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A long, slow, loving look at dance

Womadelaide 2014: Slow Dancing

Slow Dancing, David Michalek, Trafalgar Square, London, 2010, courtesy the artist Slow Dancing, David Michalek, Trafalgar Square, London, 2010, courtesy the artist
WOMADelaide has long celebrated dance in its programs with, for example, performances by the Australian Dance Theatre and Leigh Warren & Dancers. For the 2014 festival, there’s something different: a trio of three-storey-high screens on which dancers, many internationally famous, appear against the night sky dancing in extreme slow motion. This is the work, seen in the US, UK and Europe (including the Venice Biennale), of American artist David Michalek.

Slow motion filming has long revealed the complexities of human, animal and plant movement (conversely, ‘speeded up’ film can tell us much about cloud and crowd motion and the patternings created by choreography). Michalek’s special high-definition camera runs at 1,000 frames a second, turning each dancer’s “five-second gesture [into] 10 minutes of screen time” (press release). Michalek thus takes slow motion to the extreme, such that audiences, at first thinking they’re seeing still images, are gradually entranced by the supple dynamics and forces at work in dancers’ bodies.

Michalek’s 43 subjects range from young to mature, embracing a variety of dance and movement forms: “from Japanese court dance to Afro-Brazilian capoeira, from flamenco to hip-hop, from classical ballet to hoop dancing.” Accomplished lesser known artists dance alongside the likes of dancer-choreographers William Forsythe, Marie Chouinard, Bill T Jones, Karole Armitage and Angelin Prelocaj. Bill T Jones wrote of the experience: “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”

Michalek professes not only a love of dance and the impulse to make portraits, producing a fascinating hybrid that embraces both stillness and movement at once, but also a spiritual inclination. He writes:

“Susan Sontag once pointed out that ‘no art lends itself so aptly as dance does to metaphors borrowed from the spiritual life (grace, elevation)...’ But I also believe that certain harder and rougher metaphors borrowed from the life here below (gravity, striving, failing, falling) are equally important to what dance is and who dancers are. To paraphrase Simone Weil, grace is also the law of the descending movement—some people fall to the heights” (

Amid WOMADedaide’s wealth of vibrant music performances, Slow Dancing will offer time and space for contemplation of, and even meditation on, the magical intricacies and fluency of movement of which the human animal is capable. RT

WOMADelaide 2014, Slow Dancing, artist David Michalek, Botanic Park, Adelaide, 7-10 March

RealTime issue #118 Dec-Jan 2013 pg. 42

© RealTime ; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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