Cuban-American from Ridgefield Stars in Augmented Reality Dance Performance at Princeton Battlefield State Park

Dane Burch, a nineteen-year-old Cuban-American from Ridgefield, NJ, stars as a British soldier in a new augmented reality dance piece designed to explain and interpret the history of the Colonnade columns sculpture at the Princeton Battlefield State Park on Mercer Road in Princeton, NJ.

The Luminaire Dance Company created the performance, which is available for free to folks who visit The Colonnade at the State Park.

The videos are viewable on smartphones and other electronic devices for free as ‘augmented reality’ if you are physically on the battlefield grounds, or as a virtual reality experience for $10 when viewed elsewhere. To access the video from the State Park or elsewhere, visit the Web site The Time Traveler’s Lense.

The Colonnade was designed by  Thomas Ustick Walter, an architect of the U.S. Capitol building.  The structure currently stands on the Princeton Battlefield State Park grounds as an entry gate to the memorial to a less well-known tomb of 34 unknown soldiers buried there on-site after the 1777 Battle of Princeton, a well-documented battle of the 18th Century Revolutionary War.

» A lot of people who drive by this every day or who have visited the columns on trips in or to NJ don’t really know or understand what is here,» Merli Guerra, founder of The Luminaire Dance Company and creator of the work, told Reporte Hispano.

The park, the site of the 1777 Battle of Princeton, helped turn the tide of the Revolutionary War. The Colonnade was built a half-century after the battle as part of a mansion designed by Thomas Ustick Walter, an architect of the U.S. Capitol building. After the original mansion’s demolition in 1900, the structure of four stone columns was moved from Philadelphia to Princeton to adorn the Mercer Manor, which stood at the edge of the battlefield. The Colonnade survived the 1957 demolition of Mercer Manor and was dedicated as a national historic monument in 1962 that serves as a marker for the nearby gravesite of fallen American and British Revolutionary War soldiers. 

  

 

«It is not virtual reality» says Guerra, the company’s director. «It is augmented reality, because we really -especially now – want folks to step away from home and come out to this historic site and see the work here in this (outdoor) place. You can also see it for $10 on a screen at home no problem, we appreciate that and that is a great way to support our work also, and yet it is also one of the functions of the work is to get folks moving to this site and at this site, which is one of the best-recognized tourist attractions in NJ, about which really so little is known by so many people. It works as dance and also as a marketing piece and educational piece fo the history of The Colonnade (the much-recognized, and often little understood columns created by this famous historic architect.»

Guerra says that while the videos are available now on YouTube App for phones because Google is financially able in a way that she is not at this time to update the App tech so it can be usable by ever-changing mobile phone tech, she and her company would like for the piece to be available in the App of the NJ State Park System, and other places besides YouTube, and dreams for herself and her company, a non-profit, to do more interpretative dance accessible via mobile, connected devices in open air for historical sites around NJ and the country. All of her dancers including Burch were paid professional dancer wages during The Covid-19 Pandemic to create the work in a way that folks can experience dance at a site without having to worry about overcrowding/infection, she says.

Burch, a professional company member of Luminarium Dance Company, has performed with several groups including Free Space Dance, Jersey City Dancers, and Nikki Manx Dance Project. In The Time Traveler’s Lens’ «In Revolution,» Burch plays a British soldier.

«The performing arts, dance in particular, have been largely absent from our lives this past year due to the pandemic,» says Guerra. «While the power of experiencing live dance can never be replaced, I’m excited by the immersive nature 360-degree augmented and virtual reality has provided me as a choreographer. The Time Traveler’s Lens invites viewers inside a spherical world of site-specific performance in a Covid-safe outdoor atmosphere that can be experienced anytime, anywhere. It has been so fulfilling watching participants view this work—their movements as they turn, twist, look up, peer down as they interact with the films is dance in itself!»

The five-video production is Guerra’s thesis concert for her master’s of fine arts in dance at Rutgers University. “In Revolution,” is an acrobatic re-creation of the Battle of Princeton in which two dancers represent a British and an American soldier. “Passage” features gray-clad dancers representing the marble columns as they make their trek up the Delaware and Raritan Canal from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. 

A lot of folks -event those who drive past them every day – do not know that the columns were moved from Philadelphia to Princeton via water on the Canal, so I really enjoyed imagining and creating the dancers as columns on paddle boards in the Canal to replicate the history of how these massive Columns came to New Jersey on that same body of water all those years ago before planes and highways,» Guerra explained.

“Dwelling” shows a view into the lives of the three Philadelphia and Princeton families who knew the Colonnade as part of their homes. “Conception: Architect as deity” and “Remains: Architect as mortal” depict the Colonnade’s designer when the structure was created and in the 21st century.

The five videos will remain available indefinitely. They are accessible free of charge to visitors who follow the clues on the website to a code word that can be found at the Princeton Battlefield site. For people who are unable to visit the grounds in person, a one-time ticket fee unlocks the virtual reality performance. Ticket fees support community programming for Guerra’s Luminarium Dance Company.

The Luminaire Dance Company, a non-profit based in Lawrenceville, NJ, is also looking for donors and for additional sponsors and committee chairs do more dance programming tied to historical sites in NJ , and to create more independent dance company jobs for dancers, and in the arts, and around the country, and is also currently seeking board members and committee heads for the non-profit, Guerra told Reporte Hispano. As a woman who has built a dance company and her own non-profit, Guerra is also looking to work more with state, local and federal governments and with independent museums and others to do more of this type of work she created at The Princeton Battlefield State Park, she told Reporte Hispano, NJ’s Hispanic newspaper, which is also a woman-owned, small business. To contact her or make a donation, email: merli.v.guerra@gmail.com or visit her Web site: www.merliguerra.com

This story has been adapted from a story originally published by Planet Princeton, a woman-owned media company. https://planetprinceton.com/2021/04/19/time-travelers-lens-extended-reality-performance-illuminates-history-of-colonnade-at-princeton-battlefield-state-park/