San Francisco Ballet, World Premiere
2015 and 2016

“Swimmer” was a new ballet by Yuri Possokhov that had its world premiere at San Francisco Ballet on April 10th 2015. Yuri’s creative imagination is expansive, and for this work, his vision included animation. As the Video Designer, he asked me to incorporate a wide range of references from American culture of the 1950’s-60’s that were meaningful to him, and that he had integrated into the narrative of his ballet which is based on John Cheever’s short story, “The Swimmer”. The references included the movies “Gentlemen Prefer Blonds” and “The Graduate”, Nabokov’s book, “Lolita”, the Edward Hopper painting, “Nighthawks”, JD Salingers book, “The Catcher in the Rye” and Jack London’s book “Martin’s Eden”. The ballet is set to an original score by Shinji Eshima that ingeniously incorporates four recorded songs by Tom Waits.

Blog Post for SFBallet:

Last summer, SFBallet Choreographer in Residence, Yuri Possokhov and Composer, Shinji Eshima asked me to create the animation for Yuri’s new ballet, "Swimmer", which premiered at San Francisco Ballet in April. Yuri’s intricate vision for the piece was a tall order for the multi-media projections and animations. For starters, the ballet is set in the 1960’s and Yuri had a number of specific iconic American images, stories, and movies he wanted to reference throughout the piece. He also had a clear sense of the expressive arc of the ballet—from light and comic at the beginning, to more serious and realistic at the end.All of these components added up to an eclectic mix of color, style, and images that we set out to incorporate into the overall production. Animation is a series of moving images, and my goal was to enhance the ballet, not to distract from it. The score, choreography, and sets were mostly done by the end of November, and at that point, we started “swimming” as fast as we could.

As the video designer, “swimming” for me meant dreaming up and sketching ideas by the hundreds and working with the animators (with a big shout-out to Brandon McFarland at Photon Creative) to put those ideas on screen and make them move.

Animation is painstaking work, and its hard to know what something will look and feel like until to you see it. For this 41-minute ballet, we estimate that we made hours of video using six different software programs, including Cinema 4D, for the various scenes. We shot live video of Yuri in a swimming pool twice, and dancers in a green screen studio twice. We made—and then jettisoned—loads of ideas, finding our collective way forward to realizing Yuri’s vision.

As of this writing, we are just a stroke away, with animations that will project on three different surfaces throughout the ballet.  It has been delightful to experience Yuri’s expansive imagination, his sense of humor, and to have a behind-the-scenes spot from which to watch him create movement that so remarkably expresses the time period, the story, and the emotion at the heart of his ballet.

It’s been quite the deep water swim for all of us on the video side, and without giving too much away, I will just say, yes, the bus swims too.

Press Quote

"The blending of projections with live dancers was so well done (by Kate Duhamel, the trompe-l’oeil video designer) that you were never quite sure where one ended, the other began. Live strap-hangers peopled a projected commuter bus. Dancer Joseph Walsh, in the harried title role, disrobed and his shadow figure dove into the “pool.” Supine live dancers with “grassy” limbs waved their legs aloft looking like the underwater plants swaying in the videos."  Paul Hertelendy, artssf.com  

"Swimmer," according to the program notes, is resident choreographer Possokhov's ode to Americana, as he'd envisioned it as a boy in the Soviet Union. Thanks largely to Kate Duhamel's video wizardry, Possokhov captures iconic midcentury scenes, ranging from an Eichler-style ranch house to Edward Hopper's iconic painting "Nighthawks."  Ann Murphy - San Jose Mercury News