Dancing with Holograms: First-Of-Its-Kind Mixed-Reality Dance Performed With Microsoft HoloLens

Dancing with Holograms:
First-of-Its-Kind Mixed-Reality Dance Performed with Microsoft HoloLens

When Case Western Reserve University student Karen Opper dances in the debut performance of Imagined Odyssey, she cannot see the show’s elaborate visuals surrounding her – but her audience can. The show’s dreamlike holograms were brought to life by Microsoft HoloLens, a mixed-reality headset that each of the 80 audience members wear during the piece.

“Nothing has ever been done on this scale using networked mixed-reality devices,” said Mark Griswold, a radiology professor at Case Western Reserve and faculty director for the university’s Interactive Commons (IC), an institute that specializes in applying HoloLens to help groups visualize information in novel ways. “It’s been an amazing testing ground that further shows this technology’s potential to be transformative, no matter the discipline or setting.”

As the finale of Vistas, the fall show by Case Western Reserve’s Department of Dance, Imagined Odyssey was performed to sold-out audiences over two weeks in November.

“Since the launch of Microsoft HoloLens and the paradigm shift to mixed-reality computing, Case Western Reserve has been on the leading edge of innovation across many educational experiences,” said Lorraine Bardeen, general manager of Windows Mixed Reality Experiences. “It has long been one of my dreams to experience artistic performance combining the physical and digital worlds with mixed reality, and I’m thrilled this dream is now coming to life.”

An original work by Gary Galbraith, a Case Western Reserve professor of dance, Imagined Odyssey draws on popular myths to lead its characters—and the audience—through a series of surreal spaces and experiences. Set to a score of driving drums and violins, a masked sage (danced by Opper) entices two brothers to pass through holographic gates of gold, where sirens send them chasing a playful orb to their great fortune—or folly.

“We’re able to invite the audience into our imaginations,” said Opper, a third-year master of fine art’s student.

Working with 3-D artists and computer programmers at the university’s IC, Galbraith has incorporated a holographic tornado and mysterious trees that grow from the floor. He also has demonstrated new ways of conveying motion—and emotion—such as comet-like trails of fiery particles created by dancers’ movements.

“We are discovering the beauty of the possible,” Galbraith said. “The contemporary arts tend to be experimental, so this was a perfect chance to push the boundaries of the technology.”

Staging such an unprecedented performance—including networking 80 Microsoft HoloLens headsets to display holograms from each audience member’s vantage point—has helped Griswold and his team understand more about how mixed-reality technology can enhance learning in larger classrooms.

“What we learned about how HoloLens works in a performance space will feed directly back into how it’s used in educational settings,” Griswold said.

Imagined Odyssey is the second arts-based application of Microsoft HoloLens this year for Case Western Reserve. This summer, the university released a free app with Boulevard Arts that allows HoloLens users to see and interact with 18 works from The Courtauld Gallery and the British Museum.

Last year, the university and Cleveland Clinic released HoloAnatomy, the first third-party app featured in Microsoft’s online HoloLens store.

In 2014, the hospital and Case Western Reserve began collaborating with Microsoft regarding an educational application of its then-confidential HoloLens technology—specifically the use of the devices with medical students learning anatomy. Once complete, the holographic curriculum will be used in the institutions’ joint Health Education Campus, scheduled to open in the summer of 2019. At the same time, the team at the IC also has explored use of the technology in other disciplines, including the teaching of physics and in student projects in music, energy use and more.

“Our larger vision is to bring people together who otherwise might not be talking,” said Erin Henninger, executive director of IC. “HoloLens is the type of tool that inspires them to think of solutions one has ever considered.”

Case Western Reserve University is one of the country’s leading private research institutions. Located in Cleveland, we offer a unique combination of forward-thinking educational opportunities in an inspiring cultural setting. Our leading-edge faculty engage in teaching and research in a collaborative, hands-on environment. Our nationally recognized programs include arts and sciences, dental medicine, engineering, law, management, medicine, nursing and social work. About 5,100 undergraduate and 6,200 graduate students comprise our student body. Visit case.edu to see how Case Western Reserve thinks beyond the possible.