Dancing With High-Tech Shadows at the Guggenheim

The digital imagery isn’t confined to the floor. It flows up the sides of the space: a dark stain spreading, a flood rising, a supernova exploding. The light show travels to the spectators, surrounding them. It takes on the whole rotunda as its canvas, connecting the dance with the architecture.

Tech-Obsessed Dancer

“Falls the Shadow” is the second entry in the Works & Process Rotunda Project — performances commissioned to address the architectural properties of the Guggenheim’s interior, which Frank Lloyd Wright certainly didn’t envision with dance in mind. The first installment, presented by the tap dancers Michelle Dorrance and Nicholas Van Young in February, dealt mainly (and ingeniously) with acoustical challenges and possibilities. Mr. Simkin is much more focused on the visual dimension, and for his purposes, the rotunda’s white surfaces and top-down perspectives are a boon.

For the past few years, Mr. Simkin, a Russian-born principal dancer with American Ballet Theater, has been devoting some of his time off to a side project, Intensio, combining dancers of his high caliber with the latest developments in technology. One line of experimentation has involved electronic shadows on the stage floor, an effect that can be hard to see from the seats of many conventional theaters. That’s not a problem at the Guggenheim.

Photo

Mr. Simkin.

Credit
George Etheredge for The New York Times

Here’s how it works: An infrared camera scans the dancers’ outlines, 60 frames per second, even as they move, and transmits that information to a computer, which then projects images around the dancers. As Mr. Simkin explained during a recent rehearsal, the speed of the computer processing is crucial. “If there is a lag, the brain sees it as a technological trick,” he said. “If there is no lag, as we can do it now, it is like magic, giving another layer to the movement — like a big dress, my father says.”

Mr. Simkin’s father, Dmitrij, is the project’s video designer. He has been concentrating on set and video design since retiring from his own career as a ballet dancer in 2007. A shared interest in dance and technology bonds father and son.

“We live in fascinating times,” said the younger Mr. Simkin. “We have all these new technological tools, but we don’t know how to use them yet. I want to see…

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