The Mather Dance Center in Case Western University campus built in 1907 is not necessarily the place I expect to encounter the first-of-its-kind experimental dance performance. Yet, I was there, on Nov 16 2017, surrounded by 80 audiences all wearing HoloLens to see a dance performance, “Imagined Odyssey”, fusing Holograms with dancer’s movement.
In “Imagined Odyssey”, dancers passed through holographic golden gate, their physical body movement generated holographic tornado and fiery trails, and mysterious trees grew from the floor. There was definitely room for improvement when it comes to 3D asset quality and how it complements the dance, yet I was still blown away by all the technical challenges they overcame including wirelessly networking 80 HoloLens for shared experience, developing custom IR based dancer tracking system that broadcasts position data to the apps on HoloLens, and creating custom carts to safely transport 80 HoloLens to dance theater.
I also felt electrified to see group of 80 people ranging from young university students to senior citizens not just wearing HoloLens but seeing the same thing at the same time together. In this theater, seeing hologram was no more an isolated experience, but shared reality.
Lastly, I realized again how much mixing live theater with virtual content could be a powerful means to amplify realism in mixed reality experience.
Because Holograms appeared not just in a random place, but in reaction to dancer’s position and gestures, they fused more tightly with the reality and added fresh light to dancer’s movement.
So how this cutting edge performance ended up happening in Case Western University? It all started with Mark Grisworld, a world renowned radiology researcher and professor at Case Western, visiting the basement of Microsoft building 92 to see the very first HoloLens demo on Nov 2014. He said the demo was a world shattering experience to the extent he could not stand properly after seeing it. The demo convinced him MR is the new medium Case Western should adopt, went back to the campus and built Interactive Commons, a campus-wide incubator to apply cutting edge visualization technology to advance student learning and academic research.
Mark, as a radiology professor and a director of Interactive Commons, works at the intersection point between many different disciplines. He believes cross-pollination between different domains will create a leap in innovation and tries to apply the power of HoloLens not only to the field of medicine, but to business and fine arts.
Since Mark brought HoloLens to anatomy classes in 2015, many people in the campus has been intrigued by this ingenious device. Among those is Gary Galbraith, a professor of dance. Mark said Gary came to the classes many times just to observe people wearing HoloLens and they started to tinker together how HoloLens can bring change to dance performance. Through 2 years of exchanging different expertise and interests, “Imagined Odyssey” came to a life.
On my way back to home in Seattle, I thought about what kind of more progress can be made to the dance performance using HoloLens. Then, I remembered seeing a video of “Riders of the storyboard” by DandyPunk showcased in New Frontier at Sundance 2017. Although it used a projection mapping, not augmented reality, it provided a tantalizing glimpse of what future of storytelling and performance could be like using Mixed Reality. Especially, I liked the illusion of the dancer interacting with 2D graphic novel character and turning virtual objects into real ones which added more realism to this illusion. Besides these, I think freeing audience from fixed seats and enabling them to move around the performers will help people quickly realize that holograms are actually placed in the world, around dancers and actually have dimensions.
Mark Grisworld said, “Imagined Odyssey is the only beginning”. I look forward what kind of unique experiences will be shaped by people like Mark and Gary who crosses the boundaries of their disciplines and explore uncharted terrain.