Preview: DanceTech by BalletMet

  • Photos by Will Shively
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From the April 19, 2012 edition

In the final show of its current season, BalletMet becomes a literal dancing machine.

“DanceTech” combines technology with ballet via various avenues. Two pieces — both world premieres — comprise the show.

First up is a piece choreographed by BalletMet dancer Jimmy Orrante. Sean Beeson, a renowned composer of musical scores for video games and films, created the music, and Alan Price, a video artist and professor at Ohio State University, used video game technology to create the dance’s backdrop. The music and graphics change in direct response to the dancers’ movements on stage.

The second premiere does a similar man-meets-machine pas de deux.

New routines by Amy Seiwert (BalletMet regulars will recognize her name: She choreographed “Envy” for last year’s performance of “Seven Deadly Sins”) embark on an en pointe journey set to thick string sounds composed by Daniel Bernard Roumain (who has collaborated with Lady Gaga).

Behind the dancers on a screen are complicated, abstract images that move in real time in reaction to any movement happening on stage. The projections are produced by a motion-sensing software system called Kalypso, authored by German video tech pioneer Frieder Weiss.

Seem like a lot to take in? Weiss and Seiwert guaranteed it is not.

“People are not just watching the projection,” Weiss said. “That’s kind of the trick, why I make the artistic choices I do.”

Seiwert and Weiss worked together and chose what images will project in the background. These different styles of interactive imagery responses are called “systems.” They chose from an infinite combination of systems to find which worked best with which movement.

“You really have to think of that massive projection as a 40-foot-tall partner,” Seiwert said. “It informs everything. If we want it to react a certain way, the dancer has to be so specific about what they’re doing, which is both wonderful and limiting. You could make up the coolest thing in the world but if it doesn’t serve the collaboration with the projection, it doesn’t serve the piece and it shouldn’t be in there. That’s the hardest thing choreographically for me. You have a very strict parameter that is somewhat new.”

Pirouettes, for example, while impressive physically, don’t get much of a response from the systems; however, a very big port de bras (arm movement) will create enough action on a two-dimensional field that the backdrop projection will be big and, thus, visually interesting.

“The light has to hit something. Everything is flat, so what works well are things, movements that are flat,” Seiwert said. “So much about ballet is creating S-curves and all this geometry in the body, and you have to find what works in a two-dimensional way.”

The technological aspect of “DanceTech” will be “interesting to a non-dance audience,” Weiss added. Technophiles, meet tutus.

“With the technology stuff, especially for people living in urban environments, [ballet and technology] just makes more sense,” Seiwert said. “Even in an abstract way without a story, this is something we’re more used to looking at than a peasant doing a dance through a field like in older ballets. This makes it a little more relatable.”