Projecting ‘Portraits’

Written by Susan Reiter on . Posted in Dance, Posts.

By all means, buy your tickets to the rich and international
array of Lincoln Center Festival offerings that will keep theaters busy this
month. But one of the festival’s highlights is available without charge and
offers a unique experience nightly once darkness falls. Portraits in Dramatic Time, David Michalek’s latest outdoor video
installation, projects brief performances by a wide array of theater artists on
a vast screen on the façade of the David H. Koch Theater. Each individual or
group “portrait” is a miniature in extreme slow motion, a momentary dramatic
narrative of 10 to 15 seconds which Michalek has filmed using ultra high-speed,
high-definition cameras, and shown in extreme slow motion so that the action
lasts as long as 10 minutes.

For those who experienced Slow Dancing, Michalek’s masterful 2007 installation that drew huge
crowds to the plaza nightly, this will sound somewhat familiar. That project
featured three side-by-side screens on the same theater’s façade, each with a
dancer performing a movement sequence in extreme slow motion. For Portraits, viewers will have a single
image on which to concentrate, projected on a much larger space—85 feet by 45

For Slow Dancing,
Michalek meticulously sought out dancers representing as many techniques,
styles and cultures as possible. On his screens, classical Indian dance rubbed
shoulders with hip-hop performers, eminent ballerinas with legendary Downtown
figures. Although Portraits doesn’t
offer the frisson of the earlier work’s side-by-side juxtapositions (with their
occasional fortuitous resonances), it does offer, in succession, an especially
broad range of theatrical performers.

Among them are such New York stage regulars as Reed Birney,
Jane Houdyshell, Neal Huff, Marin Ireland, David Patrick Kelly, Alison Pill and
Scott Shepherd. Also included are some actors with a particularly high profile
and name recognition: Holly Hunter, Patti LuPone, William H. Macy, Roger Rees,
Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber and Lili Taylor. In a category of her own is the
ever-fascinating veteran Ruth Maleczech. Also represented are the ensembles
Radiohole and SITI Company, as well as artists who perform in Japanese and
Chinese classical theater traditions.

According to Michalek’s website, “Each scene-sequence of
drama will be crafted to provide a physical metaphor for an emotional
condition. This will be created through various means—determinants (the
problem, plot, theme or context of the characters and their circumstances),
consequences (deliberate manifestations of feeling as gestures and
expressions), moods (induced in the character and filling the scene), and
involuntary emotions (internal emotional states). Within the length of the
playback, the specific and greatly varying skills and techniques brought forth
by each performer will be seen in a new way.”

As Lincoln Center Festival’s artistic director, Nigel Redden
co-commissioned Slow Dancing—which
has gone on to be seen in over a dozen cities worldwide—and nurtured this
project which, like its predecessor was conceived with the Lincoln Center Plaza
in mind. “The technique for this one is similar, but conceptually it’s a whole
different animal,” he says of Portraits.

In the four years since Slow
wowed crowds, much has changed at Lincoln Center. The various
pieces of the major campus renovation have been completed, and the new look is
sleeker and features more high-tech amenities. The theater that serves as
Michalek’s “canvas” (formerly known as the New York State Theater) has
undergone its own interior renovation and acquired its new name. Notes Redden,
“One thing that’s true about his work in both cases is that it’s gorgeous to
look at. It draws you in immediately. To some extent, it is very much the
esthetic of the campus at the moment the plaza has become a wonderfully
pristine place, which it wasn’t in 2007. I think the new work will look all the
better in the renovated space.

feel that David’s work is a wonderful bridge between the visual and performing
arts. One of the things I feel is particularly brilliant about it is its
site-specificity. Obviously Slow Dancing
and this new work could have been
done somewhere else, but there is something very right about doing it at
Lincoln Center, especially in conjunction with the Festival, because in both
projects, there’s a wide range of genres that are being explored. That’s very
much in keeping with what we are about as a festival.”

Portraits in Dramatic Time

Through July 31, Lincoln Center’s Josie Robertson Plaza, W.
63rd St. & Columbus Ave.; daily from 8:45, Free.