This article is published through our Regional Reporter Program. We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts through the Digital Now initiative.
Imagine the reactions we would hear from George Balanchine or Martha Graham if we were to have told them that one day a new dance work could be created by multiple choreographers, from different geographies, at the same time without ever travelling to each other’s cities.
That type of collaborative approach is now a reality, and in Canada, Atlantic Ballet Atlantique Canada has led the way. They recently received significant funding from the Digital Strategy Fund of Canada Council for the Arts to establish CoLABenDirect and Dance XR for these technological ways of co-creating.
Launched in 2021, CoLABenDirect grew from a need to relieve some of the struggle regional dance companies and dancers experience when collaborating hundreds of kilometres apart from each other. A few years ago, a group of dance creators from Toronto, Halifax and Fredericton who were scheduled to present at the ballet’s annual Impact Festival were unsuccessful in a project grant application.
“This is so typical. We witnessed the struggle to get the work up, to be able to bring it to the festival, putting in their own money sometimes, applying for another grant, getting part of a grant, not the full grant and sending videos back and forth. A very complicated situation,” Susan Chalmers-Gauvin, co-founder and CEO of Atlantic Ballet, said. “We know this is the story of the majority of our dance companies.”
CoLABenDirect provides an equipment kit, free of charge, that includes a camera and microphone and allows the users to take control of each other’s cameras from multiple locations at a distance, zoom in and out and pan across the dance studio. This avoids watching dancers dance out of the scene. The equipment allows the choreographers to co-create and talk back and forth while the music is playing.
“It brings one more level of intimacy and exchange than a straight-up flat screen,” said Sara Coffin, the co-artistic director of Mocean Dance. The company was involved in CoLABenDirect’s testing phase.
But the benefits don’t stop there. “Once you have a collaborative relationship established, it definitely saves the environment, accommodation and per diem costs and still allows work with new perspectives and new people,” said Coffin.
The next generation of the ballet’s digital transformation is Dance XR, which is currently in the research and development phase. It was conceptualized partly based on feedback from the testing phase of CoLABenDirect. Participants requested something that was more 3D, which then turned into discussions with the ballet’s technology providers about holographic systems used in aerospace engineering, the oil and gas sector and health care.
The company is reimagining one particular solution, known as Remote Spark, to convert choreographic work into 3D visuals, including life-size holograms and augmented reality using specialized goggles.
As digital technologies advance, so can costs for dancers and dance companies who are typically project-based. Atlantic Ballet hopes to offer this additional collaboration solution free of charge.
“It’s the opportunity to work with augmented reality, go in studio and collaborate in a new way, and who knows what will come out of that in terms of dance practice,” said Chalmers-Gauvin. “You get creatives working with new technologies, and there’s also some advancement to the art form, which is exciting.”
Coffin said that more digital engagement makes sense, particularly in Atlantic Canada where there are fewer dancers and dance communities, who can feel isolated or are underfunded.
“To be able to create networks and have national conversations more easily, that are more embodied even when distance is a reality, it definitely serves that in a new way that we haven’t previously been able to experience.”
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