VR and Dance-Somatic Practices as tools for Embodied Perception and Living Well in our Environment.

Involving Lisa May Thomas (Theatre), with Ute Leonards (Psychological Science), Oussama Metatla and Mike O’Connor (Computer Science) and David Glowacki (Chemistry).

Synopsis for documentary; Bringing together multi-person Virtual Reality technology, dance practice and visual impairment

This documentary highlights the experience of visually impaired dancer Holly Thomas with Soma, a participatory performance which combines multi-person Virtual Reality (VR) technology with movement-based practices. Holly reports on how her experience of Soma allows her to perceive depth in the visual virtual environment, something she does not experience in her usual, everyday perceiving of the physical world. A sensation she is starting to be able to ‘recall’ as specific sensory attention without the need of the technology. This new addition of visual depth perception in the virtual environment enables her to feel, sense and move more freely, the embodied sensation of depth manifesting as movements of reach, expansion of space and a new experience of place itself. The documentary moves between the dance studio where Holly is exploring movement practices with artist Lisa May Thomas (artistic director for May Productions Ltd. and for Soma, and a PhD researcher at the University of Bristol), the rehearsal room in which the VR technology is set up in a Soma development process, and a meeting room in which there takes place a discussion between Holly, Lisa and vision scientist Professor Ute Leonards from the University of Bristol, on what might make these experiences possible. Many of the images involve strings: physical strings between bodies as means by which to guide and be guided, and to sense each other beyond the reach of touch; and interactive visual strings in the VR environment that can be moved by the performers through VR controllers held in each hand.

“With this project we love the unexpectedness of the research findings when technology and humans move together”