Birmingham Royal Ballet - The NutcrackAR Trail

Birmingham Royal Ballet - The NutcrackAR Trail

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Posted 2023-10-02 by dpmfollow

Sun 19 Nov 2023 - Sat 09 Dec 2023

You’re on stage at Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker, close enough to touch that iconic Christmas tree. You’re in the dressing room with a dancer as she applies her make-up before stepping on stage in Swan Lake. You’re in the studio with members of Freefall Dance Company as they perform Chairs, a tango-inspired dance. You’re in rehearsals with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia while the musicians perfect Tchaikovsky’s sweeping scores.

Except you’re not actually in any of these places. Instead, you are experiencing them all through a headset and the mediums of virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D mapping and motion capture.
BRB’s new Virtual Stage takes people into dance like never before, pioneering the use of immersive technologies in the arts. And it’s not just for audience members – anyone, anywhere can potentially go behind-the-scenes of one of the world’s leading ballet companies.



The technology will be showcased with this year’s performances of The Nutcracker when people have the opportunity to experience the show’s staging, costumes and props up-close-and-personal through virtual reality, picking up items and even trying on the intricate outfits.

The Twelve Days of NutcrackAR will see a walking trail of QR codes across Birmingham city centre with each unlocking a hidden world of characters from the show. And during the Christmas run of The Nutcracker at the Hippodrome, the codes will be hosted in front of the theatre – for everyone to experience elements of one of Birmingham’s best-loved productions.

The Virtual Stage is a partnership between BRB, virtual reality company RiVR, film maker and Canon ambassador Clive Booth and camera manufacturer Canon with funding from Bloomberg Digital Accelerator Program.

Launched this summer, the Virtual Stage on BRB’s website hosts a stellar collection of new material – and will be expanded in the future. The project has been spearheaded by BRB’s creative digital producer Tom Rogers who aims to create more work to highlight other company shows and projects. “This technology offers us a way to bring our productions to people like never before,” he says. “Now the site has gone live, if you have a VR headset or smartphone, you can engage with our sets, our props and our costumes in a way that up until a few years ago just wasn’t possible.”

The project has trailblazed new ways of working – not just for BRB but also for the technical companies who have been able to test equipment and ideas in a vibrant arts environment.

Tom, a former BRB soloist who took on his new role two-and-a-half years ago, explains: “I’ve been really inspired to explore this technology and there’s an understanding that you need the help of experts in the field. We, as an individual organisation, can’t learn all those things so we bring in partnerships to work with us because we can offer them a platform and intellectual property that they wouldn’t have access to, and in return we gain knowledge of how this technology can be used.”

Now they’ve pushed boundaries with the current projects, Tom is keen to develop more. “I’d love us to build an immersive suite of all of our classic ballets and to tell augmented reality stories with our props and our costumes of these productions. This is a beautiful way of capturing those stories and engaging people.”

RiVR managing director Brad Woodward says the Nutcracker VR aims to help people ‘step inside’ the Tchaikovsky classic. “It’s a different way of experiencing the ballet,” Brad explains. “When you’re in a scene experiencing it as you would in the real world you get to have the wonderment of the reality of, for example, a costume. There is a demand for a different way of consuming media - not to detract from the real-world experience but to enhance it. The supporting media that goes around live theatre can be that step inside to understand what it’s really like.”

Brad believes the innovation of the material will also highlight BRB to global audiences. “The great thing about this project is that it’s so ground-breaking. It will bring BRB to parts of the world that have not had the chance to experience them before. People can experience being a small part of the company through this technology.

The Virtual Stage is also about reaching new audiences in the UK. Working with filmmaker and Canon ambassador Clive Booth, BRB have created the film A Swan’s Story, a special Swan Lake experience for BRB’s Freefall Dance Company who celebrate their 21st anniversary this year.

Tom says: “Ever since I was dancing, I’ve wanted to reach people who cannot engage with traditional theatre. When I saw this technology, I could see how it could do that. That was the seed of the idea.”



Clive explains: “A Swan’s Story is for young neuro-divergent people who don’t ordinarily go to live theatre. We can bring them to live theatre in a way that’s never been done before. Our criteria from day one was to put a smile on their faces. And when we took the headsets to the Freefall dancers and they saw the film, it was really moving to see these young people who were not only watching live theatre but were within a metre of a swan in dry ice on stage.”

Moving forwards, the Virtual Stage will be used to engage with other groups including schools. “The potential to reach people and engage with audiences is just massive,” says Tom. “The next phase is for us to work out how we get this material out to as many people as possible.

See BRB’s Virtual Stage at here. The NutcrackAR Trail will go live in November. BRB’s The Nutcracker plays Birmingham Hippodrome between November 19 and December 9. For tickets and information see here.

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265217 - 2023-10-02 15:48:02

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