Friday, 6 March 2009

saving Clerkenwell and slow dancing

I like my job. Or rather, I still like my job. I've worked for the AJ for a record seven months now (yes, this is the longest amount of time I've ever had a 'proper' job) and while it was a bit harry coming back after Christmas, it's settled down a bit now and things are happier again. Already today, two interesting things have happened which exemplify why I like being here. I got a package in the post from the Press Officer at the City of London. Apparently the Planning and Transportation Committee is developing a 'Chancery Lane Area Enhancement Scheme' which is indicative of the fact that they must not have anything better to do or that they've been heavily leaned on by some fantastically effective lobbyists for the folks who work in the Royal Courts. A few things made me chuckle about the information they sent over. Firstly, I live in the Chancery Lane Area, and apart from constant building works, I can't really see that there's any seriously urgent need to 'improve' the area. The primary point that the CLAES publicity seems to be making is that they want Chancery Lance et environs to become pedestrianised. Again I don't really have any complaints to make about this proposal, and I do think Chancery Lane, and especially the streets around Lincoln's Inn Fields, would be much lovelier were they not filled with black cabs and delivery trucks, but again, surely the C of L has better things to spend its time and money on. When all's said and done however, I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth and I'll happily be nodding along with the proposers at the launch party for the public consultation next week in the Old Hall of Lincoln's Inn.

Another thing I can sometimes do a lot of is picture research for articles being published in print or online. It's not the most stimulating of tasks, but good things often come of it. This morning I was searching for an image of the new Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Centre in New York City. I'm not a big fan of the AT Hall - it looks like a shark's gaping jaws jutting up above the sea to swallow a gargantuan mouthful of sardines (yeah, I may have been watching some David Attenborough last night...). But while I was looking for these pics, I found a cool image of three dancers projected onto the side of Lincoln Centre.

What is this interesting looking thing, thought I and a few google searches later, I knew all I needed to know. It was a piece of installation art created by David Michalek where dancers perform about 5 seconds of movement which is then digitally slowed into a 10 minute film. The piece premiered at the Lincoln Centre Festival in July, projected on a triptych of 50-foot screens mounted outside the theatre - as shown in the picture above.

I've written about the 19th century photographer Eadweard Muybridge before, specifically in relation to Cy Twombly and his wonderful painting Treatise on the Veil, but whereas Muybridge was limited by the constraints of early photographic technology, and used a sequence of less than 30 images to provide a comprehensive idea of motion, Michalek is able to use a special high-speed HD camera (typically used by the military for ballistic analysis) to record his dancers at a staggering 1,000 frames per second. The dancers Michalek records perform almost the opposite of Muybridge's galloping horses, in that he captures thousands of sequential images to slow his dancers down, not speed them up.

This is one of Michalek's videos, it's of Herman Cornejo - a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre.

The videos are almost excruciating to watch. In our go bigger, go faster culture the attention required to watch such a still-moving object for an entire 10 minutes is surprisingly difficult. But the movements are fascinating - especially when Cornejo performs a jump or a turn, suspended in air for an eternity - and the amount of perceptible detail is simply astonishing - to see literally every muscle movement - well, that's quite something. As I dancer myself, I appreciate how strange it must have been for the dancers, used to perfecting movements in mirrors, to see their technique exposed so clearly. Though I find the videos stunning [you can see more at Michalek's website], I also find myself in agreement with a reviewer from the NYT: 'True, pinned butterflies are easier to study. But study is no substitute for seeing them move through the world.'

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