Drones have been used in art before, but always in a very transparent, gimmicky way. Cirque du Soleil just, for my money, blew all of those out of the water, taking a slew of quadcopters, some fancy choreography, and a nice story and turning it into high art.
It's called SPARKED, and, as you might expect, there's quite a bit going on here. The circus teamed up with ETH Zurich professor Raffaelo D'Andrea to automate the Phantom drones' flight patterns in such a way as to make these lamp shades dance around the workshop you see above as if controlled by magic (or at the very least, a fishline string, which is probably how this would have been done in the past).
"We wanted to give it some meaning, give it some magic, and bring it to another level," Weldy Altidor, executive director of creation at the circus said in an accompanying video. "[We thought] is it possible to make the quadcopters disappear?"
The result you see is a bit haunting, a bit futuristic, and, most of all, totally seamless. After watching this, I can imagine a disguised, preprogrammed drone becoming the norm in terms of making something float onstage in more elaborate staged productions.
"Is there a future for this in the performing arts? Absolutely," D'Andrea said. "We're just getting started."
And really, if drones are going to be used for art, we want an automated helper that's going to augment the show, not steal it or become the focus of it, right?