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Brooklyn Ballet Marries Technology and Dance in New Season

By Janet Upadhye | January 29, 2013 8:32am

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Ballerinas at Brooklyn Ballet are geeking out this season.

In an unlikely partnership, hacker collective NYC Resistors and the Brooklyn Ballet have created a marriage between cutting edge technology and classic ballet. The result will be nothing short of pirouettes, smoke trails, pliés and plasma effects in season-opener, "Tracing Back."

"'Tracing Back' reveals an aspect of choreography an audience does not usually see: the floor pathways of the dancers as they travel in real time,” said Lynn Parkerson, Artistic Director. “I've been thinking about this idea for years and recently stumbled upon a world of techno/digital artists who are passionate about creating something new with ballet as a departure point."

Collective members at NYC Resistors are also excited for the partnership.

“I have always wanted to work with dance movements,” collective member Nick Vermeer, 34, said. “But it was hard to find a group of talented dancers just waiting to take a chance — until he Brooklyn Ballet came along.”

Tucked away in a mirrored studio space on Schermerhorn Street, dancers wore their ballet shoes thin five days a week in preparation for upcoming shows while just around the corner on Third Avenue, three hackers played with "machine vision," digital cameras, and virtual sandboxes to create a digital backdrop for the performance.

As the ballerinas glide across the stage in dance moves Parkerson choreographed over a decade ago, their steps will be tracked by a set of digital cameras attached to a lighting grid above the stage. The dancer’s movement will be used to drive a set of visualizations such as smoke trails, bubbles or virtual streamers that will respond to each of their twists and turns.

“The projected visuals will add another dimension to the dance,” Vermeer said. “The cameras are looking down from above, giving the audience members somewhat of a bird's-eye view of the choreography.”

But a month from show time, the exact details of the projection can only be found in the minds and imaginations of Vermeer and his partners Ranjit Bhatnagar and Bill Ward. Even the dancers are in for a surprise.

“I heard it was going to be very cool,” said dancer Vincent Marra. “But I honestly don’t know much more than that.”

But Vermeer promises that the visuals will only enhance the dance while maintaining the integrity of the ballet.

“It’s an experiment but I am excited for the result,” he said. “This is all about that beautiful intersection between art and technology.”

Brooklyn Ballet's 2013 Season opens Thursday Feb. 28 at Actors Fund Arts Center Theater at 160 Schermerhorn St. in Downtown Brooklyn. For a full schedule of shows visit the Brooklyn Ballet website.