The catchall for unmanned flying vehicles, “drones,” has fast become part of our lexicon over the past several years, the connotation often skewing negative in spite of the technological beauty brought forth by these remote-control masterpieces.
Moving far beyond GoPro-inspired aerial photography and a world away from any battlefield, Cirque du Soleil again challenges our relationship with the world around us, injecting magic through technology and blurring the lines of reality through a short film released this week. “Sparked” is Cirque’s latest challenge to our senses. In collaboration with ETH Zurich and Verity Studios, it features one actor and 10 quadcopters. The result is not only beautiful in its own right, but also a snapshot of the creative possibilities these fantastic machines can bring to stagecraft and as well as recorded entertainment.
The most inspiring element of the five-minute movie is that there is zero deception, no special effects, no slight of hand—outside of lighting, creative cinematography and standard editing—everything is being performed as you see it. The quadcopters perform with no CGI, no wires, no slow-mo or fast-forwards; it’s just man and machines playing together.
“What we wanted is to explore what we could do with an emerging new technology, the quadcopters here; and give it some meaning, give it some magic and bring it to another level,” Welby Altidor, Executive Direction of Creation at Cirque du Soleil said in a companion piece, ‘SPARKED : Behind the Technology.’ “We saw right away that there was a potential with quadcopters to explore where else could we go and what type of interaction could they have with humans.”
Shot at the Flying Machine Arena at ETH Zurich (a creative powerhouse that’s devoted to autonomous flight), the process was made possible by a wireless communication network, and custom software executing sophisticated algorithms for estimation and control of the quadcopters.
The setting and plot are straightforward, letting the visuals take center stage. A repairman in his workshop tinkers away, and when a blown fuse ignites life in the lamps around him, a hypnotic sway of quadcopters take over the frame. Each lamp starts to emerge as its own character in a choreographed shuffle. Yet outside of the ocular fun, a larger metaphor takes shape as the craftsman commands his new friends. The evolving dance between man and technology peaks as he navigates the awkwardness of flying, the joy in the response, and the potential loss of control with these devices.
Cirque has always been about pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on the stage, and one of its newest touring productions is perhaps the most direct in chasing this premise. KURIOS – Cabinet of curiosities chases the essence of what Cirque du Soleil has always been about—discovery, innovation and the opening of our minds to new possibilities. Set against a timeframe of the 19th century, when industrial advances were at their peak, KURIOS is a further extension of Cirque’s insatiable thirst for more technologically-fueled creative advancement. The theme of blending technological innovation and visual storytelling is present all throughout the theatre company, both on stage and behind it, and “Sparked” echoes that sentiment loudly and beautifully.
“Is there a future for this in the performing arts?” asks Raffaello D’Andrea, founder of Verity Studios AG in ‘SPARKED : Behind the Technology.’ “Absolutely. We’re just getting started.”
Watch the “Sparked” in the video above, and don’t be surprised when you see quadcopters descending on your next Cirque experience.