Ringside is a brand new arena where
spectacle in virtual reality meets
live dance performance
'Gli Amanti' by Adriano Bolognino
Ringside brings dance to distant communities where it has never been seen before,
arriving in a single touring vehicle, and with no need for anything more than a circle of chairs
Ringside: Highlands and Islands
where dance goes next
Ringside touring 2023/24
20 March 2024 Darmstadt, Germany
You will see five new works in VR, and five newly commissioned live duets for Ringside touring. It's the day before Spring Forward 2024.
Put the date in your diary, but don't confirm it just yet since this entire project is waiting on Creative Europe funding from the EU. Sign up below for news.
Now for the small print
Ringside brings international dance performances to the remote highland and island communities of five countries of Europe, both live and through the digital medium of Virtual Reality. It's a brand new format, a high-tech hybrid performance that has never toured before.
The project builds on outcomes following action research into VR as one of 19 experiments in sustainable touring selected by Perform Europe. The leap to the new hybrid model with the addition of live performance is the substance of this new project. Remarkably, although spanning 5000 km, it requires most artists to make only one return journey by plane.
The Ringside format will be common to more than 80 touring performances in Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Croatia and Sardinia. It can be set up within three hours in any room that may hold a circle of chairs for 25 people. Two dancers welcome them and make them comfortable as they put on VR headsets – and are simultaneously transported to a dance performance recorded in a theatre on the other side of Europe. The illusion is completed by compelling sound in the room and the proximity of others united as an audience.
The dancers return to perform a work commissioned for this audience in the circle of chairs – five different duets in five different countries, but also capable of performing each others' work. Ringside draws newcomers in to direct, unexpected, visceral dance from Europe's leading independent choreographers.
Ringside brings them dance up close.
This project addresses the deficit in more than 20 locations where few have access to live performing arts, and where the premium of a three hour trip to enjoy them often limits choice to safe bets. Two spectacular works will also be newly filmed for them in VR, and all the artists will share their works with each other before a showcase at dance platform Spring Forward. Ringside is both producer and presenter, and intends this project to act as a springboard for a new network dedicated to hybrid performance.
Enya Belak and Igor Crnkovic
who we are
Edvin Liveric, Croatia
Now Director of the Croatian Cultural Center in Rijeka (HKD), Edvin has been Aerowaves Partner for Croatia for many years, hosting its annual selection meeting in Porec in 2011. Everything was ready for his presentation of Aerowaves' festival Spring Forward in 2020 when it was forced on line by Covid. He is a founding member of the Pan Adria dance network, and led the Ringside Perform Europe project, personally attending most of its presentations both in Croatia and in neighbouring countries. HKD has become the production centre for VR dance documentation, led by Igor Crnkovic and Enya Belak.
Bridget Webster, Ireland
Aerowaves Partner for Ireland for seven years at the turn of the century, Bridget joined its
Board and was integral to the set-up of a new Irish company for its governance following the decision of the UK to leave the EU. She is one of the founders of CoisCeim Dance Theatre, its Executive Producer and CEO, recently commissioning the recording of two VR works from Enya Belak and Igor Crnkovic. Bridget will oversee the design and build of the new Ringside website in Dublin and ensure that all elements and content are properly maintained. She will be responsible for financial reporting and the project management of the transnational activities of Ringside, and the administration of any grant award with Ana Bernard at HKD.
Frosso Trousa, Greece
An Aerowaves Partner for Greece, Frosso celebrated its 25th anniversary last year with the
production of the most ambitious Spring Forward festival in Elefsina as European Capital of Culture. She is the founder and Artistic Director of the Athens festival 'ARC for Dance', now in its fifteenth year, and more recently 'Moving Colors', a dance festival for younger audiences. She is also the director of Dan.c.ce Unitiva, a long-established Athens studio for professional dance training and classes. Frosso will be responsible for the artistic direction of the project, bringing the partners into common agreement, and leading the artists during the ten days of production workshops and exchanges in Darmstadt.
Rui Torrinha, Portugal
A more recent Aerowaves Partner for Portugal, Rui is the Artistic Director of Centro Cultural
Vila Flor (CCVF) in Guimaraes, the largest of the Ringside partner organisations, co-producer
of national dance productions and residencies, and director of the annual Guidance festival.
CCVF has a Marketing and Communications staff of 12 headed by Marta Ferreira. It is here
that common design and print for the project will be pooled and produced along with eNews
and social media messaging, providing templates for partners' local social media accounts. Brand consistency and all funding acknowledgements will be assured.
Moreno Solinas and
Igor Urzelai Hernando, Italy
Igor&Moreno are dancers and joint choreographers of their own company, selected as Aerowaves artists in 2015 for their signature piece 'Idiot-Syncrasy' which was recently
recorded in VR in Rijeka as part of the Ringside Perform Europe project. They are also
co-artistic directors of S'ALA, a dance space in Sassari, Sardinia. They have recently received
structural funding which includes responsibility for the development of dance at a regional
scale. Igor&Moreno will not only make one of the live duets, on other dancers, but will also
take transnational responsibility for artist liaison, dialogue and welfare throughout the course of the project.
John Ashford, Ringside Developer
John Ashford is the Founder of Aerowaves,
a European network for research and presentation of emerging dance companies with 44 partners in 33 countries. He remained its Director as it grew over 25 years, inaugurating its itinerant annual showcase Spring Forward in 2011, and its associated publication Springback Magazine in 2018.
He passed the Direction to a new generation last year. He initiated Springback Ringside in 2019, and has since guided its artistic development towards an independent producing network. John was formerly the Director of The Place Theatre and the ICA Theatre in London, and founding Theatre Editor of Time Out Magazine.
Igor and Moreno in 'Idiot-Syncracy'
Ringside: The catalogue
what we have captured in VR
‘BEAT ‘I just wish to feel you', Jenna Jalonen, Hungary
‘Babae’, Joy Alpuerto Ritter, Germany
‘Roselyne’, Cécile Da Costa, Czech Republic
‘The Lion’s Den’, Sabina Bočková & Johana Pocková, Czech Republic
‘PLI’, Viktor Černicky, Czech Republic
‘Ruins’, Rhys Dennis & Waddah Sinada/Fubunation, UK
‘MASTERWORK’, Emese Cuhorka & Csaba Molnár, Hungary
Things move but they do not say anything’, Poliana Lima, Spain
‘Gli Amanti’, Adriano Bolognino, Italy
‘Al/She/Me’, Linda Hayford, France
‘The Ephemeral Life of an Octopus', Léa Tirabasso, Luxembourg/UK)
‘Idiot-Syncrasy’, Igor & Moreno, Italy
‘Body Monologue’, Anastasia Valsamaki, Greece
All these have been produced in collaboration with Aerowaves and Springback. Coming up next for Ringside, amongst others, and dependent on funding:
‘A Corpo Libero, Silvia Gribaudi, Italy
‘Gran Bolero’, Jesus Rubio Gamo, Spain
'Westward Ho!', Tero Saarinen, Finland
In collaboration with dance artists and our partners, we are exploring the possibilities of recording dance in virtual reality as a way to document works that is more accurate than classic flat-screen video recording. The result is immersive video that can also simulate a visit to a dance performance.
The performances are filmed in VR180, a stereoscopic technique that provides a viewing experience as close as possible to real life.
The process of translating dance performances to VR includes some adaptation, filming, and postproduction of recorded audio and visual material.
The VR team includes Enya Belak as Director, Slovenia; and Igor Crnković for Filming and Postproduction, Croatia.
'Body Monologue' by Anastasia Valsamaki
Ringside: Highlands and Islands
the long read
FRONT ROW CENTRE
Picture this. In a small seaside town, a hybrid vehicle pulls up outside the library. Its four
passengers carry four gleaming flight cases to the Library’s meeting room. They arrange 25
chairs there into a circle, lay a VR headset on each one, and plug in. A couple of hours later the audience starts to arrive, alerted by posters in the town, local social media and word-of-mouth. They are of all ages, curious about both VR technology and dance, but with little experience of either. Two of their hosts, who turn out to be dancers, make them feel comfortable with the technology and tell them what’s about to happen.
And so it begins. Suddenly each and every one of them is sitting in the same central front row seat in a large theatre. A dozen diverse Spanish dancers circle and twirl in a carousel of perseverance, each individual in the audience turning their heads to follow the details of the fleeting stories and relationships which most intrigue them. The music is a re-imagining of Ravel’s Bolero: it fills the room, and at its climax of celebration the audience break into applause, removing the headsets. But of course, none of the Spanish dancers are there. The two local dancers acknowledge the clapping on their behalf, and explain that they will be back in a few minutes.
The headsets are collected, the audience remain in their seats, and the dancers return in costume to perform their duet within the ring and around it, now close up, living and breathing, with only music as theatrical support. They end by coaxing the audience to rise and join them in a circle dance, one that the elders may remember as traditional from their childhood.
And so the evening dissolves into a party, with plenty of opportunity for questioning the technology and artistry of the event, both informally and formally. A Zoom screen might
even allow questions to be put directly to the choreographers live in other countries.
The dancers invite them back for the following day. It will be different, they say.
And it is different. This time the audience is transported to the vaulting depths of an ancient
marble quarry, and together confront its spirit in the form of a solo dancer, fragile and transient against the timeless severity of the stone face. Afterwards, the two dancers perform a different duet live, not theirs but learned from their Ringside colleagues on the other side of Europe. Another invitation: bring your kids to a special VR performance the next day to see ‘Francis Footwork’ followed by a workshop based on movement from the show.
Many new friends have been made here, but…
The hybrid vehicle draws away having delivered its hybrid show. It was not the circus that came to town, it was Ringside; but don’t worry, they will be back to delight more newcomers who never dreamed dance could be like that.
Ringside: Highlands and islands may be a brand new idea, a high-tech hybrid performance
that has never toured before, but it has been five years in the making. John Ashford, then
Director of Aerowaves, the European network for new dance discovery, conceived it in the
summer of 2019. Why did VR experiments always engage fantasy spaces and avatars, like
gaming? Why not harness the new technology to document reality?
At Aerowaves Partners' meeting that autumn in Zurich, he hired a local commercial VR company to come on the Friday night and make a short 360º film of the six-strong resident Tanzhaus company as they performed in the studio theatre for the Partners. On Sunday the Partners returned to the same theatre, resumed their seats, donned VR headsets, and compared what they saw to the original live performance. The results were deeply disappointing: although three-dimensional, the choreography appeared flat, dull, remote, the pixellated detail so diffuse that the work barely commanded attention. What had gone wrong?
The commercial company was abandoned, adequate for estate agents but not for art. Aerowaves assembled its own expert team including choreographer/filmmaker Enya Belak in Ljubljana and filmmaker/technician Igor Crnkovic in Rijeka. Experimenting as best they could through the restrictions of the pandemic, they first turned their attention to the camera.
Why record in 360º when you can get double the detail in 180º? There’s rarely a need to look behind you when watching dance. A pre-production stereoscopic camera was identified and imported from Hong Kong, donated by a private benefactor. These would be the two glass eyes of the audience in the front row. Next, the headsets. Why pay for complex interactive potential you don’t need? Trade-only Pico are designed for commercial display and deliver the highest possible image quality for the price. And sound? Was the visual illusion reinforced by speakers in the room? If so, how could the stereophonic sound stage be preserved? Experiments proved that perfected sound radically strengthened perception of the visual image.
And finally, filming the work. It was not good enough to simply place the camera in front of it. Height was of critical importance, and the lighting must be increased and modified. Sometimes, the work needed to be adapted for the VR camera, the artists agreeing to changes whereby details and emphasis became visible that might otherwise be lost.
A series of a dozen new recordings were made in 2020/21, each more convincing than the last as lessons were applied. Experiments were conducted to ascertain the most effective seating arrangement to enable a collective audience experience while preserving individual personal space. Test audiences confirmed that the proximity of the circle greatly enhanced Ringside as a genuine communal experience, distinguishing it from private individual viewing. No item from
the growing catalogue would ever be released for solitary or unrestricted use.
In 2022 came the opportunity of dedicated funding when Ringside achieved one of only 19 grants available to an initial field of 1,200 Perform Europe applicants. It was through the
programme's ‘match-making’ process that Ringside met again with the choreographers
Igor&Moreno, and for the first time it was possible to dedicate a week in a theatre to capturing a version of their 2014 classic duet ‘Idiot-Syncrasy’. The Croatian Cultural Center (HKD) in Rijeka became the base for VR dance production, attracting new interest like that of CoisCéim Dance Theatre. They commissioned Enya Belak and Igor Crnkovic to film two works in VR, ‘Francis Footwork’ and ‘Go to Blazes’, which recently won an Irish Times Theatre Award.
Perform Europe accelerated action research into audiences and their responses to the
innovative VR offer. It was tested in 16 locations through 24 showings in 6 countries: Croatia,
Slovenia, Serbia, Hungary, Italy and the Czech Republic, with performances additional to the
project in Ireland, Greece and the UK. The locations varied from theatre studios to cinema
foyers, galleries to old peoples' homes, schools to libraries; in small towns and large cities,
sometimes associated with festivals or conferences.
From first-hand audience feedback reports by the Partners at the locations, clear conclusions
> The work must be of high quality and engrossing for those not accustomed to dance if it is to be longer than 30 minutes – the VR experience can be tiring for eyes and brain
> The headsets are cumbersome, hot and heavy. Enormous commercial resources are being poured into their development, so these problems should be solved with the next
> The social aspects of gathering for a presentation are highly valued, and the insistence on the circle format of chairs emphasises that
> Presentations in theatres reminded some that they will always prefer live performance,
and presentations in cinemas invited unhelpful comparisons with flat screens. Neutral
spaces free of such associations offer the best opportunities for the new form to establish
itself on its own terms
> Those who most value the Ringside offer are likely to have little or no previous experience
of either VR or dance performance, to be in remote locations where cultural activities are
infrequent, and they are more likely to be young and adventurous whatever their abilities
> We found them in highlands and islands, and they became curious about traveling for live
dance performances for the first time
> The potential for audience development is almost unlimited
The present construction has emerged from these reports and recommendations, Ringside:
Highlands and islands. The low countries, like Belgium and The Netherlands, are usually
densely populated with good transport links.
It is in the remote and rural locations of the
countries of this project where Ringside finds its true audience, where few have access to the live performing arts, and where the premium of a two or three hour journey to enjoy them often limits choice to safe bets. Ringside draws them in to direct, unexpected, visceral dance from Europe's leading independent choreographers. Ringside brings them dance up close.
NEW HYBRID MODEL
The big leap to the new hybrid model with the addition of live performance is the substance of
an application to the EU's Creative Europe as a Cooperation Project. It capitalises on all that has gone before. Its final form is the product of
its five Partners meeting together intensively over three days during the Guidance festival in
Guimaraes. How will it work?
Each Partner assumes responsibility for aspects of project delivery: artistic direction, Greece; VR
production, Croatia; communication and marketing, Portugal; dancer liaison, Italy; executive administration, Ireland. They will jointly commission two new VR recordings drawn from a selection of four tried and tested productions, final choice dependent upon artist availability and balance. These works will be recorded on stage at the Croatian Cultural Centre (HKD) in January 2024, or possibly in a found location. The partners will further commission five new live duets of about 20 minutes duration from choreographers resident in Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Croatia and Italy.
The choreographers will cast local dancers with the agreement of the country partner, and the
works will be made in their own countries over three weeks concluding in the spring of 2024. All the artists and partners will gather in Darmstadt, Germany from 11 March. The artists will take daily class together, and in the large ballet studio at the Staatstheater each duo will teach their piece to the dancers from the four other countries, and they will all learn workshop material related to the VR recording of CoisCeim's kids show 'Frances Footwork’ for those over eight years old. These encounters will strengthen the artists’ understanding of other European dance cultures, may open new transnational opportunities, and will embrace them within a single artistic project.
On 20 March, in five different ‘community’ locations representing those they will encounter on tour, all five companies will present their VR/live programme, repeated up to three times
according to demand. The audience will be drawn from Darmstadt, and 300 tickets will be
available to the public through the Staatstheater’s Education and Outreach teams. However, priority will be given to around 70 presenters and producers who have been persuaded to arrive early prior to Aerowaves’ festival Spring Forward scheduled there over the weekend. This will be the project’s major dissemination event. Those attending will be the best-placed in Europe to extend the reach of the project, and their attendance at the showcase will not add to their air miles since they will be coming to Darmstadt anyway.
In the following days, each duo will decide which second work from another country they wish to adopt and take on tour, and the choreographer will visit them for a week to adapt it to the new cast. Four weeks touring in the five countries will be completed over the following year.
In addition to the remote locations identified, attention will be given to those who are socially rather than geographically isolated – Diodos, an addiction prevention centre for young people on the island of Rhodes, for instance, or an old peoples' home in the former mining town of Labin in Istria.
The tours will take place often in week-long blocks for different regions and according to the conditions there. Greek tours will occupy the dead winter months when tourists are absent, for instance, whereas in Croatia mountainous resorts will be avoided during the ski season. The partners will visit their own productions on tour, and also those of another country to gain a broad view of Ringside’s progress.
Lessons will be exchanged. Ariadne Mikou, a writer and researcher, will visit all five productions, write about her visits on the dedicated website together with a video diary, and publish a series of three linked articles or a special Supplement in Springback Magazine. This will be the project’s second and constant dissemination channel.
During the project, the partners will take every opportunity to explain its philosophy and
progress in discussion forums and lectures as part of their wider responsibilities. Presenters and producers wishing to know more will be invited to a workshop/conference over two days during the Port of Dance Festival in Rijeka, early May 2025. Enya Belak will gather visual records into a 20 minute documentary film, and the most popular work will be shown again.
The workshop/conference may conclude this pioneering project, but most importantly it will not signal an end to Ringside but a new beginning. Presenters both within and beyond the countries of the five initiating partners will be invited to assess its problems and successes, forming the shape of the next stage of development. Many will be invited to join the existing partners in a new network that will commission further performances and spread them across the highlands and islands of Europe.
CoisCéim Dance Theatre
Ringside: Contact us
we'll be in touch
Interim website made by John Ashford with photography by Igor Crnkovic, Enya Belak, Ste Murray and Jim Campbell