Mixed-reality performance: dance and virtual worlds

Historically, dance is a presentation, entertainment that is meant to be enjoyed in the proscenium: ballet, acrobatic, opera. Even on screen, audiences have been meant to watch from their “window.” Dance has moved beyond its historical origins in endless artistic innovation and new formulations of existing tools and skills for expression of movement in time and space. Site-specific works, shown in alternative performance spaces, invite the audience closer to the work and to even engage within the dance piece. The inclusion of more vernacular movements and situations allows greater meaning for audiences, and more opportunities to connect with the work. Improvisation allows real-time communication and exploration between participants.

Dance performances have always been highly collaborative–with sets, costumes, music, lighting, and now more and more, with technology. Dance scholar Kerstin Evert (2002) describes the 1960s as a prominent historical period when media technologies integrated with dance. Additionally, she cites the 1990s as a another significant time in dance and digital technology experiments. Further, Sarah Rubidge (2004) argues that ‘digital dance’ is a commonly recognized term amongst practitioners and theorists to designate dance practices that rely primarily on digital media with regard to the creation and presentation of their aesthetics and content. Rubidge explains that since its establishment in the mid-1990s, the practice of digital dance quickly began to develop in several directions within various forms, aesthetics, and styles while experimenting with different types of digital technologies (Gündüz, 2012). 

Dance has inherently been a corporeal experience, but with the software development of virtual worlds, now humans can occupy, simultaneously, two separate spaces and times in one mixed reality. Online virtual worlds like Second Life allow new venues and types of performance creations. Within the virtual world, SL avatars, representations of real life players, can experience in-world performances. Performances can include videos of SL avatars interacting with real-life dancers, either pre-recorded or in real-time. The performativity of technology in digital dance allows technology to be the more dominant creative body, and Gündüz (2012) presents the idea that “staged digital dance marks the entry of the art form of dance into the posthuman paradigm.”  However, some mixed-reality explorations such as that from the group Senses Places still aim to keep performative experiences somatic to engage kinesthetic empathy (Valverde, 2013). The kinesthetic response is a characteristic that maintains a central place in dance performance, whether with human or computer players, in real-life or virtual world.


Evert, Kerstin. (2002). Dance and technology at the turn of the last and present centuries. In Dinkla, Soke, Leeker, and Martina (Eds.), Dance and technology. Moving towards media productions (pp. 30-62). Berlin: Alexander Verlag, 2002.

Rubidge, Sarah. (2004, July). Dance criticism in the light of digital dance. Keynote paper presented at the Seminar on Dance Criticism and Interdisciplinary Practice,Taipei, Japan. Retrieved June 27, 2014 from http://www.sensedigital.co.uk/writing/CritIntDiscTaiw.pdf

Gündüz, Zeynep. (2012). Digital dance: (dis)entangling human and technology. Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers.

Valverde, Isabel. (2013). Senses Places: developing a somatic dance-technology approach. Retrieved June 27, 2014 from http://www.researchgate.net/publication/257066559_Senses_Places_developing_a_somatic_dance-technology_approach

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