Missed Nuance is a new art film made for anyone who’s ever marvelled at the athleticism and grace of a ballet dancer. Created by Melbourne-based photographer Niv Novak, the film uses state-of-the-art technology to capture the dancers’ movement in ultra-slow motion. Through a series of moving portraits defined by breathtaking costumes, the film allows us to see movement in mesmerising detail.

Images from Missed Nuance © Niv Novak Photography

Dancers from The Australian Ballet, The Royal Ballet, Bolshoi Theatre and Queensland Ballet – among others – feature in Novak’s film, mostly as soloists. Sweeping battements, perfectly balanced turns and gravity-defying leaps are lit with chiaroscuro-like effect, revealing the bodies’ contours and enviable litheness.

Each movement is executed with total precision. Capturing these feats in high-definition slow motion suspends the dancers for long enough to offer an academic study of ballet’s idealised alignment. The artform has always been about finding shape in the body and projecting it forwards, and Novak’s footage frames it handsomely. The glacial pace is also hypnotic; offering a perspective we can’t perceive in real time.

But the true strength of the film lies in the stunning costumes designed by Belinda Pieris, Akira Isogawa, Hugh Colman and Leon Krasenstein. Billowing skirts, feathered bodices and one-shoulder capes inscribe their own choreography and amplify the trajectory of the wearer. A tutu wafts like seaweed; a long skirt plumes like smoke. The fabric is dancing.

Missed Nuance is highly aestheticised, framing the body and its potential for movement in a conventionally beautiful way. But, thematically, the film explores little else. It remains largely one-dimensional, with no change of pace in editing or music for the hour-long runtime. A melodically simple piano and strings score by Troy Rogan adds feeling but also lacks variety.

Moving-image portraiture is a peculiar and challenging genre, and Novak doesn’t quite manage to master it. Save for a few moments of direct eye contact with the camera, the subjects remain largely impenetrable. The film prioritises spectacle over personality, which might work in another context, but here feels a little overdrawn.

That said, Missed Nuance gives balletomanes a chance to appreciate the beauty of the artform in a unique light. It’s worth a watch, if only for the sheer technical skill and sumptuous costumes.

Missed Nuance is available via iTunes

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