’t know, and how the ‘other’ bodies were not seen but heard and often touched.

Written by Lisa May Thomas, Dance Artist / Film-maker & PhD Candidate in Performance and Technology at University of Bristol
Additional dancers: Fernanda Muñoz-Newsome, Sarah Corbett, and Verena Schneider
Also present; Prof Jo Hyde (Bath Spa Uni), and Alex Jones (UWE student)
Rob Arbon, Robin Shannon, Mike O-Connor, and David Glowacki (of Glowacki Group, Chemistry Dept., University of Bristol)