Virtual relationships: the dancer and the avatar

Strutt, Daniel and Cisneros, Rosa. 2021. Virtual relationships: the dancer and the avatar. Theatre and Performance Design, 7(1-2), pp. 61-81. ISSN 2332-2551 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

People might assume that dancing with a digital avatar would be a relatively distant, dehumanizing or disembodied process. However, in this article we propose that effective and creative choreographic practice can be achieved by working with a virtual representation of a dancer, and we offer two case studies to evidence the practical application of motion capture technology within this context. We observed that the virtual model quickly and naturally becomes an extension of the dancer's interiority and that a dynamic affective attunement between dancer and avatar spontaneously develops. We describe how the relationship between the physical and the virtual dancing body raises several practical, theoretical and even philosophical questions for choreographic approach, style and process. Building from Susanne Langer's (1953) germinal conception of the ‘virtual powers’ of dance, we articulate a practice-led research opportunity to critically reflect on conventional choreographic practices through the affordances of a specifically digital virtuality, in ways that can open out the kinds of affective, emotional and phenomenological frameworks within which creation occurs. The unique affordances of recent motion capture systems, offer naturalistic three-dimensional environments with an increased improvisational interactivity that simply cannot be achieved with video-based media.

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This work was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council [grant number AH/V009826/1] and Horizon 2020 Framework Programme [grant number 688865].

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


19 August 2021Published

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07 Sep 2021 13:10

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2021 13:10

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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