Dance, like almost everything in life, is possible precisely because of gravity. French artists Paul Marlier and Jeanne Morel, however, wondered what would happen to a dancer in the weightless space created during a zero-gravity flight. With the help of the French space agency CNES, Marlier and Morel's Vulpes Vulpes studio went up in Novespace's parabolic flight, Air Zero G, above French territory. The plan was to, as Morel tells Creators, materialize a dance while weightless. Then, the pair added another dimension to the multimedia dance project, appropriately titled _Synesthesia, by using a Microsoft Kinect and Fastmocap software to create what is essentially an animated 3D sculpture of Morel's dancing across time and space.
"I wondered about the imprint left by dance and body in space and time," Marlier tells Creators. "It was now possible to experiment to dance 'without material body' and to generate in 3D the drawing of this immateriality."
Marlier, who originally studied architecture and design in Paris, now develops projects in architecture, sculpture, interactive design, video-mapping, and performance. Morel's career, meanwhile, has focused more on dance (butoh, flamenco, experimental) and what she calls "the spectacle of art." Vulpes Vulpes, founded a year ago, attempts to integrate their respective backgrounds, and _Synesthesia, is the studio's first major project.
"We work a lot with computer, VR, immersion," says Morel. "I prepare my body for more extreme environments for a necessary dance that would push the boundaries of the human body, like dancing under water or in the air, for example."
During the Air Zero G flight, Morel executed various movements inside a netted area. Even though weightlessness was a new sensation for Morel, she was able to bring a dancer's sense of movement to the microgravity environment.
"It is hardly a descriptive sensation but I would say that the phases of microgravity are an exceptional bridge between the body and the soul, between a terrestrial life and a little death perhaps," she adds. "It is for me the perfect definition of dance. It is omnipresent, inside, outside and we free ourselves from dancing only what is essential. The movement seems infinite."
Morel says that dancing during the hypergravity phase (2G)—when the plane is gaining speed at a 52-degree angle whilst preparing for the 22-second zero g parabolic phase—is far more complicated. One feels crushed from inside, but the movement is there—extremely heavy but present. Morel says the zero-gravity experience has changed her life, including her relationship to the ground, gravity, and to dancing as she knew it.
In addition to capturing Morel's performance with the Kinect and Fastmocap, Marlier recorded her heartbeat and the oxygen levels in her blood using an oximeter. Morel also used an iPhone that took altitude readings, and wore a smart bracelet running a stress control app. Marlier then imported the data from these tools into Cinema 4D, TouchDesigner and Processing to generate the visuals and sound interaction, which they're currently fine-tuning.
Marlier and Morel like to think of _Synesthesia as visualizing the essence of dance by capturing an imperceptible imprint of Morel's movement in space through different signals, like her body and mind. In other words, they essentially want to give a "body" to the invisible trajectories traced by Morel while dancing.
" _Synesthesia is a captivation and generative translation of the movement danced in microgravity," the duo say. "It is materializing the ephemeral. To perpetuate the invisible."
The duo are also in the process of turning the 3D animated shapes into 3D-printed sculptures.
"We will fly again in the spring with our partner Air Zero G, with whom we continue the project," the duo says. "The label Infiné and the production studio 18-55 have been added to the project and we prepare you beautiful surprises for the sequel."
This new Air Zero G flight will result in a "very arty" 4K video, which will be 3D-integrated in real time. The data generated during the performance will, as Morel says, give birth to an immersive dance performance on terra firma.
Marlier and Morel say that _Synesthesia's "3D-danced parabola" will be on display at CNES during the Sidération Festival on March 25th, after which they plan to take the project to other countries.
"Microgravity is a vast area that is still being surveyed," they add. "A little bit above the gravity of the world."