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.
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.
“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.”
“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.