When worlds collide… virtually

Dancers Zahra Shahab, Rianne Svelnis and Lexi Vajda | Photo courtesy of NFB

The Vancouver International Women in Film Festival (March 7–11) will be giving the public a chance to experience Tidal Traces, a four-minute, 360-video VR dance piece co-created by film director Nancy Lee and choreographer Emmalena Fredriksson. This virtual reality work places viewers in the centre of the performance. In it, three characters, played by Zahra Shahab Rianne Svelnis and Lexi Vajda, explore a new and uncertain world – moving between tranquillity and ominousness, beauty and peril. The collaboration between the two artists, with the support of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), is a pioneering step in the Virtual Reality Entertainment genre and is one of the presentations worth a look at the festival.

Putting on Google head gear and headphones, the viewer is instantly somewhere else. It may have been filmed at the intertidal mudflats of Boundary Bay Regional Park, but with the amazing music and ghostly dance figures the viewer is transported to the mystical vision of Lee and Fredriksson.

The challenges started right away with naming the piece.

“We had a roundtable at the NFB where we all watched Tidal Traces and we just threw out words,” Lee says.

“We were drawn to Tidal Traces; obviously it was in the Tidal Mudflats, but then it is also about something that is about a change,” says Fredriksson.

With both artists, the question was: why explore the new world of 360-video VR?

“It lends itself to dance quite easily, 360 performance is not new and to record it makes it more real and exciting,” Fredriksson says.

“When I first saw 360, I said I want to do something in this medium,” says Lee.

Tidal mudflats challenges

The ever-changing mudflats not only had challenges in store for the dancers, but for the new camera system used to film in 360 as well.

“The $30,000 Google Jump Camera comes with this giant battery pack that we had to haul into the ocean,” Lee says. “We put in a Rubbermaid container and then that came with buoyancy issues, so we had to weigh the camera down.”

They had to choose a tidal window of about three hours when both tide and light were right.

“It felt like we had all these flying parts that we had to tie down. The (camera) rig had to be sorted, the tide had to be sorted and the light had to be right,” says Lee.

“[The dancers’] responsibility were quite different,” says Fredriksson. “They had to negotiate both the desire to be good dancers and what their bodies can do in that environment. A lot of the dance stuff became about problem solving because the hardness of the sand would change. On one day’s rehearsal the terrain would be one way and then the next it would change.”

The challenges kept coming during post production. While Lee was looking at the composition, Fredriksson made sure the dance standard was respected. All that had to happen without making too many cuts as to keep the piece flowing as smooth as possible.

Lee took most of the technical challenges upon herself, and Fredriksson the choreography, the creative vision was a collaborative one. In the end both artists hope that the piece is one that lives up to the experience of the new medium.

For more information, please visit www.womeninfilm.ca

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