Dancers, like all performers, are liars. Watch us on stage and what we portray is something not entirely ourselves at that moment in time.
We leave behind the car that cut us off on the way the theatre, the girl that didn’t bother to call back, the current state of American politics. We leave that all at the door to become the character we’re to dance that night. Our costumes are freshly cleaned and steamed, the stage still wet after having been mopped, the lights designed to flatter the dancer and choreography. We present something that takes you away from this world to bring you into the choreographer’s vision. We lie. And you, the audience, are ultimately left in a different place than before.
Step into a rehearsal and things are different. The whole of the stage is visible, the light isn’t quite so flattering, our clothes are a mishmash of what’s clean and appropriate to wear. You can see the aches and pains of too many weeks of heavy rehearsal, the bit of choreography we just learned that is still a bit fresh in the body, and all too often our moods follow us from outside the studio. In the studio during rehearsal is where I, the dancer, can be seen. This is the place where real magic happens, where the seeds are sewn for that alternate world in which we invite the audience for too few nights.
RawMoves Dance is a part-time modern dance company founded by Nicholas Cendese and Natosha Washington. I’ve had the opportunity to work as their resident photographer for the last two years and their dance is simply stunning, their dancers marvelous. For some time now I’ve wanted to create frames from rehearsal that were more than just documenting the process but more a portrait of the dancers and their craft. If one company could give that to me in Salt Lake City, it was RawMoves and their upcoming reprise of “The Story of Eight.” Between the choreography and the dancers themselves, I knew the frames would all-but compose themselves. And they did. Please enjoy this gallery at my facebook page.
Yes, I know… they’re not really colors but moreover an absence thereof. But the shades between are something to marvel at. For whatever reason, I’ve been for all intents and purposes obsessed with those shades of grey lately as all my work has been absent in color. There’s even a posting over at the Online Photographer that discusses b&w vs. color instead of the usual film vs. digital nonsense debate.
In the process of my current New Dance Project (a working title, by the way), I showed a colleague of mine one of the selects first in color and then without color and what she said to me was illuminating. She commented upon the subject’s color of hair and leotard; in the absence of color she commented upon the subject’s facial expression and line. What was it about color that was taking her away from the dance in the image? Moreover, what was it about the simplicity of the colors black and white that placed her back into the frame upon re-viewing it?
It’s those two questions that have me exploring in the studio more than ever.
I was called upon to shoot an assignment with dance I’d never seen and dancers I didn’t really know. Most dance I shoot is within the community of dancers here in Salt lake whereas this group hailed from Oklahoma though had several connections with the dance community here. As with any client wanting dance photography from a live performance, I’m always at the mercy of light designer and choreographer having to constantly shift composition, lenses and exposure to suit the piece at hand; all this makes for a somewhat frazzled photographer.
Yes, I capture the peak action with pointed feet and high legs but somehow am always left wanting more. The above photograph is an unknown dance with an unknown dancer and is the last frame from my full card and was the one image that leaped out at me and caught my eye. The focus is crap, motion blur all over the place, underexposed and yet somehow it captures dance to me.
That muse of mine works in mysterious ways.
It’s a funny thing playing favorites with one’s own photography. Most of the time I think half the frames I create are crap but out of that steaming pile I can usually pull at least a few good images out that I would consider, for me, to be classic. For me, my classic favorite has been of Emily. When I created that particular image I didn’t have half a mind for strobes and their true speeds so it’s almost by pure accident and serendipity that the muse would grant me such an image, an image that defines the very essence of dance: movement. In a single frame I was able to, by some alchemical process still unbeknownst to me, distill the energy and beauty of dance into an eternal photograph. But I have a new favorite which completely destroys, for me, the beauty of Emily’s gorgeous frame.
The image was first created when I asked Chelsea to show me a recent bit of choreography she had learned and I modified it to be more applicable in front of a telephoto lens versus a proscenium. The initial result was, as is Chelsea’s ability, stunning. But then I asked her to give me a little bit of épaulment so I could see her face. And upon that face her eyes were closed, her lips pressed into a beautiful smile that I never asked for. I’ve never asked a dancer to smile but only to relax and dance how they feel.
In the following photograph I captured something closer to home, closer to the reality of myself and dancers everywhere: the joy of life and the joy of dancing. For us , they are all too often inseparable.
If you’ve been following my work in the last week you’ve noticed a certain lack of lighting along with a lack of color. The images, technically, have been very simple. There are a multitude of reasons for this but mostly I wanted the simplicity to shift the focus back onto the dancer and the dance, away from my technical skill. One light, one lens, one dancer; no excuses and no distractions.
The second part you may have noticed in all my work are the various poses the dancers perform. Whether it’s taking a phrase of dance and modifying it or creating something entirely new what you’re seeing is mostly from me. There are various behind-the-lens collaborators involved here and there (and they are an invaluable resource) but so much of the fun is creating and refining my own work on the various shaped canvases that are dancers.
As the project evolves and continues I hope to include essays and interviews about dance and dancers that will hopefully reveal a much different image of the dancer than most people perceive.
Somewhere along the lines I forgot how beautiful the dancer is without distractions, how clean and pure the lines and shape can be. Somewhere along the lines of pushing further and faster in new and different directions I never bothered to be simple and basic. So now I find myself yet again doing something new and different for me. One light, one dancer, no color, so beautiful. So much of the beauty in the above image is what’s not there…
Dance is a very imperfect art. We come, we see, we conquer but attain perfection? We rehearse daily, spend countless hours honing our technique but attain perfection? I think not. Performing art is such that a piece of choreography changes one night to the next and continues to change from one month to the next. A piece of work is a living, breathing animal that needs to be fed and given attention to. It is a continual process, not continuous perfection.
Photography, however, has no such need. Once the print is made it is immortal. It doesn’t move, it doesn’t change, it is a single moment in time made into something permanent.
When we intersect the two mediums we have the potential to take the process of dance and create perfection. The above photo is an example of that process leading to what I consider to be a perfect frame. I ask, she does, we refine. Most of all we create together. From the aether we created the frame by trying something new and different. And in doing so our process leads to perfection.
As a new and fledging photographer to the Daily Utah Chronicle staff, I worked on many new and different types of assignments all the while plying my trade with dance. I was lucky enough to work with Jim Fisher, a hardened old grizzly bear, the kind that would happily rip apart your photo for backgrounds, composition, focus, everything. He had previously worked as staff photographer for the Salt Lake Tribune, worked overseas in combat zones, he clearly knew what he was talking about.
During an end of the year portfolio review he looked at the above image and scoffed at me. Called it ‘dancer masturbation’ and proceeded to tear the image to shreds. At first I was a bit hurt. Later I accepted it. Four years on I’ve embraced it.
In sum, he said the image did nothing new, did nothing spectacular and was overall just mediocre. The light is crap, the outfit is crap, it tells no story and offers no substance. It’s just an image of a dancer. ‘Dancer masturbation’ has been a part of my vocabulary ever since.
I always wonder what it would have been like with a pair of F3′s on my shoulders and a bag filled with HP5 and filters.