Slow Dancing: Director's Note

“There is a celestial harp: this human harp is a likeness of it.”   - Sankhyayana Aranyaka, VIII, 9

This project had a long gestation period before coming to fruition several years ago. It’s not always easy to point to the specific factors that bring a new work, or the impulse to create one, into being. The overlapping issues, passions, and fascinations that merge with willingness, opportunity, and aptitude are not always obvious.

One impulse was clear. I love dance. I love watching it. I love what dancers do, who they are, and what they stand for. Dance is an underappreciated art form—the NEA tells us that only eight percent of the U.S. population will ever see a live dance performance. This led me to the idea of making a visual statement centered on celebrating dance — but not limited to any one kind of dance—to try to capture the “essence” of dance in a different medium.

A second impulse was my natural urge to make portraits. The best portraits teach me how to look longer and harder and deeper at my fellow human beings. As a portrait artist, this is what I strive to do. I could make a portrait of anyone, anywhere and be happy doing so, but there is a certain pleasure in having dancers as one’s subject.

Common to almost every work I undertake is the desire to engage the beautiful, to spark people’s creative imagination, and to fill them with a sense of wonder and even love. So much of what I’m ultimately interested in is the sacred potential of art—work that not merely beautifies but also beatifies.

William Carlos Williams said that poets write for a single reason—to give witness to splendor. This is also why, I think, dancers dance. Susan Sontag once pointed out that “no art lends itself so aptly as dance does to metaphors borrowed from the spiritual life (grace, elevation)….” But I also believe that certain harder and rougher metaphors borrowed from the life here below (gravity, striving, failing, falling) are equally important to what dance is and who dancers are. To paraphrase Simone Weil, grace is also the law of the descending movement—some people fall to the heights.

I am not a dancer, though I am married to one—Wendy Whelan. Having this exceptional woman and great artist by my side has been, and continues to be, one of the greatest privileges of my life. Knowing her and witnessing the intertwining splendor of her life and work has influenced my own in ways that are both the easiest and the most difficult to speak about.     —David Michalek  

Photo by Matthew Wakem