Dance and immersive performance: A multicase study of three international immersive productions

Ritter, Julia M.
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This dissertation research focuses on the role of dance in immersive productions. The study was prompted by investigation of the extant literature—including scholarly research and critical reviews—which revealed a gap in the literature regarding the role of dance in immersive productions. The purpose of this study was to explore the impact and influence of dance in immersive performance through a multicase study of three contemporary international immersive productions: Sleep No More by Punchdrunk (United Kingdom), Then She Fell by Third Rail Projects (New York), and Dance Marathon by bluemouth inc. (Toronto). The three productions were chosen as case studies for the ways in which dance was prioritized as a primary mode of expression by the artistic directors, including Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle of Punchdrunk; Zach Morris, Tom Pearson, and Jennine Willett of Third Rail Projects; and Ciara Adams, Stephen O’Connell, Sabrina Reeves, Lucy Simic, and Richard Windeyer of bluemouth inc. The increased popularity of productions that engage audiences differently, particularly through immersion, has prompted this research that explores how dance and choreographic strategies are used as tools to enhance audience experience.

Primary data-gathering techniques included participant observation during performances of these productions; interviews with artistic directors, dancers, and audience members directly engaged with the immersive productions chosen as case studies; and examination of existing literature, including published scholarship, critical reviews, websites, social media sites, and fan blogs. In analyzing each of the three case studies, I draw on theater scholars, including Josephine Machon and Gareth White, as well as current research into trends of audience participation in the arts. Through an integrated process of philosophical questioning and qualitative research design, the study follows a theoretical line of inquiry focused on dance as a strategy of immersion in productions created by artistic directors, performed by dancers, and experienced by audiences. The inclusion of multiple voices allowed for discovery of diverse conceptual and perceptual frameworks for dance and immersive performance, which in turn shed light on the ways in which dance is contributing to the expanding parameters of new audience engagement models.

This research contributes to the field of international dance studies for the ways in which it centralizes dance in the discourse surrounding immersive performance and contributes perspectives of dance to immersive performance that have heretofore been largely missing. By contributing to the understanding of the role of dance as a strategy of immersion and its impact on the participation of audiences, issues and insights that emerge from this research may resonate with theorists and practitioners in contemporary performance and the fields of audience, media, cultural, and theater studies, furthering analyses of dance in discussions that can yield continued insight for those dedicated to the discipline of dance through both practice and scholarship.

Communication and the arts, Arts engagement, Audience participation, Choreography, Immersive performance, Spectatorship