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Posts Tagged ‘Slow Dancing’

Michalek’s secular chapel in the daily bustle of Harvard Yard

April 26th, 2012 No comments

It should come as no surprise that Slow Dancing, the brainchild of contemporary artist David Michalek, was not developed overnight. After all, the work is rooted in a deliberateness that goes beyond titular acknowledgment. The piece is comprised of more than 40 video portraits of dancers. Each vignette is displayed on a super-sized screen and in hyper-slow-motion, such that a would-be instantaneous gesture can play out over the course of a full minute or longer. The effect is mesmerizing.

The work’s pacing of 1,000 frames-per-second can be both difficult and pleasurable to watch—an experience that Michalek compares to that of gazing at clouds. Just as a fluffy white mass in the sky can look like an animal or a person or an object, so too can the minute actions of Slow Dancing’s subjects be analyzed and interpreted. The youngest participant in the project is 12-years old. The oldest is 92. Michalek stresses the importance of incorporating different styles of dance as not simply pluralistic, but also as aesthetically interesting. A ballerina’s split-second pirouette drags out across an agonizing span of time, and each muscle’s contraction gets a starring role in its own few moments of screen time. Meanwhile, on a neighboring screen, a break-dancer’s gravity-defying movements change at a glacial, gorgeous step. Creative imagination, says Michalek, lives in that tension. And the work itself is driven by his desire to create “a little oasis of contemplation—a secular chapel—” in the midst of our daily bustle.

Although Michalek began his career as a photographer—working as an assistant to the famed Herb Ritts—and eventually accruing credits in publications such as The New Yorker, Vogue and Interview, his interest in installation art was born early. In 1998, he gave up commercial photography entirely and began challenging notions of technology and art and points of intersection through his multi-disciplinary projects. Slow Dancing premiered at Lincoln Center in 2007. He has shown his work at the Brooklyn Museum, Sadler’s Wells, Trafalgar Square, Opera Bastille, and the Venice Biennale, among others.

The Harvard community is already enjoying the fruits of Michalek’s labors as part of the lead-up to ARTS FIRST weekend April 26-29. Michalek’s multi-disciplined dancers are “performing” nightly on the façade of Widener Library between 7 and 11 p.m. Students, as well as passersby, can drop in and sit for as long as they’d like in the informal seating area that faces the Widener steps. And thanks to Dudley House, which opened the limited-run Slow Dancing Café, patrons can enjoy a spot of al fresco dining nearby, replete with small-plates and sweetly faux-flickering tea lights.

“Slow Dancing”: A meditation on poetry and beauty

April 23rd, 2012 No comments

"Slow Dancing" on the facade of Widener Library at Harvard University. PHOTOS: ALICIA ANSTEAD

National Poetry Month is winding down but before the month of literary love comes to an end, I’d like to pause for an ekphrastic moment. That is: A moment in which we consider the use of one art form to illuminate another art form. In this case, I’m talking about  Slow Dancing, the hyper-slo-mo video public art installation projected onto Jumbotron-like screens on the facade of Widener Library at Harvard University. After spending the last three nights taking in Slow Dancing – and you do “take it in” as opposed to “watch it” (more on that later) — I was suddenly struck last night by how much David Michalek‘s mashup of movement and film is a vehicle for understanding both dance and poetry.

Poetry is the most succinct type of literary art. The condensed format forces readers to slow down, consider every word, take in the mood, the shades, the nuances. You must give in to poetry, give over to it and let it lead you to revelations. For Slow Dancing, which premiered at Lincoln Center in 2007 in New York City and has since traveled the world, Michalek filmed more than 40 dancers for five seconds each and slowed each clip to 1,000 frames a second. The typical ratio for filming is 30 frames per second — thus the word “slow” in the title. It takes 10 minutes for each “five seconds” to unfold.

By expanding the moment, Michalek forces viewers to slow down, to consider every movement, to witness the vocabulary of each genre of dance and to enter into a mood, shape, tone, image. If I were teaching poetry or any kind of writing, I’d send all my students to Slow Dancing as an exercise in rhythm and form. And I would further suggest they sit in “the scene” for the entire evening.

Why call it a”scene”? Actually, you don’t have to spend three hours at Slow Dancing. You can stroll by and something beautiful Read more…

Go ‘Dancing’

April 18th, 2012 No comments

Bucket trucks aloft for the "Slow Dancing" installation (photo by Tom Lee).

Spring is here—but crocuses and daffodils aren’t the only things sprouting in Harvard Yard.

David Michalek’s colossal public art work Slow Dancing—hailed by the New York Times as “an unforgettable dance-meets-film-technology evening”—will have its Boston premiere at Harvard this Friday, April 20. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Harvard’s ARTS FIRST festival and the 375th anniversary of Harvard’s founding, it runs through April 29, 7-11 pm nightly.

And from the looks of these photos, the work’s installation on the façade of Widener Library in Tercentenary Theater, which started on Monday, has been a show unto itself!

A triptych of screens on the façade of Widener Library (photo by Tom Lee).

Battle of Dance

April 17th, 2012 No comments

Robert Battle PHOTOS: Alicia Anstead/Harvard Office for the Arts

Robert Battle knew something was up when the hiring committee for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater — in search of a new artistic director — invited him back for the umpteenth interview — and he was told to go to an offsite location. The legendary Judith Jamison, who was at the time stepping down as director of the company, had texted him earlier. She wrote: “Enjoy your day.”

Enjoy your day?

What did that mean? he wondered.

Enjoy your day because it’s going to be a bad one? Or enjoy your day because you’re going to never forget the moment you learn you’ve been chosen as the new director — and only the third in the company’s history? When he bumped into a New York Times photographer on the elevator en route to the meeting — and they both got out on the same floor — he was only further flummoxed.

What was going on?

“It was easier to understand Toni Morrison’s Beloved,” Battle told an audience Monday at the Harvard Dance Center, where dance program director Jill Johnson, in conjunction with the Office for the Arts Learning From Performers and Dance programs, conducted a conversation with him.

And yes, on that fateful day, Jamison took Battle’s hands in hers and said: “Look into my eyes. What do you think? It’s yours.”

That is: The job of artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was his.

Battle, now in his first year as director, was visiting Harvard at Johnson’s invitation, and together they spoke about the Read more…

Dancers: Larger (and slower) than life

“We are here,” said Jill Johnson, the newly appointed director of the OFA Dance Program, “to articulate the ideas for which there are no words.”

Jill Johnson PHOTO: David Michalek

This is about as eloquent a statement of purpose as I’ve heard. Dance can, with motion, get at those particular emotions that just can’t be expressed adequately with words.

But what happens when these movements, flashes of expression, are slowed down about 120 times—when a 5-second burst of dance shot at 1,000 frames per second becomes 10 minutes of completely engrossing, utterly beautiful art? What does that do to the communicative power of dance as a form of expression?

Addressing these questions is the goal of Slow Dancing, a stunning installation by David Michalek that is housed at the Harvard Dance Center through Wednesday, October 5. Johnson will be giving talks on the exhibition 11a.m. Tuesday Oct. 4 and Wednesday, Oct. 5, during which the piece will be open to the public for viewing.

The work features elongated clips of 43 dancers — among them such luminaries as Trisha Brown, Bill T. Jones, Elizabeth Streb, Judith Jamison and Johnson herself — who represent a variety of dance genres: modern, ballet, hip-hop and various forms of cultural dance including Sufi whirling. Three of these 10-minute clips are displayed side-by-side on large screens. (For an idea of the scale, see this image from when the piece was exhibited at New York’s Lincoln Center earlier this year.) The order of the segments is random; no two viewings are the same.

For Johnson, this slowing down of dance makes its emotions more accessible: “It gives you insight into what it feels like.”

Slow Dancing makes that clear: You can see the dancer’s eyes light up manically on a jump move, the muscles contorting and flexing with motion and passion, and these abstract movements suddenly take on very obvious and very poignant meanings.

Monday’s welcoming party for Johnson included Harvard’s President Drew Gilpin Faust, OFA Director Jack Megan, Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds and members of Harvard’s 20 student-led dance groups (as well as The Boston Globe).

Amid the conversations, congratulatory hugs and hors d’oeuvres, the slow dancers made their presence felt.  My mouth was open in wonder while I stared fixedly at the dancers, when Dean Hammonds approached and said: “Mesmerizing, isn’t it?”

Exactly.