David Michalek's SlowDancing/NYCB Blends Ballet, Film, and Visual Arts | Playbill

Classic Arts Features David Michalek's SlowDancing/NYCB Blends Ballet, Film, and Visual Arts

The video installation series is currently on display in the lobby of the New York City Ballet.

David Michalek creating the videos for his SlowDancing series Mark Kornbluth

This Winter Season, SlowDancing/NYCB, created by artist David Michalek, returns to the David H. Koch Theater, as the 11th installment of the Company’s acclaimed Art Series. The mesmerizing video installation projects larger-than-life portraits of New York City Ballet dancers, moving 100 times slower than in real life—a jump from Fancy Free that remains airborne for minutes on end, a silky arabesque unfurling in spellbinding slow motion in Firebird. Last seen on the façade of the theatre for the first two weeks of the Company’s 75th anniversary season in the fall, this time the towering dancers moving at a glacial pace will be indoors, with SlowDancing/NYCB on view on the theatre’s Promenade, where each site-specific Art Series installation has been shown since 2013.

SlowDancing/NYCB presents 50 films showcasing more than 30 ballets, stretching from George Balanchine’s Apollo, choreographed in 1928, to Justin Peck’s Copland Dance Episodes, which premiered in 2023. It’s the latest iteration of SlowDancing, the grand-scale video installation celebrating the art of dance that Michalek, a visual artist and director, who is married to NYCB Associate Artistic Director Wendy Whelan, first created for the 2007 Lincoln Center Festival. For that work, which featured a wide range of dance styles including breakdancing, tap, flamenco, modern, Balinese, ballet, and more, Michalek won a Bessie Award, and the dance-meets-technology installation has traveled to more than 40 locales including the Venice Biennale, London’s Trafalgar Square, Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt, and Harvard’s Widener Library.

Whelan’s contribution as co-director of SlowDancing/NYCB was to choose which ballets to include, determine which pieces might look best beside each other, and cast the 20 dancers in multiple roles. “It was a different challenge from SlowDancing because this time we had choreography we needed to adhere to,” Michalek says. Whelan also worked in the studio with Michalek to ensure that the even slightest choreographic adjustments required for filming were acceptable.

Michalek is excited to see how SlowDancing/NYCB looks from the Promenade. The film was shot in 4K, an ultra-high-definition resolution not available in 2007. “It’s extraordinarily highly resolved, higher than high definition,” he says, adding that the outdoor screens, perforated to hold steady in wind, diluted 4K’s full-throttle effect. “I’m very, very excited to see SlowDancing/NYCB fully realized,” he says.

He’s also looking forward to once again being in the presence of a slow-moving work of art that’s viewed by large groups of people (and is never the same twice, due to a mechanism that creates randomized juxtapositions of the films, which appear on a triptych of screens). Years of watching audiences experience SlowDancing and its iterations has piqued his interest in how people relate to each other in the presence of a work of art—particularly one where time is decelerated. “If they can get over the first few minutes, where you feel itchy when asked to slow down or stop, people get hooked,” he says. “It’s a kind of virtual tai chi. When people leave after watching these slow-moving humans, they feel different.”

Michalek’s 2024 Art Series installation Slow Dancing/NYCB will be displayed during NYCB’s Winter Season through March 3. NYCB will also host free, open hours for the general public to view
the exhibition February 17 to 25—see nycballet.com/artseries for more details.

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