You’ve never seen dance like this before—or in so many ways. This week, Barneys is unveiling a revolutionary partnership with New York’s iconic Martha Graham Dance Company, creating a piece that melds today’s most cutting-edge fashion with contemporary dance and technology that has never been employed in this way before. Filmed using 360-degree camera technology, an 11-minute dance performance is being shared online via Samsung VR. Those in New York and Beverly Hills can visit the three flagship stores to check out our store windows and to see an immersive virtual-reality experience that puts the viewer in the center of the action using Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus.
“Barneys’ mission is to allow people to interact with our creative content in as many ways as possible, and technology can bring this dance piece to life in an unprecedented way,” says Barneys Creative Director Matthew Mazzucca. “Within VR and 360 environments, as well as through the variety of formats we’ve created, no two viewers will have the same experience of the dance, and that’s exciting.”
Partnering with Mazzucca to bring this creative vision to life were the husband-and-wife duo of choreographer Cynthia Stanley, who formerly taught at the Martha Graham studio, and director Theo Stanley of Harbor Picture Company. The result of more than a year of research, conceptualization, storyboarding, and intense rehearsals, the piece was an exploration of an internal landscape that intended to put the viewer at the center of the piece, as the dancers literally looked inward toward the central focus point where the 360-degree camera was placed. Every aspect was specifically designed as an interaction between the performers and “an audience of one.”
“The overall narrative was based on the idea of looking into one’s center, which we decided to do through exploring archetypes,” Theo says, noting that archetypal characters were also central to Graham’s work. “The central theme to Graham’s choreographic exploration is the idea of exploring the inner landscape of the human experience.”
That being said, both Theo and Cynthia are quick to point out that, while the piece features four principal dancers from the more-than-90-year-old Martha Graham Dance Company and a chorus of eight former company members, the choreography itself is not a Graham piece but rather Cynthia’s own original work. “There is a reason Martha Graham is considered the mother of modern dance. The innovative concepts she explored are timeless. She paved the road for dance to evolve into a higher art form capable of exploring the human experience. I have no desire or illusion to emulate Graham—she is part of my formative rooting in movement, but I’ve developed my own process and voice. My own work is very consciously not Graham’s technique.”
In addition to the choreography and technology, the fashion featured in the film also plays a central role. The four principal dancers bring movement to the cutting-edge designs of Prabal Gurung, The Row, Rick Owens, and Loewe, as they each embody their respective archetype: Power, Ethereal, Possessed, and The Cleaner. A voluminous, flowing dress from The Row emphasizes the serene movements of the dancer portraying Ethereal, for example, while the angularity and high-gloss finish of the Prabal Gurung design echo the frenetic, aggressive gestures of Possessed. The clean lines, uniform-like feel, and neutral color palette of Loewe’s SS18 collection make it function as a second skin in support of the highly athletic movements of the dancer portraying The Cleaner, while the layers of distressed fabric and a sense of being lived in and repeatedly used seen in Rick Owens’ designs reinforce the idea of endurance as portrayed by Power.
“Early in the development of the piece, we worked closely with Barneys to articulate our vision of the piece’s tone, what the character and plot concepts were and the movement properties we wanted to highlight through garments,” Cynthia tells us. “The Barneys team did such an incredible job of matching our character concepts with specific looks, while also matching pieces from five different designers that actually played off each other quite well. Not an easy task.”
The chorus of former company members, all clad in sculpture and clothing designed by Craig Green, range in age up into their 70s, and many have been with the group since the days of Graham herself. “Video allows us to focus on diversity in age, experience, athleticism, and skill set—in most dance, there are limitations due to the demands of repeated performance,” Mazzucca continues. “These older dancers are highly skilled, dedicated, and immersed in the culture of Graham’s style. It’s a physical language they still speak because they’ve trained it into their bodies.” Graham danced professionally through her mid-70s and continued choreographing into her 90s.
Contemporary dance, modern fashion, and groundbreaking technology come together to create a multifaceted experience—one that Mazzucca hopes will stick with audiences beyond their initial watching. “I hope viewers come to a new understanding of the Martha Graham Dance Company, whether they are already familiar with it or not,” he says. “And with such a variety of ways to encounter the piece, my hope is that most people experience it in more than format to allow it resonate in a larger way.”
Theo is quick to echo these sentiments, adding, “I hope viewers give themselves to the experience and see what the film elicits from them, to see what it is to have a hand in making your own story or experience. I hope they’re willing to engage both their conceptual minds and their senses and to experience a dance that’s looking to include the viewer in this manner. I hope people walk away touched by it in a way and that it gives them a lot to consider.”
The experience can be viewed starting March 6, 2018, on Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus at Barneys New York’s Madison Avenue, Downtown, and Beverly Hills flagships and at home via the Samsung VR app.