Not often does one see Vassar’s own Francis Daley Ferguson Theater hanging up that many mirrors. Reflections and projected images occupy the stage, and whenever a dancer steps into the space, the projection at that position changes color.
An interplay between the real and the imaginary, technology and human, color and light, Daniil Simkin’s “Intensio,” took place at Vassar College on April 8. Dancers from the American Ballet Theater and Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal participated in this event.
American Ballet Theater is a classic ballet company based in New York City. It was founded in 1937 and recognized as “America’s National Ballet Company” in 2006 by the United States Congress. The company performs at the Metropolitan Opera House and holds worldwide tours annually.
“Intensio” is a dance project by Simkin, a member of American Ballet Theater, and outside choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Its cast includes Simkin himself, along with Isabella Boylston, Alex Hammoudi, Blaine Hoven, Hee Seo, Cassandra Trenary, James Whiteside from the American Ballet Theater and Celine Cassone, a special guest from Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal.
To prepare for their world-premiere performance at Jacobs Pillow in July, the company used the Francis Daley Ferguson Theater at Vassar for technical rehearsal. The workshop on April 8, which was coordinated by the Vassar Repertory Dance Theater (VRDT), was a thank-you gift for the location from the company.
With music from the recomposed version of “Vivaldi Four Seasons” by Max Richter, “Intensio” utilized three hanging mirrors and projected images to experiment with dancing aesthetics. The theater stage was equipped with several infrared projectors. Whenever a dancer crossed a projection spot, the projector would pick up the heat of the body to create a light design that resembled the movements.
Based on principles in physics, the performance setup is meant to blend the capacity of technology with the organic human form. Commenting on the complication in stage design and choreography, Anna Beeman ‘18, one of the organizers of the workshop, said, “This is a very new and innovative thing to do in dance and I thought was really amazing. The dancing as well was world class, for these dancers are internationally known and celebrities in the dance world.”
Before the Wednesday workshop, members of VRDT also had the chance to interact, learn and gain hands-on experiences with the dancers from American Ballet Theater. Megan Jackson ’18 noted, “We got to take class with them earlier this week and we got to watch their rehearsals and it was really interesting to see the process of teching such a complicated show, and the relationship the professionals have with their choreographer.”
She also added, “I chose to go to the event because I am a huge fan of Daniil Simkin and because I love ballet. The event was amazing and by far the best thing that has come to this school this year.”
Although the performance is roughly a rehearsal in preperation for its world premiere later in the year, the workshop was still packed and met with positive reception. Audience members filled up to 90% of the dance theater, showing excitement and satisfaction. Kerri-Anne Bell ‘17, another member of VRDT who also attended the workshop, commented, “I thought ‘Intensio’ was like no other piece, let alone any other ballet piece I’ve watched. Though the piece was not complete, we were able to see 25 minutes of it and I thought it was incredible. What was most interesting was the use of light and technology and the interesting use of mirrors. Three mirrors were hung from the ceiling allowing the audience to watch the dancers from different angles.”
Bell continued this sentiment, “Also through the use of projectors, different lighting designs were projected on the floor of the stage so that added a nice dynamic to the piece. If this is the direction dance performance is headed, then I am extremely excited and I hope to be able to watch this piece completed with costumes.”
The members of VRDT showed much hospitality and appreciation for the presence of American Ballet Theater on their dance stage. Jacob Butter ‘18, a VRDT member, said, “I really enjoyed the event and thought it was very cool to have the American Ballet Theater dancers perform on a stage that I have performed on.”
On his own website, Simkin describes of his piece, “Intensio is an art project and series of performances created and curated by me and my family. Our intention is to merge the highest level of ballet and choreography with the new possibilities of media in order to create a unique and special experience for the audience. We are eager to push the boundaries of collaboration of different fields and the constant work in progress of the project ensues that no program is the same.”
He also explains the meaning behind the name of his piece: “INTENSIO is a new word created to reflect our approach to performance. A performance should be an “intense” experience for the viewer resulting from a firm “intention” for the program, which in INTENSIO is to combine the new ways of technology with the substance of world-class dance.”