After Niv Novak's slow-motion dance project ‘extension' in 2017, comes ‘missed nuance', a similar project with a different look.
Dancers from international ballet companies wore designer garments to be captured by exquisite lighting, and state-of-the-art filmmaking technology, to produce a work-of-art that showcases the extreme athleticism of dance, but also its sublime beauty, all in minisculy detailed slow-motion.
Because of the technical demands of achieving such a result, the dancers had to come to Novak, in his Melbourne studio, so dancers from companies on Australian tours joined the local stars.
I asked Novak about the equipment needed.
It's a very technical set up with 700kg of equipment and special light modifiers, [modifiers are reflectors, umbrellas, grids and so on, used to modify and control light]. The lighting is really tough to achieve.
I was set on lighting dancers as beautifully as a photographer lights a portraiture subject. It took me 18 full-time months to figure it out for high-speed photography.
High speed means 1,000 frames per second, but not of the slow-motion quality that you might produce with your cell phone, as here each frame could be printed and used on a magazine cover. There is detail in the detail.
There are significant technical challenges for high-speed studio photography at 1,000 frames per second. One needs 5 times the light intensity when compared to shooting video at 24fps. Bright lights are traditionally very hot.
Can't you use cooler LED lights?
New LED lights are not bright enough. Most continuous studio lights will flicker when shooting at 1000fps. The lights I used are huge, heavy, hot and hard to modify. Everything about high-speed photography is challenging but lighting is the biggest challenge for sure.
The data requirements are significant. Capturing so many frames at such high resolution means that it eats away at hard discs.
The camera records 11 gigabytes per second, and so we would record between four and six terabytes on most days.
The project isn't just a technical challenge, but a means to see movement in a new way – to create something of beauty.
Subtle gradations in movement, light skimming across a dancer's physique, muscles activating, ligaments stretching, fabrics flickering, bending and floating – countless moments of expression are missed… lost to speed. In my new work all these gradations are captured.
Do you aim at more than capturing the previously unseen? Is there a larger scheme?
My big hope is for the work to be a meaningful contribution to dance… to create a reference record of an elite dancer's motion like no other… one that will be referenced in 20 years. Only time will tell.
The elite dancers are from The Australian Ballet, Bolshoi Theatre, The Royal Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and Queensland Ballet. Was it difficult to convince dancers to take part?
In November 2018 I finally achieved studio technique and results that I was satisfied with. Once I shared these results with select dancers, all were very keen. My studio is in Melbourne and the equipment cannot travel easily, so I realised that if I wanted to make an incredible international ballet film I would need to work with the best talent visiting Australia.
I worked for eight months to arrange shoots with dancers from The Royal Ballet, Bolshoi Theatre and Les Ballets de MonteCarlo. I flew to Moscow and London to arrange some of the shoots at the start of the year. The Australian Ballet and Queensland Ballet where very supportive of my work and assisted me greatly.
In fact, David McAllister, Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet, says,
What a thrill it is to see these amazing dancers captured in such exquisite detail and at a speed that we can see the sheer grit and power that goes into making dance that inspires with its beauty. It is a glimpse at the sublime captured by one who is also an artist and a great supporter of our art.
So Niv Novak, what's the next project?
I want to gauge the reaction to this work for now. It would be wonderful to set up for production in a European studio for two months and work with top local talent.
I'm sure European-based dancers would jump at the chance.
Curated by costume designer Belinda Pieris ‘Missed Nuance' showcases the talents of leading Australian fashion designers and couturiers including
Akira Isogawa, Jason Gretch, Con Ilio, Belinda Pieris, Robyn Black, Gwendolynne and Georgia Chapman.
“The stunning ripples in fabric are spellbinding, brought to life by the dancer's artistry and captured on film like never before” Belinda Pieris, Designer
Missed Nuance's original score was created by Melbourne-based composer Troy Rogan who has conceived a sound world reflecting the grace and beauty of the stunning visuals.
With a tranquil and delicate tone, the music invites listeners to fall trance to the breathtaking splendour of the slow motion medium.
Film and online viewing:
‘missed nuance' the movie is available worldwide on iTunes from today, 16 October.
New project clips will be released each day throughout 2019 on:
The Australian Ballet
The Royal Ballet
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo
Kristy Lee Denovan
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.