Contemporary ballet

Contemporary Ballet Adventures with Trevor Paglen, Sci-Fi and More

“Translation”, Ballet Collective, NYU Skirball, October 2017 (photo by Erin Baiano)

This week at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, BalletCollective presents a program of short pieces inspired by works of art from outside the world of dance, in particular those of visual artists Carlos Arnaiz (from CAZA Architects), Trevor Paglenand Dafy Hagaiand science fiction writer Ken Liu. First choreographer in residence of the BalletCollectif, Gabrielle Lambchoreographed “Orange”, the piece inspired by Paglen, while the rest of the program is the brainchild of the company’s founder Troy Schumacher.

Stage lights come on to reveal a stripped down set, where all sets and backstage are removed to create an industrial style atmosphere. The performance begins with “The Answer”, a short and very athletic piece channeling Arnaiz’s imprints of basketball star Allen Iverson. Schumacher’s second art-inspired piece, “The Last Time This Ended,” based on Hagai’s still life photographs of the everyday, features an unusual partnership of two male dancers.

“Orange”, Ballet Collective, NYU Skirball, October 2017 (photo by Erin Baiano)

Between Schumacher’s two pieces, Lamb’s “Orange” draws inspiration from Paglen’s concept of “machine vision,” images created by machines for other machines, consisting primarily of datasets and algorithms. Lamb noticed that an orange was one of the images generated as Paglen’s AI project learned to “see” like we do. She took this as a cue for her often angular choreography, with the musical score “inspired by the act of peeling an orange – performed as a slow, meticulous act, revealing interesting scents, flavors and textures”.

Although the first half of the program is inspired by the visual arts, it is the longest sci-fi piece in the second half, “Translation”, which is the most visually focused. “Translation” is almost like a live painting in itself. The stage lights are turned off and lengths of canvas hang across the stage with glowing paint splashes moving across them – a surreal environment created by the designer Sergio Mora Diaz. As the dancers move through this almost magical space, the audience only sees them as silhouettes. At the corner, Julianna Barwick interprets his serene original compositions on an electric keyboard, sometimes inflected by his song and his strange whistles.

BalletCollective plays Thursday, October 26 and Friday, October 27 at 7:30 p.m. at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (556 LaGuardia Place, Greenwich Village, Manhattan)