Fear of Flight

Fear of Flight (2012) – 55:22

Fear of Flight is a one hour multimedia production that investigates the intersection of surround audiovisual composition and live performance to draw meaningful conclusions about the experience of presence and the role of the performer within immersive media composition. The production integrates abstract audiovisual narrative with a live dancer’s floor and aerial performance. It also considers the sensory experience of the audience, who must adapt to their own physical situation in the surround projection environment. Real-time video capture is employed to synchronize aspects of the dancer’s movement in the air with the audiovisual composition during the performance. Part of the aesthetic and technical challenge of the piece lies in the seamless integration of high-resolution, pre-rendered, audiovisual material with audiovisual material that is generated dynamically within the moment of performance.

Among the theoretical issues that contributed to Fear of Flight’s development are the impact of immersion on the perception of compositional dialog, and the mechanisms by which presence may be expanded and dislocated from a performing body through mediation.

Fear of Flight takes place in a black box theatre , partitioned into an intimate 30 x 30 foot production space by four large screens and 8 speakers. The audience sits inside the screens, on the floor around a small clearing, and is surrounded by the performance area and four constructed walls of video (Appendix 2). The space is tightly packed, and audience members can hear and see each other’s physical reactions to the performance. The production makes use of an assortment of aerial apparatus, including a silk and hoop that are positioned directly inside and above the seating area. The relatively large scale of the projected sound and image and the proximity of the performance, combine with the surround composition and choreography to fully immerse the audience’s senses. Part of the work’s production aesthetic involves placing the audience directly inside the performance. The immersion forces the audience to actively take control of their spectatorship in order to navigate the sheer amount of sensory experience they are provided with.

The production’s narrative divides into five movements that outline an abstract narrative of spiritual desire and physical transformation, phrased in the metaphorical language of birds and space travel. A woman dreams of birds, and transforms herself into a bird-woman, to join them. Her own metamorphosis complete, she discovers that she is trapped in a cage and cannot fly freely as in her fantasies. After a difficult ordeal, in which she examines her psyche to find the nature of her own desire, the woman transforms her surrounding cage into a spaceship, and enters a new world from within it.

The first movement of Fear of Flight, the things we long for (9:04), introduces the work’s thematic concerns of desire and the sacred power of the unseen. A woman’s dream of birds, stirs a longing within her to take flight. She examines an empty birdcage and hears the movements of an invisible flock of birds surrounding her, commanding her attention.

In the second movement, the borders of the spirit (15:03), the woman is inspired by her dream, and her own world transforms to resemble its features. The new landscape that surrounds her is filled with magical creatures, half-women, half-bird. She tries to join the creatures, but they reject her. Eventually, the woman dons a clock of feathers and is allowed to join the flock. She flies towards a perch in the air. From her new vantage point, she sees that she is now trapped in the birdcage she once considered.

The woman confronts her situation in the third movement, what is and isn’t are (12:20). A hybrid landscape, formed of both the natural world and her dreams, surrounds her. The woman recognizes her own form in a procession of creatures, and has a sudden insight into her situation. She places her hand on her double’s heart, and white birds fly out of it, engulfing the cage and transforming it into a spaceship. Key moments from the woman’s journey and the fantasies that define her are depicted in the fourth movement, gravitational pull (7:50), through the windows of the spaceship. The ship takes off and burns itself into a charred husk that dissolves into dust.

After a terrifying journey, the fifth movement, in outerspace we trust (11:04), begins in darkness. The woman floats weightless, in a void that slowly fills with stars. Bubbles in which women lie dreaming surround her. As the woman discovers her place in the sky, she notices that she is not alone. Her movements give shape to both the matter and physical processes that surround her.