Although typically 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 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 midair. That gave birth to the collection I called “Dance of the Orchids.”
Since I saw them as dancing, I wanted to photograph actual dancers responding to the dried orchid flowers, frozen in their dancing poses. Recently I sought an opinion from a friend, a ballerina, and asked her to 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 joint photographic and balletic 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, resulting in more noise. It is also uneven. What is brightly lit one moment becomes a dim apparition three feet away. On top of that, anticipating the flow of the movement is a particular challenge to me since I have no training in music or ballet.
The first bunch of photographs below is 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. In the very intimate setting of the small studio, one could see the dancers sweat, hear them breathe, and experience dance from 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 turned both off and went to the live performance the next day, and Misha stationed me on a small landing a 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 is 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 choreographer’s response to the dried and frozen state of the flowers. I am looking forward to those shooting sessions and hoping that my skills will be ready 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, and feedback will help me improve my technique and understanding of photographing dance. Remember one thing though, in this series I intend to photograph the dance rather than the dancer. Although often 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.