Sunday, 13 April 2014

Paradise Lost

Good company
Yesterday, I was lucky enough to get the chance to see Paradise Lost, performed by the Basilique Dance Company, in SL. Whilst I'd seen some of Basilique's work at the MIAMAI BlackLabel fashion show in December, I hadn't seen anything like a full dance show, and I was really intrigued with the mechanics of the piece.

WARNING: this blog post contains spoilers. If you are going to see the show, I would strongly advise that you do not continue reading. It would be great if you'd come back later and let me know what you thought of it in the comments though :).

To continue:

I was rather pleasantly surprised. Using poses and animations embedded in our pew cushions and some controls similar to those of the Restrained Life Viewer, the audience were manipulated into interacting with the performance in a very immediate way and were, at a couple of points nearer the beginning of the performance, transformed from angels (a compulsory costume, sent to us before the show) into devils. For reasons I'm not wholly sure of, the company told us beforehand that this would happen, although knowing didn't take too much away from the spectacle of it actually happening. As devils, we danced and frolicked with the fallen Lucifer amongst the prim-fires of Hell. Watching your avatar get up and move and change into something else without your fingers anywhere near a keyboard or mouse creates a slightly bizarre out-of-virtual-body experience I hadn't even considered possible before.

Audience-devils and the prim-fires of Hell (the orange on the right there)
There was not an enormous cast, and a narrator with a beautiful reading voice told us pieces of the story at different intervals to help us to interpret the dance sequences and scenes. There was music to accompany the whole thing too - classical, and they seemed to repeat Lacrimosa a few times (unless I am mistaken, which is highly possible) which makes sense considering the subject matter of the show. 
 
The mechanics of the dance itself, I cannot describe because I don't know all the details. I don't know if the dancers make their own animations, or whether they scout pose and animations shops and create a collage of movements to make a bigger dance sequence. Does anybody reading this know? I'm not sure which of those methods would be more difficult. The amount of work undertaken to create a virtual show in which the cast dance for almost as hour must be insane.
 
The set was ingeniously set up so that alpha layers (think of them as invisibility cloaks) could be removed and replaced, effectively making whole vistas appear and disappear into thin air.  Little did we know that the pews (hidden in the above picture by an alpha) we had filed into at the start of the piece were hovering just a foot or so above a cloaked River Nile. 
 
The alphas made it quite difficult to move the camera around (imagine getting stuck pivoting a camera around an object you can't see - yup, it's as weird as it sounds) which I found I had to do on a number of occasions when the company's remote control of my camera stopped working. I think that small strangeness is worth it, though, for the spectacle of the scene revelation.

The Nile
There were some obvious issues with the performance. Despite the compulsory costuming and all of the tips Basilique gave us to improve our experience and decrease lag, the piece suffered immensely from lag. In places, it made the otherwise smooth dance moves seem stilted, and some of the more fantastical sets and costumes (like the prim fire in the picture further up, which seemed like an orange wall rather than flames for a little while) were slow to rez, leaving grey blocks in their place until they did. When there are this many avatars in one space with this much going on, however, lag is inevitable, and I think that each dance sequence lasted long enough for us to get the gist, even with lag interfering. There was always something to look at: the snowy winter world of Adam and Eve's exile and the wide River Nile were particularly impressive.

Adam and Eve are exiled. The audience, angels once more, look on
When you are performing in SL, you have the ability to bring in all these 'real' elements like grass and water and even weather systems of rain and snow, and it would be a shame not to take advantage of them. However, there's a reason we don't use actual grass and actual water and implement sprinkler systems in real life theatres, and that's because it's highly impractical for very little real gain. A theatre audience is usually willing to suspend disbelief and go with you if you tell them the bare space you are inhabiting is really a forest. This willful and happy desire to believe can be somewhat dampened, however, in the virtual world by lag, and thus I think there's a delicate balancing act in working out how much scenery is worth how much lag. Since lag in the first place is inevitable, the scenery provides a reinforcement, a back-up, to the stilted and sometimes slow-to-reveal-itself action, but it also works to increase that lag.
 
A question arose when Adam and Eve, enlightened with knowledge and feeling, for the first time, lust, decided to have sex. I expected the sex to be illustrated via a fiery, erotic dance, but in a surprise move Basilique decided to go for a more direct approach. What's more, they didn't use any vanilla missionary 'standard sex' or even especially loving and sensual kind of poses, but instead chose one that features Adam standing and sort of lifting Eve onto himself and bouncing her about like one of those little balls attached to a bat by a piece of elastic. Despite the seriousness of the moment (this is, after all, Adam and Eve sealing their fate as exiles from Eden and God's grace), I couldn't help but laugh, and I wonder why Basilique chose to make this departure from dance at that moment.

In terms of the story itself, Basilique introduced some really interesting aesthetics and ideas. God, appearing to watch Adam and Eve fall in love in the Garden of Eden, was green, and whilst this might seem to be a little pagan and hippie, it worked well with the earthy, natural feel of the Eden scene and the crowd of animals within it. Eden was organic, and that contrasted drastically with the dark rock red-and-black of Hell. The Archangel Michael looked seriously bad-ass, and wouldn't have been out of place if you'd popped him next to Ezio in Assassin's Creed.

The decision to make Lucifer female, and pointedly so, was also intriguing. It makes perfect sense, however, considering that the Blame For Everything Sinful falls to Eve, a woman, and that women are often considered in Biblical, mythological and historical contexts are being the origins or creatures of sin. That it is a woman who persuades Eve to eat the fruit, and a woman with whom God then wages war, opens up a whole can of gender worms. There were perhaps ways to explore this idea more, but they'd be dreams for another show, as I'm not sure they'd fit within this project as it is. 
 
I haven't read Paradise Lost, and I don't know whether any scripts exist for it and/or where Basilique drew the exact inspirations for the wording of their script. But the most interesting idea that arose from the way they told the story, for me, came with the description of Adam choosing to take a bite of the fruit. If I recall, the narrator told us that Adam, faced with Eve holding out to him the apple to bite, realised that Eve had betrayed God and knew she would be exiled. If Eve was exiled, Adam would be left alone in the Garden of Eden and, fearing loneliness, Adam took a bite of the apple too.
 
Eve offers Adam the apple
Whoa. Hold the phone. Back it up. In my interpretation of the narrator's words, Adam, surrounded by the love of God in the perfection of Eden, was lonely, and in the end chose companionship, love and sex with Eve over the safety, perfection and closeness of God. I do not claim to know whether Basilique intended for the audience to see it this way or not - this is strictly my understanding and imagination here. But I wonder how different the dance might be if Adam's loneliness, and Adam's decision to be with Eve rather than God were the focus of the story. Again, that's subject matter for a whole other show.

Witnessing this production was certainly an experience, and judging by the comments the audience were making as the dancers took their bows, it was enjoyed by the majority. With the limitations of SL and lag stacked against them, I applaud the ambition and the dedication of Basilique. I haven't heard of anyone else creating anything like this in SL, and a show of this magnitude is certainly an undertaking. To achieve so much and so well is fantastic. I think this is definitely a troupe to watch as they go forward and as SL and virtual technology gets cleverer and cleaner.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Pretty Damn Queenly

a fun kind of queen
 As a child, playing princess wasn't really my thing. I had dolls and cuddly toys, yes, and I used to make little houses out of my Nana's sofa cushions, but I also had a car mat and a book about dinosaurs and I liked to watch Power Rangers and Batman with my mum. I didn't go through the teenage princess thing, either, but instead threw my lot in with the knights and the soldiers and the rogues, the mages and the necromancers who put the dead back into their graves (not the more traditional other way around).

Queens are where it's at. If I had to occupy any position of power within a monarchy, I'd want to be a queen. My husband would not outrank me, and I wouldn't suffer any of that pea-under-a-mattress or cursed spinning loom nonsense. I'd be the benign dictator I'm starting to think my country needs (did you see any of the Clegg/Farage debate? Kill me now).

The leaves remind me of the Roman laurel wreath. I have no idea if that was even remotely the intention behind this design.
I know it wouldn't be easy, but I'm not sure that ruling should be easy. If it's easy, you're missing something somewhere, you're not engaging with the problems and the nuances of the problems of the people. And I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth and a chair at Eton with my name already written on it - in cursive on a little golden plaque - so I don't waltz with an air of entitlement sniggering behind my hand at in-jokes with my fellow Bullingdon Boy chums. I'm also not afraid of Islam, and have an open mind about the EU. Oh - and I'd consider employing as my allies and advisors any homosexual the kind members of UKIP can identify as having the ability to control the weather (I'd imagine that kind of skill is worth a Nobel Prize, at least).

What does any of this have to do with Second Life, Kitti? I hear you, oh noble and patient subjects, and I will give you the answer you seek. This self-indulgent ramble was inspired by the beautiful items I was asked to blog to help promote the Fit for a Princess Event, which opened in SL on April 1st. I was overwhelmed by the amount of things I received to blog (even more than from FutureWave!). There's no real way I could blog it all, but there seem to be lots of other bloggers on the case, too - so between us, perhaps we'll do it justice.

The fair itself isn't huge, but is packed full of really great and beautifully made items. It's really simply laid out in a circle, and the building itself has palpable textures and a shiny floor that reflects the arches in the roof perfectly (which is a really cool SL effect, I think). I realise that blogging fashion doesn't really fall in with my usual style of blogging, but I do like to take snaps of and record here some of the wonderful things the creators in SL are making, and I think this is one way of doing that. 

My dress in the first picture was made by aemeth. I've been a fan of aemeth since my early days in SL, and the make-up I bought from her store not long after I first started SL has aged magnificently and is still amongst my favourites. This dress is so lovely, but it's fun too - and I think funness is overlooked by the majority when talking about monarchy. What's the point in being a princess (or a queen) if you can't have any fun? I love the folds and the creases as the dress gathers into the cuffs and the hem - so realistically. 

The crown and collar in the second picture are by Evie's Closet and their leafy design seems to invoke a ghost of the old god-emperors of the Ancient Roman Empire. They're much more delicate, of course, than Caesar's laurels, but they are so so pretty.

Royal Blue I

Royal Blue II
The last things I want to show you are this beautiful ballgown and these super sparkly nails. The ballgown was made by Peqe, and it comes in a whole bunch of colour combinations, each named after a Grimm/Disney character. I don't tend to dress Kitti in blue very often, but I thought the softness of this dress in Hades (named after the Hercules' Hades, of course) was too pretty and sweet to miss out on. My glittery Rhinestone nails (appliers - for Slink hands) match perfectly, too. They're courtesy of A:S:S.

All of the items I have mentioned in post are available at the Fit for a Princess event, and there is so, so much more. If you'd like to go and see for yourself, click here - here! Even if you're not really into princessy stuff, like me, there'll most definitely be something there for you. I mean, how queenly do I look in those last pictures!? Pretty damn queenly, even if I do say so myself.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Furry Shut-Ins

Who Got the Cream.
The gap between my posts seems to only increase, and I fear it heralds the slow demise of this blog. I hope that isn't the case, but I'm not sure how to ward it off. I don't want to repeat myself ad nauseam, and the truth is that I haven't been having very many virtual adventures because I have become something of a virtual shut-in.

That isn't to say that I am no longer enjoying Second Life - quite the opposite. But my friends all seem to have bonded together and we have formed a lovely little clique (I say with irony) which, when any more than one of us is online, tend to converge on someone's house and stay there. Since I got a new skybox with it's fantastic roof, we have been basking in the patches of light and playing chicken with the dust motes. Sometimes we go to Niri's, or to sian's. We're a clique of shut-ins. 

But like any self-respecting shut-in, I have also become a virtual crazy cat lady. Gone are the days of being able to walk around my skybox without stepping on a tail. One mad day last month, I decided to complete the KittyCats hunt and returned, victorious, with two obnoxiously coloured cats which - in my infinite wisdom - I decided I was going to breed together.

Party Cat is also a KittyCats cat, and whilst she has only ever been a for-pet cat, the point of the KittyCats cats is to breed them. Each cat has different traits, and by breeding them together you can encourage new traits to emerge. It's a lucrative business and I have seen eighth and ninth generations kittens being sold for more money than I could ever hope to possess in either world.

So, I hear you asking, why haven't you been breeding cats since day one, you crazy shut-in cat lady? Well, when you turn a cat from a breedable into a pet, it takes away their hunger and you don't have to worry about feeding them anymore. This is why I neutered Party Cat, and why I intended to neuter my two new cats, Pinky and Pest. Food isn't massively expensive, but when you have to buy it each week (and more often, if you have lots of cats), it isn't especially cheap either. However, I decided I wanted to have a go, and see if I couldn't make something that was super adorable, even if it didn't reveal enough new traits to be sold. 

...wanna meet my cats? Of course you do.

kitties!
Earl Grey is Carmine Chris' cat, and has been neutered for quite a while now. I picked Rune up around the same time as Pest and Pinky, although I had to pay for him. Pest and Pinky, like Party Cat, are emblazoned with celebratory cat sprinkles and other silly party-related nonsense, as they were created by KittyCats to celebrate the company's birthday and were free. Pest has been living up to his name and likes to walk into our house guests, knocking them several paces across the room (if you could fall over in SL, he would be knocking them over). He also enjoys running around like a maniac. James, the offspring of Pest and Pinky, is a cute little thing and he's quite subdued. In the middle is Scout, the child of Pinky and Rune. She looks just like her daddy except that she has Scottish Fold ears. Her ears are a newly revealed trait, but they are her only new trait, so she isn't worth any money (and anyway, she's too cute to sell).

Know why Party Cat isn't in the picture? Because she's buggered off to party elsewhere. She'll be back, don't worry. Little wretch that she is.

I confess, I was a little bit disappointed that breeding with one/both of the special birthday cats didn't create a new, equally obnoxious fur colour. Both Scout and James are fairly normal cat colours, and don't feature any balloons or sprinkles or cakes or whatever else. I'm not really sure why I thought I might end up with green or, I don't know, lilac kittens, and when I expressed this thought to my new friends and pro KittyCats-breeder (that sounds so wrong) Bunz, she laughed at me. 

So: now I am breeding Scout and James, and I'm hoping that they might, as second generation kittens, make an interesting little couple of kittens for me to breed on again. I'll keep you posted, because I'm sure you're all dying to know how it works out.

And don't talk to me about cat incest. Just don't.