'In the Flesh', ’The Revery Alone’ and ‘Ghosts in the Machine’ are three virtual dance installations which takes Cowie’s ongoing progression of development in the production of a solid dance presence by the use of stereoscopy (in 'Men in the Wall' and 'Doppelganger') to its ultimate conclusion – the presentation to the audience of projections that are to all intents and purposes indistinguishable from live performances.
The work takes an early twentieth century form of stereo drawing (commonly termed Phantography) and brings it into the digital video age. Parallel high definition video images are distorted using state of the art computing and then combined to produce projected anaglyph images which is so accurate and lifelike that physical measurements can be taken of the relative limb positions.
Aside for the technical aspect of the filming the work demands a new form of choreography that sees bodies encased in virtual 3d frames. This use of the frame to constrain and inform a choreography has run through much of Cowie’s work from 'Motion Control’ and ‘Anarchic Variations' and was the subject of a paper he gave at the ADF conference in North Carolina 2006 ('Framing the Body'). Also important is the fusing of different art forms, in these cases poetry, music, choreography, technology, lighting and theatre to produce a form of Gesamtkunstwerk.
'The Revery Alone' is a seven-minute looped 3D installation that is projected onto the ceiling. The audience lying underneath on the ground and wearing red/blue anaglyph glasses - see what appears to be a solid three dimensional dancer hanging from the ceiling. The piece develops and expands the techniques both filmic and choreographic of Cowie’s previous installation - 'In the Flesh'.
'The Revery Alone' explores in a meditative way a slow lyrical choreography that exposes the performing body in a sculptural manner and features solo performer Eleonore Ansari.
Screenings of Revery Alone:
"In between the 'shows' you can take time out in the installations, such as Billy Cowie's 'The Revery Alone,' for which you lay on your back in a darkened room (cushion provided), don 3D glasses and watch a projection of a nimble, naked woman slowly stretching and rotating her body on the ceiling. Somehow it was equally therapeutic and erotic.
(Andrew Eaton, The Scotsman, 16 February 2009)
"Billy Cowie's The Revery Alone, a seven-minute looped 3-D installation that is projected on to the ceiling, was compelling in its own right. Lying on the floor, we gazed up at the palely naked, flexing and contorting body of performer Eleonore Ansari. Our 3-D glasses brought her arching back within inches of our faces, confounding reality and replacing it with something mystical, haunting, rare. When she looked down, only once, dark eyes locking with ours, it felt as if she saw us. The innocence and beauty of Cowie's piece came to mind while witnessing Franko B's solo."
(Mary Brennan, Glasgow Herald, February 17 2009)
"'The Revery Alone' is a seven minute, music and dance installation using a 3D projection of a solo performance by Swiss-Iranian dancer Eleonore Ansari. The performance, recorded on two cameras, is projected onto the ceiling as the audience lies on the floor beneath (like an IMAX cinema with extremely reclined seats).
"The red/blue anaglyph glasses create a 3D holographic effect, tricking your mind into believing that the dancer is actually hanging from the ceiling above you. So convincing is it that I couldn’t help worrying that the elegant and gracious hologram above me might slip out of the projection and fall on top of me.
" Ansari’s naked body moves in a slow, graceful but haunting manner, her hands and feet gripping four handles, which both restrict and define her movement. The simple movements are captivating, and seem to be amplified by their dilatoriness. The unclothed figure’s movements are choreographed and have sculptural feel, but on occasion her eyes catch yours and her accusatory expression bring home the human emotion and makes you feel as if you are experiencing the performance live rather than watching a film.
"It is a fascinating piece, utilising a challenging medium. The Revery Alone combines the movement of the human body at its most basic and pure level with a complex 3D medium. Being placed below the performance in an almost submissive stance compels you to feel more engaged and even become a part of the experience."
(Ralph Miller, The Latest, Dec 2008)
"Hanging by her hands and feet from the ceiling a naked dancer contorts and stretches before giving the observer below her a look that is best described as withering.
"This is the amazing new seven-minute 3D creation by Brighton-based filmmaker Billy Cowie, filmed with two cameras in one long take, and watched while laying on your back wearing red/blue anaglyph glasses. It is one of the major attractions in the Dance For Camera Festival, which forms the last weekend of CineCity."
(Duncan Hall, Brighton Argus Dec 2009)
"The piece runs from a mini-mac (which we provide) as a quicktime high definition movie – VGA output. This is projected from a standard video projector (1024 x 768) either pointing straight upwards from the floor (or using a mirror if there is insufficient ceiling height or the projector can not operate vertically) onto a flat white ceiling (if the ceiling is not flat or white then a projection screen can be suspended from it). The room can be any size but must have a reasonable blackout – the walls of the room can be white or black or coloured. The audience from 1 to 12 lie on their backs on the floor wearing red/cyan anaglyph glasses which we provide. The ambient sound track also comes from the minimac (mini stereo jack output) and feeds a normal stereo sound system, The piece runs for seven minutes and then loops continuously - the audience entering and leaving when they wish. The piece is normally presented with the dancer life size ie a projection area of approx 2.6m by 2m however if there is sufficient ceiling height and area and a powerful enough projector the work can be scaled up so that the performer is many times life sized."
'Ghosts in the Machine' is a twenty-five minute looped, projected 3D dance installation. The audience - wearing red/blue anaglyph glasses - see what appears to be three solid three-dimensional dancers in the same space as themselves.
The three ladies (pictured from left: Jennifer Potter, Rachel Blackman and Victoria Melody) dance, sing and joke their way through the twenty-five minutes. The topics of their discussions range from existentialism to ballpark-sex to media studies (though none of them is quite sure which cowboy film Marshall McLuhan was actually in). Hanging over them is the dread knowledge that at the end of the performance they have to do ‘the whole friggin thing all over again’ but somehow it turns out to be more fun than they thought.
'Ghosts in the Machine' develops and expands the techniques both filmic and choreographic of Cowie’s previous installations - In the Flesh and The Revery Alone.
'Ghosts in the Machine' was commissioned by Lighthouse (Brighton), and premiered by them as part of HOUSE, the Artists Open Houses new initiative for Brighton Festival. The work was funded by Arts Council England with additional support from the University of Brighton.
The audience enter the darkened space wearing blue/red anaglyph 3d glasses. On reaching their designated spot they are surprised to see a dancer on the ground in front of them. Although she is in fact a projection she appears to be actually in the space, solid and real; she is there, in effect, ‘in the flesh’. At the end of her dance she fades into nothing.
For the past four years Cowie has been developing a new form of stereoscopic 3d dance installation that gives the viewers the impression that they are inhabiting the same space as the virtual performer(s) who appear solid and real. The works are scaleable to suit a wide variety of presentation situations ranging from half size ‘Alice in Wonderland’ type manifestations (using LCD monitors) to realistic life size projections to enormous five or six times life size figures.
In ‘In the Flesh’ using a ceiling mounted projector projecting down onto a white rectangle and 3D spectacles, Cowie transforms a flattened, floor-based image into what he terms “a Specterfilm” as a female figure manifests herself, simultaneously solid and insubstantial, as a William Gibsonesque life-size virtual presence, capable of reaching out towards the viewer. The pared down simplicity of this concept extends to a minimal soundtrack, consisting of piano and spoken word (available in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian), and to a slowly-paced and carefully considered movement vocabulary - as a hand reaches to connect with an upwardly angled foot in an infant-like exploration of the limits of physical form. The work has been presented more than 20 times throughout Europe and in the USA and won the Delegates Prize at the 2007 IMZ Screen Festival in the Hague.
Winner of the IMZ DanceScreen Festival Delegates Prize in the Hague 2007
Direction/choreography/music/text – Billy Cowie
Art direction – Silke Mansholt
Performer – Sara Popowa
Supported by Arts Council England and the University of Brighton Faculty of Arts and Communication Research Fund
“so beautiful and moving; a miniature masterpiece”
(Alistair Spalding, Artistic Director, Sadler’s Wells)
“The most uncanny thing I have ever seen”
(Deborah Levy – Novelist)
“A woman comes slowly towards you from the floor. Her meditative and soft energy involves you into her world and brings you to another dimension of the space. It’s as if you could touch her – a magical experience.”
(Suzy Blok – Artistic Director - I Like to Watch Too, Amsterdam 2007)
"Beautiful choreography, so intricate, delicate, human and real"
(Professor Joan Frosch, Asst Dir. Schl. Theatre and Dance, University of Florida)
"I very much liked the ‘in the flesh’ installation. It gave me a surreal feeling like being in ‘Alice in Wonderland’. It was like she was with me privately. It is a great development in dance filming. The reality and experience is very special."
(Janine Dijkmeijer, Director, Cinedans, Amsterdam 2007)
"It is hard to believe that it works but when you see it it’s wonderful."
(Kate Grenyer - Exhibitions Officer, Bargate Gallery, Southampton)
"Once I entered the installation, I felt as if I stepped into another reality – an environment of memories, nostalgia, poetry. It also felt that I was slowly sinking into a dream-like state, and there was a witness - a dancer to guide me through while I am in it. I engaged with that witness into a gentle and lyrical dance. She would rise up almost to my height, very near me and then recedes back into her shell. Mesmerizing! This was one of the very few situations with the 3-D installations when I could actually not think about technology behind the piece, but simply be with it and experience it. Very special!"
(Alla Kovgan, Director of Kinodance)
"The 3D experience, makes you search for an understanding of how the 3D image shifts as you move and sway around the projection, and this search turns your actions into a dance with the character. The work justifies and celebrates its existence with its seamless mixture of formal qualities, entertainment and creativity."
(Dedalus Wainwright, Assistant Director Boston Cyberarts)
IN THE FLESH – CINECITY FESTIVAL
"Viewers for Billy Cowie’s 'In the Flesh' (2007) lift a tent-like flap to enter a physically confined and darkened area akin to a magician’s cabinet, as a space set apart from the rules of everyday reality. Georges Méliès wrote of the potential for the moving image to contain “all of the illusions that can be produced by prestidigitation, optics, photographic tricks.” Using a projector, an angled mirror, and a pair of 3D spectacles, Cowie transforms a flattened, floor-based image into what he terms “a Spectrefilm” as a female figure manifests, simultaneously solid and insubstantial, as a William Gibsonesque life-size virtual presence, capable of reaching out towards the viewer and eerily connecting gaze. The pared down simplicity of this concept extended to a minimal soundtrack, consisting of piano and spoken word, and to a slowly-paced and carefully considered movement vocabulary, as a hand reaches to connect with an upwardly angled foot in an infant-like exploration of the limits of physical form. A shift from a foetal curl into an angled arrangement of elbows and knees ends with a careful placement of hand, feet and forehead to ground before the figure vanishes entirely into the darkness of a momentary blackout, subsequently rematerialising to start her brief life cycle over again."
(Christinn Whyte, RealTime issue#83)
TTV FESTIVAL - Cowie’s 'In the Flesh' bewitches Romagna TTV reviewer and triumphs with its mix of dance and art.
"Billy Cowie’s 'In the Flesh' is a small jewel of a video installation seen at the 19th Riccione TTV Festival. The Scottish choreographer, film-maker, musician and writer - already author of twenty or so live shows (with Liz Aggiss) and various realizations “on screen” for the series produced by the BBC and Channel4 - uses only four minutes to present it in 3d with the classic red-blue glasses: within a dark space it bewitches with its harmony between music and words and a dancer suspended in the air in front of those who watch. Complete on both aesthetic and ethical levels, In the Flesh is a continuous flow between volumes and voids, between white and black, it feels on the skin like a tactile poem of love, and touches deep chords speaking through its text of abandonment and hopeful waiting, at the same time for the individual person and for our planet.
(Elfi Reiter - Il Manifesto BOLOGNA del 20 Giugno 08)
IN THE FLESH - TRAMWAY, GLASGOW
"If you’re in or around the Tramway in Glasgow’s southside over the next couple of weeks then pop upstairs, grab a pair of the special wee cardboard specs – yes folks, these are blue/red 3D glasses – and look in, or rather down, on Billy Cowie’s utterly beguiling installation.
"The title, 'In the Flesh,' is a gentle tease, but Cowie’s cunning presentation of a solo dancer, in reality a two-dimensional projection, does actually ensnare you in an exquisite illusion, namely, that the performer is solidly ‘in the space’. And when dancer Sara Popowa reaches up, one arm extending towards you, the urge to stretch forward and touch her fingertips is surprisingly potent.
"Her stay is brief: a mere four minutes. But it’s long enough for Cowie to shade in the piece with movement and score in a way that calls on the imagination to create mini-narratives: is she a captive in some bottle-dungeon? Is she a girl caught up in a private reverie in her bedroom – and are we voyeurs?; or, as the wistful song that figures on the sound-score suggests, is she some Persephone figure who represents the natural cycle of growth, decay and re-growth?
"Whatever directions your thoughts take, or indeed whether you just want to appreciate Cowie’s craft and creativity, this hauntingly delicate vignette of ‘cinema haiku’ is an oasis of multi-dimensional enchantments. And it proved worth watching over and over I found."
(Mary Brennan, The Glasgow Herald, 12 May 208)