new creators

Since the fall, Celine Daemen has been exploring the possibilities of combining Virtual Reality and opera under the wings of Silbersee. She is currently working on her first 'VR opera' in this trajectory: Eurydice - a descent into infinity. Meet our New Maker within the series 'Six Questions to...'. 

Time for the next step 

1. Who is Celine Daemen?

I am a director of transdisciplinary work, in which I mainly intertwine theater, music, visual art and technology into something new. I graduated from the Maastricht Drama Academy three years ago and have already made a few small productions. Now it's time for the next step. 

2. What are you working on right now?

I'm currently working on creating 'virtual reality opera,' a combination of music and VR, using a pair of glasses that allows you to float around in another reality. Both disciplines, music and VR, have a very direct impact. Music can resonate very strongly with something you're going through yourself, making you feel like it's about you. The same happens with VR, where there is a direct relationship to the body. Maybe you have to go through something, or you have to step over a precipice and you find that difficult. It may mean something personal to everyone. I am not the master who gives absolute meaning to everything. The meaning is generated by the audience. 

3. What do you do at Silbersee? 

Silbersee is my apprenticeship. I am apprenticing here, to see how they deal with the dramaturgy of their performances, how you can tell a story or bring something to life from music, and thus not from a narrative. And they help me in my first steps as a young maker. The New Makers trajectory is focused on research in addition to producing. I am surrounded by a broad group of coaches, from Silbersee but also from outside, from Via Zuid in Limburg for example. I can go to them with all my questions. 

4. Why did you choose Silbersee?

Because I felt I had found an ally here. I didn't have to defend how I wanted to make theater; they followed me immediately. In the theater world I often encountered that people didn't really understand what I had in mind with 'experience' and that 'instant touch'. People always wanted me to tell a story with one absolute meaning. The relationship that I seek in my work with the audience is a different one, in which Silbersee and I fit well together. 

5. What is the first project we can expect? 

That is a VR opera called Eurydice - a descent into infinity. Together with librettist Charlotte van den Broeck, I was inspired by the classical myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, where Eurydice has died and Orpheus goes to fetch her from the phantom realm. In my version, you yourself as the spectator follow Eurydice into the phantom realm. The play is about the infinite soul. Kate Moore composes an infinite aria that you, the spectator, are temporarily present in. It becomes an abrasion of soul and body, of the longing for infinity with our own physical temporality. I continue to create the piece together with virtual art director Aron Fels. Wouter Snoei is doing the sound design. 

6. What are you looking forward to?

The libretto is mostly finished. We are about to start working on the rehearsal location in Zaandam. Now the collectivity of the project begins. I'm very much looking forward to working with everyone together and being inspired by each other, surprising each other, starting to make things that we can't foresee right now. It was all rather theoretical until now. Now it may start to transcend itself in collaboration. I find that exciting too, by the way.... 

Text: Jan Van den Bossche 

Technology is never an objective in itself 

1. A VR opera? What should we envision with that? 

As a visitor, you get to wear VR glasses that also plays music. You then follow the character Eurydice through an endless maze of ruined rooms, walkways and balustrades. Along the way, you face obstacles such as holes in floors or broken walls. Occasionally, you also have to choose between different routes. This increases the sense of autonomy but at the same time reinforces the impression of getting lost. After all, you may think you have made the "wrong" choice. In reality, by the way, that choice doesn't matter. All routes of the maze eventually lead back to the beginning. 

2. So the visitors have to use their own legs? 

This experience uses "redirected walking," a system that allows you to walk indefinitely in a VR environment. When you walk through doorways or turn a corner in the virtual space, you constantly discover new spaces and scenes. So indeed, as a spectator, you have to walk yourself in the physical space. Thanks to the use of infra-red cameras that we point at them, spectators can even see their own bodies when they look down. 

3. All technical marvels, then? 

That's right. By the way, I don't come up with these technical feats on my own! I work with art director Aron Fels. He specializes in creating pointcloud worlds, a three-dimensional pointillism that plays with your perception. At the same time, the point clouds seem to constantly disintegrate. This gives you a sense of weightlessness. It evokes both alienation and amazement. And that's what it's all about. That sophisticated technique is always at the service of dramaturgy; it is never an end in itself.

4. Who is this Eurydice again?

Charlotte Van den Broeck, the Belgian poet who wrote the libretto, and I were inspired by the story of Orpheus and his descent into the realm of shadows in search of his deceased lover Eurydice. So together Charlotte and I created a new text inspired by that classic. Charlotte's stilled poems often speak of a deep longing for displacement, in which she uses powerful visuals to constantly evoke echoes from reality as well. That fits nicely with my take on Virtual Reality, that tension between the familiar and the estranged. We drew inspiration for the design from the drawings of the 18th-century Italian graphic artist Piranesi, known for his semi-imaginary cityscapes. You recognize the architectural forms of bridges, halls and stairs, but at the same time you feel that you are not in the real world. 

5. But it is an opera, so there is also music? 

For Eurydice, I am working with composer Kate Moore. Her meditative melodies make you lose your grip on time. You can get caught up in them in a pleasant way. Kate composes an infinite melody for Eurydice for singer Sterre Konijn. That melody takes on a hypnotic, repetitive quality. The composition consists of twelve separate parts that can follow each other in different sequences, so that the melody never repeats itself exactly, creating an infinite variation. Furthermore, sound artist Wouter Snoei, in collaboration with Kate, will shape the behaviors of sound and acoustics in virtual space. In this way, we will also make disintegrated spaces experienceable in audio. 

6. What is Eurydice actually about?  

About the human desire for infinity. For centuries we have mused about the infinite soul, which leaves our body as a temporary shell and wanders around, reincarnates or enjoys eternal life in a heaven. Recently, a new belief has been added: artificial intelligence could offer us eternal life through the ability to upload our minds. In Eurydice, spectators, like Orpheus, fight their own battle between spirit and matter. Where do I belong? Among wandering, bodiless souls or still with my feet in the clay? With Eurydice I try to make the friction between our longing for unlimited infinity on the one hand and the temporary, earthly materiality on the other experienceable. 

Celine Daemen is developing this production as part of the New Makers Regulation of Fonds Podiumkunsten. 

Eurydice - a descent into infinity will premiere at the end of August at Cultura Nova in Heerlen, and will then be performed at numerous venues in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Text: Jan Van Den Bossche