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What is the Abba Voyage and why would I want to see a hologram show?

There has been so much talk around this ABBA show or ‘experience’ as is perhaps more appropriate. Despite a delightful reception from fans at its debut in late May at East London’s purpose-built ABBA Arena in Stratford, many have summarised this as a ‘hologram’ show, and there’s been no shortage of chatter around the band ‘doing a Tupac’. 

Working on the show with ABBA were Svana Gisla (who produced Jay-Z and Beyoncé‘s On the Run Tour), choreographer Wayne McGregor, Johan Renck (who directed David Bowie‘s videos for ‘Blackstar’ and ‘Lazarus’), Baillie Walsh (who has directed for Massive Attack and Bruce Springsteen) and producer Ludvig Andersson (son of ABBA’s Benny Andersson and producer of And Then We Danced, Yung Lean‘s ‘In My Head’ and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again).

“We did an awful lot of research and development on this, as you can imagine,” Gisla told NME from the red carpet. “We did two years of trying to figure out what this is. We put a lot of time into the philosophical side of it. This is not just about technology, this is about emotion. We wanted to understand the core of ABBA and the music and how to deliver it in 2022.

“A lot of this is about restraint. When all of the technology and everything is available to you, it becomes an exercise in restraint. The music is the guiding light.”

Gisla said that there was “nothing nostalgic about this concert apart from the music”, and that the whole approach was very forward-thinking.

“ABBA look like they did in 1979, but they’re firmly rooted in the now and in the future. Everything else is as forward as it can be,” she said. “You’re going to see a lot of things that you’ve never seen before. The feeling of being inside the arena will be unique, it’s very immersive. People use that word a lot, but when you go in there you’ll fully realise the capabilities of an immersive environment. It’s like being in the eye of the storm.”

So it seems that the ABBA Voyage is therefore not actually a hologram concert at all, but it is the first of its kind as it blurs the lines between physical and digital.

A hologram is a virtual three-dimensional image, but the show’s producers have said this isn’t what they’re using for the concert.

Instead, they’ve made avatars, nicknamed ABBAtars, to appear as digital versions of Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid.

The ABBAtars will appear on a 65million pixel screen and will bring the Swedish pop legends to life using the latest in motion capture technology.

Choreographer Wayne McGregor agreed – detailing what went in to capturing the pop icons’ dance moves and movements.

“We’re using a process called motion capture, which you’ve probably seen in movies,” he said. “We use these little dots to take the maths out your body. We take all these zeroes and ones and put them into a computer and build an avatar. It’s a long process. It captures the essence of you, but then we really have to work into that.

“I was taking dance moves from them – I wouldn’t dare show ABBA dance moves. I just wanted them to be themselves and get them back into their performance energy, because they haven’t performed for a while. Then I had to work with the body doubles to transform some of that amazing physical from the ‘70s into maths and find a way of combining the two.”

Enjoying those weeks of having the band perform and sing before him, McGregor described their time together as “perfect”.

“It’s insane to have those amazing performers sing their whole catalogue in front of you,” he said. “They were so bold, brave and into it. It was really exciting. How amazing is it to have this legacy project where you can see ABBA over and over again? It’s a piece of theatre, a piece of performance, a concert like no other. You really feel like you’re inside the music and that’s fabulous.”

The show will run globally till December 2022. 

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