It’s been a little over a century since Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev debuted his Ballets Russes in Paris. The dance company, regarded as the most influential and innovative of the 20th century, holistically modernized ballet through Diaghilev’s collaborations with leading artists, designers, composers, and dancers. Sets were crafted by Pablo Picasso; costumes fashioned by Coco Chanel; music composed by Igor Stravinsky; and choreography created by George Balanchine.
With Daniil Simkin’s Intensio, performed at Jones Hall on Friday, Nov. 6, history seems to repeat itself. Simkin, a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater (ABT), reimagines ballet for the 21st century through his collaborative, avant-garde production—which integrates contemporary ballet with cutting-edge video technology.
“Intensio is actually a neologism. It was created to reflect this program—which has intensity on one side, and artistic intention on the other,” Simkin explains. “I come from a more holistic point of view—that scenic arts, such as stage craft, design, and light, [combine with choreography] to create one big work of art,” he continues.
It is this ideology that pervades Intensio, which premiered in July at the mecca of all dance festivals Jacob’s Pillow. To articulate his vision, Simkin—who has been compared to Nureyev and Baryshnikov by dance critics—commissioned four works from renowned contemporary ballet choreographers, compiled a star-studded ensemble of dancers and integrated production elements ranging from live piano music to ingenious video projections crafted by Dmitrij Simkin (Daniil’s father).
“Contemporary ballet should be entertaining. It should be on the pulse of time. We live in very exciting times…new technologies can [be used] to dress dance on another level,” Simkin says. “[Intensio features] infrared cameras that respond—without lag—to the movement of the dancers, and create real-time projections on the [stage] floor. Another layer is added to the [audience’s] experience, as the brain [perceives the projections] as part of the dancers’ bodies in the light that’s being emitted.” This type of technology, Simkin adds, hasn’t yet been combined with “high-level dance art.”
In that vein, “intensio” transcends title and theme to create a unique, modern experience that—Simkin hopes—manages to be both electrifying and artistically substantial. “Every piece [in the program] is very distinct. But, [it all] works together [to create] a symphony of choreographic language that moves towards one direction…to create entertaining high art. We are [combining] different art forms to create a bigger experience than just bodies moving on the stage.”
Daniil Simkin’s Intensio. Friday, Nov 6. 8. $35-85. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana St. 713-227-4772. spahouston.org