Dance with tablets, app and sensors
Chris Ziegler wants to connect spectator and dancer in a performance
By our colleague Matthias Dreissigacker

The prize question: What is in store for an observer when, according to the announcement, it is "about the emergence of relationships between people across space and time" and the question "how does social community take place" is being negotiated? The possible solutions: a) a lecture in the humanities, b) an existential conversation at half past one at the bar with the barkeeper or c) a dance performance?

It's all about the idea of transcending physical boundaries.

In fact, it will be the latter when the internationally successful media artist Chris Ziegler presents his Pop-Up Stage Arena in the Fleischmarkthalle as part of "Toujours Kultur". The promise is great. The promise is a temporary virtual theatre created by the audience. This will enable performances even when analogue stages are not accessible. The dance performance will use elements of augmented reality (AR). The audience will be connected via tab- lets and an app as well as by sensors on the body of the dancer Unita Gay Galiluyo.

The stage set-up is mobile, so that the performance can basically take place anywhere in public space, as long as the lighting conditions allow the use of a tablet screen. The project is part of Karlsruhe's programme as "City of Media Arts" and is funded by the federal programme "New Start Culture". This is not the only way it relates to the circumstances and consequences of the Corona pandemic.

Ziegler says: "It's about the idea of crossing physical boundaries and distance. And about grasping when it is dangerous to let people approach me." Because the distance of 1.50 metres is a fact that, on the one hand, has become second nature to many for self-protection, but on the other hand, makes it more difficult to approach.

Analogously speaking, this is all a lot of theoretical wood. For the preparation of the performance, Ziegler and his team have set up everything necessary in the creative space "Flow" next to the Fett- schmelze. Ziegler shakes hands in greeting. He is inoculated, he says, and the centuries-old ritual, though radically declassified in recent months, is important to him and sets the pace for his thinking. Contrary to the assumption that he wants to undermine the previous understanding of theatre through a digital performance, his approach is based precisely on the interweaving of digital distance with physical proximity in analogue space. Ziegler emphasises that he is a theatre person who spent his youth on the stage of the Sandkorn Theatre. He even adapted his civil service to be able to spend as much time there as possible.

At the moment, there is a lot of talk about people being in a social bubble. With his project, he wants to design an aesthetic with which one can escape this bubble. In recent years, Ziegler has already had several projects related to AR, the computer-assisted extension of reality. Most recently, he worked for eight years in the USA and dealt with immersive stage designs. In his view, this is among the most innovative things theatre can be today, as the audience can take an active role in the performance. "We are researching to be able to extend what happens on stage to include the digital," he says.

In "Arena", the audience of up to 20 is now given tablets on which they can follow the performance, which is only a few metres away from them. The people move freely in the space and thus change what is happening, while the dancer moves in a virtual bubble. The whole thing is supported by its own sound, which is based exclusively on the movements. Damon Lee, professor of music, film, video games and other media at the Karlsruhe University of Music, is responsible for this, as is computer scientist Nikolaus Voelzow, whom Ziegler calls a "genius" who makes his ideas realisable in the first place.

Ziegler criticises the tendency in the theatre landscape to transfer plays into the digital realm by simply filming them. For him, theatre always remains "carnal", i.e. analogue, and cannot be replaced by a "theatre experience at home". Chris Ziegler: "Zoom is not theatre for me, you have to understand that. We are about real life and that people come to us, bring their bodies to us in the theatre. That's important to me as a statement." And his production ARENA "I don't see that as reducing or changing theatre, but as expanding the repertoire of what theatre has created over centuries." On Sunday at the Fleischmarkthalle, you can be curious!