Interview: Filmmaker Slows Time to Capture Stunning Movements of Ballet Dancers

Photographer and filmmaker Niv Novak is passionate about dance. This love of movement shines through in the ultra-slow motion photography of ballet dancers that has been a hallmark of his work. Now, he's taken his art to a new level with Missed Nuance, a ballet art film that has been two years in the making.

Working with accomplished dancers from The Australian Ballet, Bolshoi Theatre, The Royal Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and Queensland Ballet, Novak captures their every movement in stunning detail. By slowing down time, Novak allows viewers to drink in the spectacle of dance; and to enhance the experience, he's coupled the dancers with incredible fashion. Costume designer Belinda Pieris has curated the dancers’ attire (each of them fashioned by Australian designers), which helps show the relationship between dance and fashion.

“Subtle gradations in movement, light skimming across a dancer’s physique, muscles activating, ligaments stretching, fabrics flickering, bending, and floating—countless moments of expression are missed–lost to speed,” declares Novak. “While photography reveals instants of such beauty, Missed Nuance captures all.”

Now available on iTunes, the hour-long 4K film is a masterful piece of artistry. Each dancer is lit to perfection, allowing viewers to focus on the power and grace of their movements.

We had a chance to speak with Novak about the creation of Missed Nuance and his hopes for the project. Read on for My Modern Met’s exclusive interview.

Ballet Dancer Jake Mangakahia by Niv Novak

Jake Mangakahia

What is it about dance that inspires you so much as a photographer?

The precision, athleticism, beauty, and the striving for higher ideals through ballet and dance is what inspires me.

How was Missed Nuance first conceived?

As a passionate photographer of dance, I realized that so much of the beauty is missed—lost to speed. I wanted to capture it all, lit as beautifully as a photograph.

Can you share a little bit about the process of creating ultra-slow motion photographs?

There are technical challenges for high-speed studio photography at 1,000 frames per second. One needs five times the light intensity when compared to shooting film/video at 24fps. Bright lights are traditionally very hot. New LED lights run cooler but are not bright enough.

Regular incandescent light bulbs also flicker (because the heating element cools and heats up by the factor of the 50Hz-60Hz refresh from the electric current). The trick for slow-motion capture is to find a light source where the flicker frequency is not lower than the refresh rate of the camera sensor. The data requirements are also significant. The camera records 11GB per second and so we would record 4-6TB on most days.

Dancer Zoe Cavedon in Ballet Film by Niv Nova

Zoe Cavedon

Why is this your preferred method for capturing dance?

The mesmerizing beauty of the instants when a dancer is in flight is wondrous. To see all the remarkable details up close requires us to slow time. One second of light through my lens becomes a 40-second film.

What inspired the integration of fashion into the piece?

The combination of dance with interesting fabrics/fashion and high-speed is absolutely spectacular! I could say more but it’s best to see examples.

How did you go about selecting the participating designers and what was their reaction to the project?

I teamed up with Belinda Pieris, a talented designer and former dancer who has a passion for movement in dance and fabric. We learned a lot about fabric dynamics—it’s a fascinating study. Belinda introduced leading Australian designers to the project.

Designer support and reactions to the work have been extremely positive. I hope to collaborate with talented designers worldwide for future projects.

Male Ballet Callum Linnane by Niv Novak

Callum Linnane

What was the most challenging part about creating the film over the past two years?

1. Lighting 2. Lighting 3. Lighting.

I was set on lighting dancers as beautifully as a photographer lights a portraiture subject. It took me 18 months to figure it out for high-speed photography.

What do you hope that people take away from Missed Nuance?

Literally, there is beauty in every other instant. Practice seeing it.

On a higher level—look at how remarkable we are (our species). Respect each other and get along.

Missed Nuance is a celebration of movement in dance and the human spirit.

What's next for both yourself and for the film?

The film is the result of a two-year exploration of imaging, movement, and time. I’m so excited to share the project and hope it can inspire.

Yuumi Yamada Dancing in Missed Nuance by Niv Novak

Yuumi Yamada

Missed Nuance, Niv Novak's stunning ballet art film, is now available on iTunes in 4K.

Niv Novak: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Vimeo | iTunes

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Niv Novak.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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