Dress in a vibrant costume, navigate a labyrinth, live dancers flamboyantly interweave between virtual and real — dreaming of the 1919 Chelsea Arts Club ‘Dazzle’ Ball.

Gibson/Martelli & Peut-Porter join forces to re-stage a Mixed-Reality version of the 1919 Chelsea Arts Club Dazzle Ball. After five years of war, and inspired by the naval dazzle-ship patterns, the original Ball applied zig-zag motifs to costumes and set design, playing with audiences vision and perception. It was a one-off event that focused the era’s artistic and social energies so intensely that it immediately spawned copycats in Washington DC and Sydney, and secured its place in today’s cultural history.

Embracing participatory forms of theatre and inclusion with Mixed Reality, VR and AR, we situate our 2020 Dazzle Ball in the 21st Century. Our audiences engage in changing virtual environments, bringing to life colourful net-art and post-internet aesthetics. Individual experience emerges alongside collective understanding.

Dazzle 2020 offers attendees the chance to find their agency in virtual worlds uncovering and interacting with choreographed digital set- pieces and live improvisations. Procedurally generated costumes allow audiences to join the exhibition — coats, masks, capes and hats offer an introduction to the dazzling landscape. The visitor embarks on an expedition, fully prepared and supported to explore alternate realities — participants diving in and out of sensual and visual optical illusions, distinctive and part of the spectacle. Live dancers and audience members are modelled as animated dazzle characters, assembling in the virtual worlds.

One of the main ingredients of the DAZZLE 2020 project is dance, our choreographer Ruth Gibson began by researching social dancing of the time. The post WWI dance styles included Ragtime, Charleston, Waltz and Tango. We introduced our dancers to these styles and all of the dazzle concepts, influences and artwork, prompting them to create improvisations from these rich sources. Movement ‘flavours’ evolve from these interpretations — we work with expert dancers from well-established companies; Percussive sounds and rhythms help to piece together specific steps. For the tour, our dance captain Hannah will work with local companies to teach the material, accompanied by the principal dancer Harry, who will assist choreographing each scene. 

Pre-recorded movement data is collated via a motion capture process. (Mocap is a special effects system where a performer wears special markers which are recorded by the computer as points in space, typically for use in 3Danimation or games)

A library of dancers’ phrases and choreographies develop in the animation pipeline, and these formations in the game engine are loosely derivative of Busby Berkeley and his spectacular ensembles. Our performers re-learn the movement material from their avatar animations instead of from each other or video recordings. 

The animations consist of palindromic loops meaning that dancers recall and memorise the material playing both forwards and backwards. Through this process, the dance language becomes fragmented and different rhythmically, and the design of of the body avatar whether a mocap skeleton, or an abstract figure, or rendering, gives a different physicality. 

Perhaps ‘a new body’ emerges through this technology. 

Specially produced Mo-Cap suits for dazzle dance capture.

Peut-Porter craft costumes for both the Dazzle2020 live performers and the audience – allowing visitors to fully join the costume ball. Dazzle clothing and masks extend into alternate realities (AR)  offering opportunities for selfies in mirror rooms before diving into VR worlds. Dressing-up in real-life introduces and physically recreates the virtual act of inhabiting an avatar in VR.  Costume and digital double begin joyfully influencing motion and self-perception, bodies distorted and reassembled, allowing an embodiment of the surrounding dazzle environments.

Principle Dancer Harry Alexander & Dance Captain Hannah Burfield modelling
the Audience Costumes.

The team are working towards procedurally generating ‘razzle-dazzle’ patterns which are digitally printed onto fabric. In workshops, attendees participate in creating costumes, cutting and assembling capes, shoes, masks and more. Reflecting the next-gen sustainable fashion practice, the zero-waste pattern cutting technique is used –  all parts of the cut fabric become part of the design. The workshops introduce the current trend of lending and renting clothes, the concept behind Dazzle2020 fashion is to design for the experience age-old models of consumption rethought and presented to the public through this playful approach.