Holograms, in their various guises, have finally reached the point where they are limited primarily by the imagination of their creators. For the most part, this has been a serious limitation. Their most notable recent uses have been resurrections (Michael Jackson, Tupac), "immortalisations" (Kate Moss) and displays of advertising budget. But for much of history, the same could have been said of painting, which for centuries was used for almost exclusively for these same purposes by nobles, billionaires and churches - in the process laying the spectacular groundwork for the 'Mona Lisa', 'Guernica' and 'The Scream'. The artistic possibilities opened up by holograms are no less than those opened up by painting.
What does it feel like for one's entire world to shatter before one's eyes and, in a moment, be replaced by a new one? Holograms allow us to depict this experience more accurately than can any stage set. When a fire lays your home to waste, does it burn only as bright as physical fire, or does it burn brighter, with greater intensity than any real flame? I know the latter, and holograms let me impart this sense on stage. Audiences in the months to come will judge this, but I am confident they'll share my view that more than just being "like real life", the form allows physical impossibilities that reflect human experience better than can real life. At its crudest, holograms allow our cast of world class performers (I say this with amazement more than hubris) to appear to be in Portsmouth, Berlin and Bury St Edmonds when, really, they aren't. In technical terms, this is incredible. But if it does only this, it is a failure - a simulacrum of live performance is no artistic aspiration worth speaking of.
150 years ago, Wagner proposed parameters for a truly important artwork in any age. It should consider its own all the technological and other possibilities available only to its present, while drawing on the inheritance of the great work of centuries past. To Wagner's rubric I would add that any truly meaningful present-day work should be as relevant to "non-specialist" audiences (patronising classical-speak for those who don't attend classical music / opera / dance) as those already in love with these forms, and that it should physically be able to reach everybody - not just wealthy Londoners. With Symphony to a Lost Generation, this is what I aspired to do, fusing symphony, drama, ballet and butoh with 3D-rendered worlds at a scale usually found only in cinema, but which will tour regional theatres across Europe. Roughly along these lines, the Royal Opera House has made a great success of their filmed operas: lots of people go to cinemas to watch them. Yet I find them problematic. They are delighted to allow audiences who can't be in Covent Garden to experience "the next best thing". I want "the best thing" to be experienced by everyone who comes to my work, rather than for "actually being there" to be a niche experience.
Sergei Polunin and Natalia Osipova, with whom I had the honour of working last week, are performing together at Sadler's Wells this June. More than any stage work this year, I cannot wait to see this; their holograms are not a substitute for their live selves. Yet equally, in Symphony to a Lost Generation, Sergei is able to disappear from Natalia's arms mid-pose and instantaneously reappear inside a train as his character dreams of departing. For this scene, live performers would be no substitute for holograms. If holographic works become a recognised dramatic form, as I hope they will, it is this capacity to depict the experience of life as being as real as physical fact that differentiates them from existing forms.
I pray that holograms never replace live performance, as I pray that photography never replaces painting. But as with photography, technology has made possible a new form of art - in this case, a parallel form to theatre, opera and dance.
Adam Donen is the composer, writer and director of Symphony to a Lost Generation, the world's first feature length fully holographic stage production, which premieres in London at LSO St Luke's on 28 May before touring the UK.
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