Although generally defined by physical movement, one can find the spirit of dancing in stationary objects. That was my experience that started a few years back when I let the spent flowers of an orchid plant to dry on their own. Depending on where they fell, what they rested on, or the environmental conditions, each dead blossom took a shape of itself. Upon carefully looking at them, I sensed motion, movement, as if they were ballet dancers captured mid air. That gave birth the the collection I call “Dance of the Orchids”.
Since I saw them “dancing” I wanted to photograph actual dancers responding to the dried orchid flowers, frozen in their assumed dancing poses. Recently I sought opinion from a friend, a ballerina, and asked her to take a look at these shriveled orchids and see if she saw what I had seen in them. I was pleased to hear that she agreed with my perception and even brought me in contact with the artistic director of the Festival Ballet Providence, Mihailo (Misha) Djuric. Misha embraced the idea and expanded on it, and we are currently in the development stages of a new photographic and ballet project. Where and how far it will eventually go is difficult to assess at this point but this was my initiation to the world of photographing dance.
I told Misha that I wanted to practice photographing dance to get a sense of rhythm, timing, motion, etc. of the actual performance. He encouraged me to go to the dress rehearsal to start the learning process. I have found the experience moving (pun intended), very unlike other photographic projects, challenging on different fronts. The lighting is dim, requiring high ISO settings on the camera which results in more noise. It is also uneven, what is brightly lit one moment of movement may become a dim apparition three feet away. On top of that, anticipating the flow of the movement is a particular challenge to me as I have no training in music or ballet. The first group of photographs below are from the dress rehearsal. Although there are photographs among them that will satisfy me from a photographic perspective, I am not sure how satisfying they may be from a ballet performance angle. Yet, Misha told me that he might be interested in using a few of them, which I was glad to hear.
The next day, we bought tickets for the fundraising event and Jan and I went to watch the live performance. Taking place in a very intimate setting of the studio space of the Festival ballet Providence, one could see the dancers sweat, hear them breathe, and experience dance at a touching distance away. I know some may find it too close, but for me it was a very enjoyable experience. During the intermission I told Misha that I would really welcome an opportunity to photograph a live performance. And to my surprise he said I could so long as I did not use a flash and the red focusing aid lights that the cameras emit. I could turn both off and I went to the live performance the next day and Misha stationed me on the small landing place and the few steps behind the sound and lighting control corner. There I spent the entire performance photographing the dancers as they moved in and out of my range, bright and dim. Since I saw the same performance the night before, I was expecting some movements, and I had also reevaluated and changed my shooting strategy. The next group of photographs are from the live performance taken on February 18, 2012.
I will go back again, live performance or dress rehearsal and continue my learning of photographing movement, intensity, and grace of ballet dancers. Eventually, we will converge on the original idea that started it all, relating Dance of the Orchids to the dancers and choreographers response to their dried and frozen state. I am looking forward to those shooting sessions and hoping that my skills will be ready to to capture those fleeting moments.
To all the staff of the Festival Ballet Providence, thank you for allowing me into your world. I will be glad to share some of these photographs with you. I have created a collection of them in a PDF magazine format the cover of which is on the left. Send me a note if you like to have your own copy, if your name is associated with the FBP, staff, dancer, board member that I can see on the Web site, I will e-mail you a copy for your own use.
I will also welcome feedback on the photographs either in the form of comments here for everyone to see or an e-mail to me at ac.ekin (at) keptlight (dot) com. These comments, which may take a little time for me to see and approve them, and feedback will help me improve my technique and understanding photographing dance. Remember one thing though, in these series my intention is to photograph the “dance” rather than the “dancer”. Although often times it may be difficult to separate one from the other, do not expect these to look like studio photographs with controlled and abundant light, props, and many posing attempts. I would like these to show the intensity of a live performance, motion rather than static pose, and theatrical lighting. With these in mind, fire away and help me learn.