Portraits in Dramatic Time (2011)

by David Michalek

About the Work

About Portraits In Dramatic Time

Portraits in Dramatic Time features an array of glacially paced performances of theater artists and actors all genres and nationalities. With artists featured both singly and in groups, the piece offers a unique and secret glimpse into some of the world’s greatest performing artists. The work strives to present viewers with an eclectic list of artists both well-known and under-recognized. This work is a follow-up to Slow Dancing, which premiered at the 2007 Lincoln Center Festival, and featured a series of 45 larger-than-life, hyper-slow-motion video portraits of dancers and choreographers from around the world: slowdancingfilms.com

Portraits in Dramatic Time was shot using ultra-high speed, high-definition cameras. The Performers were given roughly 10×10 feet of space to work within. The cameras were fixed, and the live action was recorded for duration of 10 – 15 seconds depending on the scene. Within these constraints, dramatic narratives were condensed down to an essence.

Each scene-sequence of drama was crafted to provide a physical metaphor for an emotional condition. This was created through various means—determinants (the problem, plot, theme, or context of the characters and their circumstances), consequences (deliberate manifestations of feeling as gestures and expressions), moods (induced in the character and filling the scene), and involuntary emotions (internal emotional states).

The work was presented at Lincoln Center as part of the 2011 Lincoln Center Festival, utilizing the façade of the David H. Koch Theater as a media canvas, transforming the plaza into an outdoor museum and the building into a work of art. The bright images enlivened the nighttime architecture with its ever-changing tableaus.

Portraits in Dramatic Time was commissioned in 2010 by Lincoln Center and the Lincoln Center Summer Arts Festival for the newly emerging Lincoln Center Public Arts Program.gan Stanley, and additional funding from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, the Howard and Sarah D. Solomon Foundation, and ACO’s 2019 Commission Club.

First Performance: Lincoln Center Festival July 5, 2011

Describing all the elements risks ending up like a table of world flags. The experience was quite different: unifying and powerfully resonant

Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian

With its highly emotional, deep and truthful subject matter, the work welcomes its viewer-listeners to confront for themselves the contemporary experience of refugees.

Stephanie Ann Boyd, I care if you listen


Review: Portraits

Time Well Spent
On a film set in Manhattan’s West Village a month ago, Catalina Sandino Moreno (from “Maria Full of Grace”) was
bouncing on her toes just off-camera. “Action!” went the call, and the Colombian actress—in retro Shark attire from
West Side Story—sprinted around a chain-link fence, burst through a crowd, bent over the prone body of her slain love,
and looked up, her eyes shaded despairingly, toward the camera.
Catalina Sandino Moreno on set
The recreation of the musical’s climactic scene took all of 10, maybe 11 seconds. Yet when it debuts as one segment
of photographer David Michalek’s many-chaptered large-scale video installation Portraits in Dramatic Time tonight in
Lincoln Center, seconds will become—in ultra slow-motion—many minutes of excruciating drama.
“I remember trying to explain to this Indonesian actor what we wanted to do,” Michalek told me over the phone
later. “And his translator said he was very concerned that I wanted him to bring him to New York for five minutes.”
He laughed. “I said, ‘No—I actually want him to come for five seconds.’”
Michalek, who led a former life as a fashion photographer (he started out working for Herb Ritts), didn’t really have
much trouble convincing actors to participate in the project—in addition to Moreno, Liev Schreiber, Holly Hunter,
Ludivine Sagnier, William H. Macy, Alan Rickman, and Alison Pill are among the many who shot their own slo-mo
segments, as well as some lesser-known Eastern acts like the Thai Likay Street Theatre company.
David Michalek (center) on set with Alan Rickman (right)
In a way, Portraits is an elaboration on his highly successful Slow Dancing installation at Lincoln Center from 2007,
which featured dancers of international renown shot at 3,000 frames per second but viewed performing at a similarly
sub-glacial pace. (Michalek is married to Wendy Whelan, a principal dancer with the NYC Ballet.) “This project was
even tougher,” said Michalek. “It requires an extra level of focus from the audience. With Slow Dancing, spectators
could enter and exit the scene at any time. Here, if you’re not paying attention, you might miss the arch of the
The point is that five or 10 seconds is all you need to tell an entire narrative—you just really have to pay attention.
“This project allows people to really see, for the first time in their lives, the full development of human emotion,”
Michalek said. “I think the actors had to appreciate that if they were not being true in their emotional expression at
any moment, it would be revealed. There’s no lying here.”
Portraits in Dramatic Time runs nightly from 8:45 to 11:45pm through July 31 as part of the 2011 Lincoln Center
Photos: Mark Stephen Kornbluth
By Fan Zhong
July 5, 2011