AΦE is an Ashford (UK)-based dance company founded in 2013 by Aoi Nakamura and Esteban Fourmi. With the vision to bring the art of dance closer to audiences, the company’s mission is to create high-quality productions that are driven by the power of body and movement in space and not bound by a stage. Its first major work WHIST, a physical theatre and virtual reality production, premiered in April 2017 to sold out performances, receiving 4- and 5-star reviews, and continues to tour in the UK and internationally to dance/theatre/art venues and festivals (e.g. Sadler’s Wells, Sydney Festival, ACT Theatre Festival), digital media festivals (e.g. Watermans’ Digital Performance Weekender, Frequency Festival of Digital Culture), film festivals (e.g. CPH:DOX, Geneva International Film Festival), and technology events (e.g. VR Show).
Born and raised in Malaysia, JiaXuan Hon is company producer of AΦE and produced its first major commission WHIST. She also held long-term working relationships with some of the best contemporary dance artists, such as Akram Khan (UK), Yang Liping (China) and Fang-Yi Sheu (Taiwan) and managed some of their most important productions between 2010 and 2017. Her keen interest in technology led her to a piloting a dance hackathon for Sadler’s Wells Theatre across 3 cities (2018) and Barbican/Trampery’s art and tech incubator Fish Island Labs (2014-15). JiaXuan holds a BA (Hons) Dance and Culture with Professional Training from the University of Surrey, UK and is based in London.
WHIST blends art installation, 360° interactive film, and physical theatre to experiment with a new form of storytelling inspired by the emergence of Virtual Reality (VR) technology. It is produced by AΦE, a British dance company founded by Aoi Nakamura and Esteban Fourmi.
WHIST explores the notion of “unconsciousness” on two levels: a) Multiple narratives about unconsciousness told through physical theatre and film; and b) the audiences’ own unconscious decision-making process captured through gaze-based navigation made possible in VR technology.
A room holds beautifully designed objects, but it is only with a VR headset, the hidden, collateral stories of a strange family are unveiled. The story is told through the eyes of 3 characters, inspired by Freud’s real case studies. There are 16 scenes in the film but audiences would need to see only 9 scenes to get full narrative and their ability to choose which scenes to watch is hidden. There are 76 different narratives in total, and the audience journey ranges between 35 minutes to an hour. The audiences’ experience in the digital world is accompanied by a physical journey. They navigate between 9 sculptures and objects in the performance space which are the bridge between both worlds, and are encouraged to observe and explore the different angles of these physical items, in order to trigger the VR. In the whole experience, audiences walk, lean forward, stand, crouch, sit, and lie down – they become the only live element of the performance, carefully choreographed by the directors. At the end of the experience, each audience receives a number for their individual journey (1-76), and a memento card with instructions for them to go onhttp://www.WhistVR.com to check their journey analysis, written by a psychoanalyst from Freud Museum in London. The directors’ hope that audiences will leave the performance with a strong sense of the narrative possibilities and their implications; and that they will think about the many other ways of looking at things. It took 4 years to bring the production to life. From a technical point of view, we overcome the challenges of incorporating 60 minutes of film in high resolution with interactive 3D sound, and creating a seamless interactivity between real objects and the world within the VR headset.
To date, WHIST was seen by 5,000 paying audiences at dance, theatre, film, media, technology venues and festivals in 12 cities and 5 countries, and it continues to tour until 2018. At least 1,500 people also saw it in its preview stage where we tested aspects such as audience interaction, app functionality and triggers.