Monday, June 25, 2012

Advanced Dancing 7 - Inarra Saarinen

Advanced Dancing 7 - Inarra Saarinen 120625

Ballet Pixelle is recognized as the first professional dance group in SL, so I was very pleased when Inarra Saarinen, the group's founder and artistic director, agreed to write an article on advanced dancing for us. Here is what she sent ...


How to Put On a Dance Performance in the Virtual World

What does it take to do a dance performance in the virtual world?  Notice that it says "dance performance" not "virtual dance performance".  At Ballet Pixelle®, we consider it real dance that happens to be performed in a virtual environment.

The rest of this article is from our point of view at Ballet Pixelle.  Ballet Pixelle was started in 2006 and has been performing actively year-round since then.  We perform in Second Life® and also in Real Life.  We do approximately 3 original ballets per year plus our version of the Nutcracker called "The Nut" (because it is the dancing essence of "The Nutcracker").  We are currently rehearsing our 15th ballet!  We hope a few things that we learned the hard way might be interesting and help you avoid the pain. 

First and foremost:  Your goal.  What do you want to do?  Have fun, learn how to samba, teach others about dance?  What kind of dance do you want to do?  Do you want to go solo or group?  Children or adults?  Fairies or furries?  Gorean or spiritual?  Choose your dance form and your goal.

Our goal is the choreographic exploration of physical and virtual dance movement and blended realities.  We aim at being a professional Real Life and Second Life ballet company.

Now, what do you do next?  The following are ten key aspects of putting on a dance performance in virtual reality. 

Number One: Good, committed, talented dancers and crew!  Of course, this depends on what kind of dance or company you want to have, but for us the commitment is crucial. Because we dance without poseballs or HUDs, we have complex sets, and often use multi-media, we spend a lot of time and expense in training dancers and crew -- we don't want them to go away! 

By the way, we do not pay anyone.  Everyone is a volunteer and does it for the love of the art and for the applause :-)  This prevents a lot of problems and also helps ensure you have committed people and not those just doing it for the money.

We also do not charge admission.  There is a lot to say on this, but let's just say it causes "mission slide" because you have to start doing what the paying public or donors want.  In our case, we would start to verge away from our goal.

Number Two:  Excellent collaborators.  At Ballet Pixelle we now have a professional set designer and photographer, a professional machinimatographer, a professional scripter and so on. 

Because we are dedicated to doing original ballets with original music our composers are a really critical element of our ballets.  We have been lucky enought to work with Louis Landon (RL: Louis Volare), who has been a pianist for Baryshnikov, Kurt Bestor, a Grammy award winner, and Solary Clary (RL: Sora Izumikawa) a top 10 singer-songwriter from Japan. 

Number Three:  Choreography.  Ah, the core of it all!  For us, I make most of the animations by hand with Qavimator and Poser and a few others, and we now do some motion capture.  All the gestures are created by yours truly who does Ballet Pixelle full-time.  The dancers have a nomenclature for each role and execute their animation or gesture and place and move themselves on the stage.  There are no poseballs, HUDs, HUDDLES, chimera, or synchronizing scripts.  The dancers really dance with each other and the music!  Now, that is because our emphasis is original choreography we don't care most of the time about synchronization.  But you all know more about the synchronized dancing that we do :-)

Number Four:  Music.  For the few ballets where we use music that was not composed for us we are extremely careful to only use music for which we have received written performance permission from the composer or use music that is under Creative Commons (  to be used with attribution.  Performing in the virtual world is still performing.  And if you accept tips or donations or change for performances that is a commercial use of the music.  It doesn't matter that it is in the virtual world (it's real money!).

Also, we are extremely careful about intellectual property rights.  The images we use and everything else is carefully requested and attributed to the creators.

Number Five: Sets.  Sightlines, sightlines, sightlines!  If you can't see the dancers easily, from everywhere, you are hiding your light under a bushel.  Make sure that newbies can see without complicated camming.  Make sure that your dancers are not lost in the set either by "busy" textures or perspective or size.  Easy navigation in a theatre is a huge plus for audience members.

Number Six:  Costumes.  We learned the hard way to produce our own costumes.  It was wonderful at the beginning to buy costumes "off-the-rack" but we are now six years old and many of the creators are no longer around.  If the costumes were no transfer, we can't do the ballet again without changing the costumes!  Also, keep a notecard of who has what if you loan out "transfer ok" costumes.  The people who are devoted now may leave for any number of reasons later.  We now make deals with creators for zero or low cost costumes in return for advertisement in our "Acknowledgements" section of our playbill.

Speaking of playbills, we create an extravagant playbill with program, synopsis, dancer and crew photos and bios, thank yous, photos of the ballet, and "How to Make Ballet in Virtual Space".  We devote one person to this task.  We have a matching poster and playbill for each ballet.  It's nice to see the history.

Number Seven:  Lights.  See number 5 above.  You want to make sure your dancers are the key, not the effects.  Lights are difficult in the virtual world.  Prim lights catch the dancers' camming to dance and cause problems.  We created a  lighting system that works but is complicated.  And face lights cause lightning during turns!

Number Eight:  Security.  Early on we developed the two-sim system where the audience is on one sim and the stage and performers on another.  This is an easy way to have some security to prevent people from popping on the stage.  Of course, there can always be griefers on the audience side, but we give our ushers "eject" ability.  One note:  if you have two sims or parcels, remember that your music and video has to be set twice!  We have a Sound Engineer who checks this before and after shows

Number Nine:  Ushers.  Our ballets often have video or other effects which require some technical information.  Our ushers help people with our playbill and explain how to get the music and video and get rid of those unsightly names and tags above the dancers' heads.

Number Ten:  There are many other things to think about: theatres, lag, bookings, streaming servers, publicity, marketing, web sites, auditions, and so on.  But the main thing?  To have fun!  Remember, if you have the chance to sit it out or dance, Dance!

~Inarra Saarinen
 Artistic Director &
Ballet Pixelle


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