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The National Gallery and Avant Garde Dance

16th June 2020

Virtual reality dance in the National Gallery

  • How can dance interpret and respond to our paintings and architecture?
  • How can movement animate our space and art and help us see both in new ways?
  • How can we share the experience of watching a live dance performance in the Gallery with people who live far away?

These were some of the questions the National Gallery set out to explore in a collaborative project with Avant Garde Dance Company, as part of YouTube’s VR Creator Lab programme; an initiative to support creators to make on-line virtual reality content in new VR180 format capturing 180 degree panoramic images.

Dancing the Portico

In this video, choreographer Tony Adigun has created a VR180 dance inspired by the Portico space:

Videos and choreographer

In this project the National Gallery explored the fusion of art, architecture, dance and VR180 technology to create exciting content for their YouTube channel.

Working with choreographer Tony Adigun, Artistic Director of Avant Garde Dance, an East London-based dance company pushing the boundaries of hip-hop and contemporary dance, the Gallery created a series of four VR180 videos. These feature two short dance works specially created for the format alongside videos telling the story of the creative process.

Tony’s choreography and Avant Garde Dance are artistically innovative and exciting in their fusion of contemporary and hip-hop dance and they connect with diverse audiences from across London’s demographic; something which is a priority for us.

Emma McFarland, Innovation Programme Lead

Artistic inspiration

Tony’s inspiration for the dance videos were Joseph Wright ‘of Derby’s’ painting An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump in Room 34 and the Gallery’s Portico. Explaining his choice of painting, Tony said:

It intrigued me with its delicate balance between life and death and the varied reactions of the figures in the scene to what was unfolding before them. I liked the way the central character in the painting gazes out at the viewer, daring him or her to look. Gaze was a word that cropped up again and again as we explored choreographing for this new VR180 format. We quickly learned that creating a connection between the dancer and the viewer through direct eye contact made for the best viewing experience. It differentiates this format from watching a dance film or a theatre performance where dancers never break this ‘fourth wall’ between dancer and audience.

Tony Adigun, Choreographer, Avant Garde Dance

For his dance in the Portico, Tony worked with Krumper Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade and contemporary dancer Ajani Johson-Goffe. Tony explains:

I wanted to respond to the theatricality and grandeur of the Portico and the mix of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power in its architecture. And I wanted to juxtapose powerful movement by Black dancers and a space which has an imperial feel about it.

Tony Adigun, Choreographer, Avant Garde Dance

Live performance

Alongside watching the dance in virtual reality on their YouTube channel, the National Gallery staged two specially-commissioned extended free live performances of the work at the Gallery, which you can watch here:

Artistic team

Choreographer: Tony Adigun (Avant Garde Dance)
Composer: Seymour Milton
VR180 dancers: Sara Augieras, Sam Ford, Ajani Johnson-Goffe, Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade

Read more on the National Gallery website

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More about Avant Garde Dance

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