Performance

Contemporary Ballet Adventures with Trevor Paglen, Science Fiction, and More

Drawing inspiration from other arts, BalletCollective plumbs the connections between visual, literary, and choreographic forms.

“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 of the dance world — specifically, those of visual artists Carlos Arnaiz (of CAZA Architects), Trevor Paglen, and Dafy Hagai, and science fiction writer Ken Liu. BalletCollective’s inaugural choreographer-in-residence, Gabrielle Lamb, choreographed “Orange,” the piece inspired by Paglen, while the rest of the program is the brainchild of company founder Troy Schumacher.

The stage lights turn on to reveal a stripped set, where all the backdrops and wings are removed to create an industrial-style atmosphere. The performance begins with “The Answer,” a short and very athletic piece channeling Arnaiz’s prints 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 partnering of two male dancers.

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

In between the two Schumacher pieces, Lamb’s “Orange” takes its cues from Paglen’s concept of “machine vision,” images created by machines for other machines, made mostly of datasets and algorithms. Lamb noticed that an orange was one of the images generated while Paglen’s AI project was learning to “see” as we humans do. She took this as a cue for her frequently angular choreography, with the musical score “inspired by the act of peeling an orange — interpreted as a slow and meticulous act, revealing scents, flavors, and interesting textures.”

Although the first half of the program is inspired by visual art, it’s the longer science-fiction piece in the second half, “Translation,” that’s the most visually driven. “Translation” almost feels like a live painting in itself. The stage lights are off, and lengths of scrim hang all over the stage with projections of light painting moving across them — a surreal environment created by designer Sergio Mora-Diaz. As the dancers move through this almost magical space, the audience sees them only as silhouettes. In the corner, Julianna Barwick performs her serene original compositions on an electric keyboard, at times inflected by her eerie singing and whistling.

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

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