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Sunday, May 29, 2022

Le Bal De Paris @ the Barbican Centre...

Yesterday lunchtime Stuart and I we went to see (experience?) Le Bal De Paris at the Barbican Centre. “Glitzy” doesn’t begin to describe it.

Probably, no definitely, it was the most amazing virtual experience we have ever had the privilege to be immersed within.

To start we are slung with a back pack, then sensors on your wrists and ankles, and finally a head-set and headphones. Hold your arms out and zap! Suddenly you are in a completely alternate digital world. Avatar style. Metaverse come alive. The body-tracking technology follows your every move.

We chose a glamorous costume (Stu and I both chose different Chanel dresses), a character’s head (Stu a dog, me a fox) and we were all set. As you look down at yourself your clothes flow and ripple as you move. If you look into a virtual mirror in the virtual dressing room you see your virtual-self move in real-time, life size.

Where once we were standing with eight other patrons in VR kit we are now with ten glamorous animals all laughing at themselves and their digital selves. Dressed to the nines.

We are encouraged to board a platform which then glides towards some doors that swing open to reveal a large blue hallway boarded on each side with dozens of large blue harps being played by mythical creatures. The harps part ways to allow us through as the music swells.

We float towards the end of the majestic blue hall where our platform stops and an old-fashioned lift envelopes us as if by magic.

The lift jolts (or we think it does) and we journey up a dozen or so floors. The doors eventually open and we step out onto a gold gilded platform that floats us out into a cathedral like grand dance hall high above the ground. It's a monumental ballroom. The virtual space is enormous. There are multiple levels plunging down and thrusting up way above our heads. Each level has hundreds of individual figures dancing, lounging, playing instruments. Far ahead of us a huge orchestra has its own platform playing a sweeping classical dance. I really can’t tell you how detailed the realisation is. And how huge the room is - maybe 500m wide and 1000m deep.

We are encouraged to dance on our platform too. There are suddenly two other real-life performers as avatars and a third virtual dancer telling us a story of love and dance. Stu and I do a bit of honey cokey and Status Quo dancing for fun.

Our platform gradually turns and rises up and up through the massive hall as we dance.

At the top it approaches a door which slides open to reveal a dock with a launch bobbing on a calm sea. The sea stretches out to the horizon, a huge blue sky above us and a coast far off to the left and the right.

The launch sets sail straight out to sea as we leave the coast behind. Dolphins with creatures on their backs dance around the surf. Fish jump. Huge fountains rise out of the waves, massive plants and flowers dance in the water. We navigate through a floating garden of seahorse statues, towering structures of dancing creatures and cascading water.

We disembark onto a stonework dock. There is a bright green privet maze leading off to one corner which soon we negotiate. In the middle of the maze is a magical walled garden with a party going on. There are dancing creatures and characters straight out of Alice In Wonderland. We are again encouraged to join in the dancing, waltzing around the garden. It’s quite magical.

Then a tram arrives. We all board it as it leaves the garden heading down a track at great speed. We twist and turn eventually arriving in Paris. We drive through the twilight 1890s streets ending up outside an impressive building called Mimi’s. We exit the tram, and enter the building. It’s a sort of Folies Bergère. There is a jazz band in the foyer. We walk into a side room where there are peep holes to secret rooms with seductive creatures lounging. We navigate the little side corridors and hidden doorways until we eventually we find ourselves on a stage surrounded by a ring of long-legged dancing girls (with fox heads). We dance and perform, whirling around with the can-can dancers. The music whirls and whirls and gets louder and louder. Eventually it reaches a crescendo and a huge audience is revealed in front of us. Wild applause and we all take a bow.

As the applause subsides a voice whispers, "please remove your mask". And we do.

We are suddenly back in the room deep in the bowels of the Barbican Centre. The room we never left. Looking at the other eight people in their VR kit. We are all speechless.

One of our number falls to her knees. She’s feeling overwhelmed. Needs sugar. The rest of us return our kit and thank our guide profusely. Everyone is buzzing and talking about what we have just experienced. Wow!

It was quite a mind-blowing VR show. Massive worlds full of Parisian glamour, dancing and showbiz.

The show was developed by world-renowned Spanish choreographer Blanca Li. Le Bal de Paris won the Lion of the Best VR Experience from the 78th Venice International Film Festival. All the digital costume design was by Chanel. The virtuosic musical score was by Tao Gutiérrez. We were taken on a journey from classical waltz to a rip-roaring wild Cancan finale through a universe as poetic as it is fantastic.

If you ever get a chance to experience it. Do. It is utterly amazing.







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