The Jerusalem Post

Dance festival takes on virtual reality

- • By ORI J. LENKINSKI The VR Dance Jerusalem Festival will take place from June 20 through July 1. For more informatio­n, visit www.macholshal­

When theaters closed, the performing arts community turned to the Internet. It was as if artists had never looked at their computers in that way before, as a conduit for their art. Sure, artists had used video platforms to share trailers of their work but moving all of their engagement­s to the screen constitute­d a huge abstractio­n from most artists’ practice. And while some shrunk away from this new terrain, Machol Shalem Dance House’s founders and directors Ofra Idel and Ruby Edelman dove headfirst into the unknown.

Next week, Machol Shalem (MASH) will host the first-ever dance festival using Virtual Reality goggles. VR Dance Jerusalem is an internatio­nal festival, which will introduce audiences to VR as a means to experience dance performanc­e.

“We were bored,” explains Ruby Edelman on the phone. He has just finished a Zoom call with Singapore, ironing out technical difficulti­es for the screening of PheNoumeno­n by T.H.E. Dance Company, which will open the festival. “Last year, we had an event and once we realized it couldn’t be live, we invited artists to do videos. We understood that for Corona it worked but to move forward, we needed to take another step to use technology to reach new audiences. We asked around and found out that the next technology is VR and so we started to learn it. We figured it would be nice to invite other artists to experiment with this technology so that they could record their works and broadcast them in a way that wouldn’t feel like a weak substitute for the real thing. Can I say it replaces the real thing? No. But it’s an interestin­g alternativ­e.”

Transferri­ng what would be a live show into 360 degree VR technology is not a small jump. In fact, it requires of the artists to perceive their works in a completely different way, taking countless angles and possibilit­ies into account.

“We are giving the mind f@#$, the platform, and letting the artists interpret it. There are a set of cameras and they can decide what is important to capture. Every angle will have its own input. It was fascinatin­g to see how each artist took it. People really went into it like pilots in a plane. It really breaks with the regular frontal performanc­e,” says Edelman.

To make this platform possible, MASH partnered with a company called VR To Go, which is spearheadi­ng the developmen­t of VR for a wide range of content and fields. “They are young people who have been developing VR technologi­es for several years. Since a lot of their events were canceled, they went into assisted living facilities to provide content for residents such as walks in nature. They liked the idea of a VR dance festival. They want VR to get into every field, and culture is a very important platform. We started to understand the platform and to see how it could contribute to dance.”

The program includes collaborat­ion with the Israel Festival. All of the dance artists presenting works as part of the Israel Festival’s Inspiratio­nal Connection­s, Ronen Itzhaki, Amir Kolben, Yoram Karmi and Noa Dar will also show their works using VR. In addition, Edelman has created a new work for the festival and former MASH producer Lilach Orenstein will present her work She Will Come on Her Own. There will also be several live events such as Or Marin’s Raining Men and Yoanna Blikman’s Breathing Room. “We are treading lightly with live shows because we started last year with everything live and ended with everything streamed. It’s a hybrid way to be,” says Edelman.

Edelman explains that the viewer experience with VR is largely different than sitting in a theater and watching dance. “I think the experience inspires thought. As a virtual experience, it challenges our orientatio­n. You see something in front of you that isn’t there. What is real and what is not changes. Mostly, the change of location, you teleport yourself through space, we are used to doing it in film and tv, now you decide where you want to stand on the stage. So you’re in the show in a much more involved way. Dependent on the content. We are trying to understand how to give the viewer something that is different, that adds to the experience of watching a dance film.”

Following the festival, the staff of MASH plan to take what they have learned and apply it to their next major event, Jerusalem Internatio­nal Dance Week. “We developed this concept with the support of the Jerusalem Fund and the Foreign Ministry. We didn’t know if we could bring internatio­nal guests to Israel so we thought we would send 150 VR goggles to artistic directors and festival directors around the world and bring ourselves to them in the best way possible. It won’t replace the live meeting but it allows us to keep in touch and to make new content from new angles. We’re taking the whole thing as an experiment to see how it works. We tell people to come, try it and meet us on the other side to tell us how it was.”

 ?? (Crispin Chan) ?? PHENOUMENO­N by T.H.E. Dance Company.
(Crispin Chan) PHENOUMENO­N by T.H.E. Dance Company.

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