Before movies became our culture's dominant form of mass entertainment, there was the panorama, which captivated audiences throughout the 19th century. Often depicting immersive landscapes or important events, the panorama is a floor-to-ceiling cylindrical painting placed in a round room, at the center of which stands the viewer. Three-dimensional props, lighting and sound elements heighten the illusion of surveying a far-off land or historical scene. Founded by artist Sara Velas in 2000, the Velaslavasay Panorama is a contemporary twist on these fanciful Victorian houses of wonder. Its first iteration was located in the Tswuun-Tswuun Rotunda in Hollywood, where The Panorama of the Valley of the Smokes depicted a 360-degree view of the Los Angeles area as it might have appeared two centuries ago. A few years later, the Panorama relocated to its current home in the Union Theatre Building and debuted a new tableau, Effulgence of the North, which portrayed an icy, arctic vista, complete with the sound of cracking glaciers and a light show emulating the aurora borealis. After more than a decade, Effulgence closed Sept. 10, with a new panorama set to open next spring. Titled Shengjing Panorama, it will feature a 90-foot-long painting made in collaboration with artists in China, capturing an early–20th century view of the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang — and thereby offering a window into another place and time.
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