Investigating the Somatic Body in Virtual Reality
: Exposing and Exploring the Perception Gap Between Seeing and Feeling in Participatory Performance

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


As a dance practitioner who works extensively with somatic and improvisation practices, my experience of entering into a virtual environment (VE) using virtual reality technologies (VR) brings about a tension between my moving, sensing body and the visual pull of the virtual environment – a perception gap between seeing and
feeling. This experience and sensation, my response to the technology, has formed the basis of this practice-as-research project which delves into the complexity of the virtuality and corporeality of bodies and environments using a multi-person VR framework. The project methodology combines somatic-dance practices with participation in VR to investigate experiences of expanded perception through re calibrating sensory awareness. Specifically, this research opens up possibilities for activating synaesthetic and expanded modes of perception which challenge normative, visually dominant sensory modalities. Chapter One lays out and discusses critical fields of theory and practice as a contextual framing for the research. Chapter Two frames and discusses two sets of workshops and their emergent themes: Ways of Seeing workshops at the Bodily Undoing symposium at Bath Spa University with somatic-dance practitioners (2017), and The Felt Sense workshops at Knowle West Media Centre with public participants (2018). The third and final chapter details and critically frames the participatory performances of Figuring (2018) and Soma (2019) which, building on the workshops, embed and craft somatic-dance practices as part of a three-part model for participation with multiperson VR. The design and sequencing of Figuring and Soma participant journeys are discussed, alongside critical issues of care, agency and touch, activated and considered through a dancerly lens. The thesis concludes in offering recommendations for further research across the fields of dance/performance, HCI, psychology and the social sciences.
Date of Award24 Jun 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorSimon Jones (Supervisor) & Angela Piccini (Supervisor)

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