ISU student work, Fall 2017

A Good Night For Ghosts was created on the Iowa State University Orchesis I Dance Company in the Fall of 2017 and performed in February 2018.

I want to say that it was a pleasure working with these dancers. They put a lot of hard work, creativity and themselves into this piece. The video is lovely, but does not do them justice in the level of performance, skill and professionalism of these performances.

 

Slow Dancing by David Machalek

In 2007, David Machalek created a series of slow motion portraits of dancers.

Slow Dancing, is a series of videos in which the dancers get 4-5 seconds to move. The high speed camera captures this and the resulting 10 minutes of film is an unearthly, lovely and clear view into the dancers movement. You see not only an aesthetic aspect but also clearly defines initiations, clarity of movement, and focus that are inherent in the dances.

Slow Dancing by David Michalek: Herman Cornejo from Moving Portrait on Vimeo.

While you can not watch all the videos online, the site has interesting insights from the performers also. For all of us who spend a lot of time understanding and dealing with our perceived shortcomings as dancers, movers and artists, I find it interesting to see how people who are far better known and celebrated feel about their bodies also.

Elizabeth Streb
“It was so painful to watch myself slowed down. Dancers are like magicians who are able to have a sleight of hand, they direct where you look. I think it’s possible to almost impose the surprise [so] that the audience goes ‘how did you do that?’ ‘Cause they can’t see mechanically how you did it. It’s more that you are tricking the people watching with a timing system where they don’t notice or something happens so fast. So when all of those moments slow down, it shows everything I try to hide.”

Wendy Whelan
“What I did for the camera was a simple class combination. I found that the less I did the better for me. It was sissons [a type of jump] mostly. I felt, when I looked at myself, youthful and hopeful and reaching for higher, but definitely imperfect—which I didn’t mind. I knew I had to let that go. I felt like each person gave a little poem in their film. Everyone had a story and a mood. They were all so different and I fell in love with each of them so differently. Falling in love with somebody’s essence.”

Bill T. Jones
“I was trying to do something with undulations and directional changes that would give some insight into the way I move—the upper body doing one thing, the legs doing another. But four seconds is not very much time to do anything. That was a revelation. We are so naked when we move. It was kind of a gruesome thing to subject a performer’s ego to, but ultimately I think that’s what’s very beautiful about it. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. If one element fell through, everything was erased. It was a bit of a Zen test.”

David Michalek’s portraits of dancers make a lot of sense considering the form of the subjects art. These slow versions of the artist’s movement are perhaps as close to an accurate portrait of the person as a Chuck Close self portrait. The slowness allows us to concentrate on a movement snapshot of the person. I am expressing myself badly, but if you watch them you will get the idea.

Slow Dancing is a series of 43 larger-than-life, hyper-slow-motion video portraits of dancers and choreographers from around the world, displayed on multiple screens. Each subject’s movement (approximately 5 seconds long) was shot on a specially constructed set using a high-speed, high-definition camera recording at 1,000 frames per second (standard film captures 30 frames per second). The result is approximately 10 minutes of extreme slow motion.

This project came to fruition in 2007, but had been been gestating for much longer. It’s not always easy to point to the specific factors that bring a new work, or the impulse to create one, into being. The overlapping issues, concerns and passions that merge with opportunity are not always obvious.

One impulse was clear. I love dance. I love watching it. I love what dancers do, who they are, and what they stand for. Dance is an underappreciated art form—the NEA tells us that only eight percent of the U.S. population will ever see a live dance performance. This led me to the idea of making a visual statement centered on celebrating dance—but not limited to any one kind of dance—to try to capture the “essence” of dance in a different medium.

A second impulse was my natural urge to make portraits. The best portraits teach me how to look longer and harder and deeper at my fellow human beings. As a portrait artist, this is what I strive to do. I could make a portrait of anyone, anywhere and be happy doing so, but there is a certain pleasure in having dancers as one’s subject.

So, if you have a moment or two, check out David Michalek’s Slow Dance portraits online. The 2 minute segments will leave you wanting so much more!

Merce Cunningham Exhibit at the Walker Arts

Merce Cunningham: Common Time

I recently got the chance to see the Cunningham Exhibit at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis. It was amazing.

Walker Arts Center Cunningham Exhibit

I must admit to a an on-again / off-again relationship with Cunningham. I studied Cunningham technique for years, even though my body is not made for it at all, and I have seen as much of his work as I could for many years.

I found I really enjoyed watching the rehearsals (especially on stage) more than the shows. In part, because of the raised level of randomness around the dancers – from technical crew wandering through the stage, lights and curtains flying and being focused – and partly because Merce would be onstage in a chair watching the dance. I found this fascinating, and wonderful. Onstage in performance, it all looked so polished and beautiful that it lost a bit of the humanness. While that may have been one point of the way he worked, I still related more to the chaotic humanness of rehearsals.

The Walker Arts managed to put together an exhibit that encapsulates everything that is wonderful about his work. Plus, you get to wander through exhibits creating that humanness that makes me so happy.

From costumes, video of work throughout his career, set pieces, collaborators… they cover it all. Remember Rauschenberg’s silver Mylar pillows? You get to play with them. And it is fun.

cunningham

The videos and installations are inspiring and bring back all the visceral and intellectual reasons you had for being inspired by Cunningham’s work.

Known for embracing risk and chance, Cunningham believed in the radical notion that movement, sound, and visual art could exist independently of each other, coming together only during the “common time” of a performance. The exhibition presents Cunningham’s work and that of his network of collaborators through rare and never-before-seen moving image presentations and installations of décor and costumes from the MCDC Collection as well as pieces by his lifelong collaborator, composer John Cage, and Trisha Brown, Tacita Dean, Jasper Johns, Morris Graves, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Isamu Noguchi, Nam June Paik, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, David Tudor, Stan VanDerBeek, Andy Warhol, and many others.

Well said, Walker Arts Center.

Cunningham influenced several generations of dance artists around the world. Almost any contemporary work today owes some debt to his explorations. By allowing us the overwhelming experience of diving into the universe of Cunningham, the Walker Arts offers us, as artists, the opportunities to reaffirm our roots and the urge to push farther.

If you are anywhere near Minneapolis, MN, head to the Walker Arts by July 30th to immerse yourself in Merce.