Virtual Stage

NutcrackAR sites across Birmingham until 17 November 2023

Welcome to our Virtual Stage: an exploration into the realm of immersive technology, merging the artistry of ballet and theatre production with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) experiences.

With substantial investment in equipment and by working alongside industry-leading partners we are pioneering the use and application of immersive technology in classical ballet, unlocking new artistic frontiers.

This extraordinary initiative has given us multiple new avenues through which to explore choreographic and storytelling concepts, creating a dynamic fusion of traditional ballet and technological innovation. At its core our Virtual Stage is about a desire to innovate and push the boundaries of this art form that we love, to break down barriers to access and foster a sense of inclusivity for all.

This project was developed with the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Digital Accelerator Programme for Arts and Culture. We are immensely thankful to the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Digital Accelerator Programme for their generous support.

Carlos Acosta is seen sitting on a wall, arms stretched wide and smiling, with a panorama of the Birmingham skyline behind him
Carlos Acosta Credit: Drew Tommons 2022

“I am absolutely thrilled that we have launched Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Virtual Stage, becoming one of the first ballet companies in the world to embrace immersive technology and unlock the potential it holds.

“I am particularly excited about the possibilities this work has for reaching younger and new audiences across the globe, bringing them up close to classical ballet in a way that, until recently, has not been possible.

“Virtual Stage is another example of BRB’s commitment to pushing boundaries and keeping ballet fresh and relevant for future generations.”

Carlos Acosta, Artistic Director Birmingham Royal Ballet

What is immersive technology (and why?)

Immersive technology refers to highly advanced digital tools that create highly immersive, sensory experiences for users, often blurring the lines between the physical and virtual worlds. Immersive technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and motion capture (mo-cap) create experiences, and allow users (our audience) to become an integral part of a simulated environment and interact with us in ways that until recently were impossible.

Virtual reality is a computer-generated environment with scenes and objects that appear to be real, making the user feel they are immersed in their surroundings. This content is experienced through devices such as a VR headset.

Augmented realityallows digital images and information to be displayed against a background of the physical environment through a smart device such as a phone or tablet.

Motion capture involves the movements of dancers many times per second from sensors positioned around the body. Only the movements are recorded - not their real visual appearance. The animation data is then mapped to a 3D model which is enabled to perform the actions that were captured.

To the left of the photo, two people are can be seen from the chest up, one in front of the other, looking to the left. They are wearing black teeshirts with indistinguishable white logos and white VR headsets. The person in front is in sharp focus; she has her brown hair in a ponytail. The person behind is in soft focus; he has a beard. They are members of the Freefall Dance Company. They are sitting in a light-filled ballet studio, with a window and the ballet barre visible behind them. Light is pouring in through the window creating rays that are reflecting off the person at the front’s headset. George Wood from Canon is out of camera focus, standing behind them, wearing a grey overshirt and jeans. George has a shaven head and trimmed dark stubble. The studio walls are white, and there is a wooden ballet barre on the back wall. Image Credit: Andy Ford.
Members of the Freefall Dance Company with virtual reality headsets on Credit: Andy Ford 2023