As part of the opening celebrations of New York City Ballet's 75th Anniversary Season, the Company presents SlowDancing / NYCB, a large-scale video installation by artist David Michalek, on display each night from September 18 through October 1 on the façade of the Company’s home, the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. Co-directed by NYCB Associate Artistic Director Wendy Whelan, the installation features hyper slow-moving images of 20 of NYCB’s current dancers performing iconic moments from the Company’s unparalleled repertory. “As we begin our 75th Anniversary Season, I am thrilled that in addition to the works that our amazing dancers will perform on stage each night, audiences outside of the theater will also be able to enjoy many of these same artists and our extraordinary repertory in this incredibly unique medium,” says Whelan.
FROM THE ARTIST
SlowDancing / NYCB was made as a pièce d'occasion: the 75th Anniversary of the New York City Ballet. But it was also made with and for a company that has its eye on the future, actively seeking creative forms of public outreach, education and engagement.
SlowDancing / NYCB is an iteration of an earlier project titled SlowDancing, which was presented by the Lincoln Center Festival in July 2007. Running every night on the plaza from dusk until 1 AM, SlowDancing transformed the façade of the New York State Theater into a moving work of art, with a suite of three video projections featuring a randomized cycle of 45 larger-than-life, hyper-slow-motion portraits of dancers and choreographers from around the world. The work featured dance artists from a broad range of styles, geographic and cultural backgrounds, ages and body types. Many of the world-renowned dance artists had been flown into NYC from far away countries such as China, Brazil, Bali, and Senegal, for one simple reason: to have five-second-long sequences of their movement recorded at 1000 high-definition frames a second—footage that, when played back, would be slowed to a glacially-paced span of ten minutes.
In what might be thought of as “durational dance photography,” both works operate in a realm between action and image, animation and immobility, theater and painting. Prior to SlowDancing being shown, there was the lingering question: would anyone stop to look? In the end, New Yorkers did take the time to observe and absorb these meditations on time and movement. And not only that—they came back, night after night, toting picnic baskets and arranging blankets and lawn chairs on the sun-warmed plaza to watch a triptych of dancers change and evolve like clouds passing in the sky. SlowDancing has since traveled to 40 international cities as a work of public art.
SlowDancing / NYCB engages a new focus: a deep dive into the distinctive archive and style of a single ballet company that has become one of the most important artistic engines, and creative mainstays, of New York’s cultural fabric. Film production for this work wrapped on June 14, 2023, yielding upwards of 45 new films, representing 30 ballets, from Balanchine’s Apollo (1928) to Justin Peck’s Copland Dance Episodes (2023).
With extreme slowness comes altered/transformed states of perception and modes of understanding. Each video magnifies certain qualities in the artistry, physical strength, and technique of the featured ballet dancers, but also in the distinctive stylistic vocabulary, actions and ideas that are hallmarks of the New York City Ballet. Viewers will see that each segment is composed of myriads of “micro-moments”—worlds within worlds. Not only can observers register these moments, they can savor them, find meaning in them, and possibly glean the underlying mechanics of how they are constructed and performed.
In its triptych of projections on the façade of the Koch Theater, SlowDancing / NYCB offers itself at once as a spatial whole to be scanned by the eye and a time-span to be crossed sequence by sequence. It is our hope that this open-ended, slow-moving journey through space and time will bring viewers into a state where imaginative reverie and contemplative observation can overlap and interpenetrate. But also, hopefully, into an awareness that while all of this is being felt and experienced, it is being done so alongside others—in communion. I’ve grown to think of this aspect of the work as a form of social sculpture: one which begins with a distinct aesthetic experience, but which eventually becomes a unique social experience.
This work could not have been produced without Wendy Whelan. As my wife and artistic collaborator, she has a singular, deep-time understanding of my process and is intimately familiar with, and knowledgeable about, the particularities of this unique and challenging form of filmmaking. As a dancer with the Company for 30 years and now its Associate Artistic Director, she was able to dive into the Company’s vast archive and identify sections of movement that had necessary and compelling characteristics. She then cast the roles, and finally, helped to sculpt the choreography for the camera, in concert with the dancers.
Finally, I would like to thank Jonathan Stafford, Justin Peck, Wendy Whelan and Ellen Bar for spearheading the creation of this work with the New York City Ballet.
Stills from SlowDancing / NYCB
David Michalek is an American visual artist and director whose work has been closely tied to an interest in the contemporary person, which he explores using live performance, filmmaking, photography, drawing, installation, relational aesthetics, and public projects. His work in video has been focused on capturing carefully-staged marginal moments that develop density with minimal action through interplays of image, sound and most especially—decelerated time. Exploring notions of durational and rhythmic time, his works engage in intimate yet open narratives. His recent work considers the potentiality of various forms of slowness alongside an examination of contemporary modes of public attention. He has been drawn to projects that bring together artists and ideas into effective pairings and in settings ranging from museum galleries, theaters and public spaces, to houses of worship, community organizations and centers of learning. His solo and collaborative work has been shown nationally and internationally. He is on the visiting faculty of Yale Divinity School and Harvard University’s Theater, Dance and Media Program, where he lectures on Art and Social Action.
Director: David Michalek
Co-Director: Wendy Whelan
Producers: Ellen Bar, Rebekka Bjornsdottir, Lisa Kjerulff
Assistant Director: Alice Johnson
Phantom Tech / DIT: Nick Esposito
Gaffer: Aaron Smith
Best Boy Electric: Juian Tan
Key Grip: Bikk Hilferty
Best Boy Grip: Tim Curtain
Production Designer: Evan Schafer
Production Coordinator: James Berkeley
Technical Director / Post Production: Manu Sawkar
Set Photographer: Mark Kornbluth
SlowDancing / NYCB is generously sponsored by Bank of America and KARGO with additional support from Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.