I know people are curious about who we are and what goes on behind the screen during a CATAPULT performance so I thought I'd reveal some "secrets" about what we do and how we think.
History of Shadow-Making
Who Invented it?
I don’t know if Al Gore invented the internet, but I know that we did not invent the use of shadows to tell stories. Shadow art has been practiced in China since around 200 BC. Indonesia in particular has a rich history of shadow puppetry.
Who Invented Modern Full- Body Shadow Art?
The particular variation of shadow dancing that you see CATAPULT do was created in 2006 by myself and 8 or 9 other people. I was a choreographer/performer for Pilobolus and we made the first full-body shadows that I know of for a Hyundai commercial. Soon after, we performed this same style of shadow dancing on the 2007 Academy Awards, on The Oprah Winfrey Show and on Late Nite with Conan O’Brien. I performed on all of those occasions and helped to create the choreography.
What Training is Necessary?
Shadow making requires you to be able to contort your body precisely into very particular positions. You have to remember that position and get to it gracefully and quickly. Dancers train to know where their bodies are in space and what lines they are creating and so are often good at shadow – making. However, you also need to understand foreshortening and how moving from left to right or towards and away from the screen will distort your shape. For this reason, people who have skills in the visual arts often make good shadow casters. Truly it is hard to predict who will be good at shadow making and sometimes even the best dancers are not able to make good shadow-shapes. I suspect that the people who make the best shadow dancers are the ones who are delighted by solving problems and who find it fun to play at making something unexpected appear on the screen.
What about Props?
At Catapult we have a brilliant artist by the name of Will Giese who creates amazing shadow props for us. We believe in making images out of our bodies as much as possible and use Will’s artistry to embellish and augment our work. I love the way that he understands light and can use his own talent to make things appear 3 dimensional. Will created 10 exquisitely hand-cut diamonds out of metal, plastic and paper for our first performance for AGT. They are works of art in and of themselves.
The Weird World of Dancing in Shadow:
- As you move away from the audience your body gets bigger so while we seem to be coming closer to you we are actually moving farther away.
- If you want to hide in the shadow world, you always hide in front of something and never behind it.
- We see ourselves on the shadow screen just as you see us only in reverse. So when we spell words, we have to spell them backwards for it to look right to you.
- Our dancing area is not a rectangle like most stages but in the shape of a cone. The point of the cone comes out of our projector and the wide end just covers the screen. I can stand almost center stage near the projector lens and as long as I don’t cross into the light, I am invisible.
- Straight lines are some of the hardest things to create with our curvy human bodies.
- We can make our bodies and our shadows disappear right down into the floor.
- We sometimes wear sunglasses while working to protect our eyes from the bright light: Shadows wearing shades.
- Since many shadow-images are made out of multiple people, moving them through space is a challenge and sometimes seems impossible.