Through a Dancer's Lens

Watching your peers in class, rehearsal, and performance, you tend to develop a sharp eye for dance. This sensitivity, this visual alertness, sometimes finds expression in photography. In fact, many of the photographers Dance Magazine relies on were dancers first: Rosalie O’Connor, Erin Baiano, Matthew Murphy, Kyle Froman, and Alexander Iziliaev, to name a few. Most of them started snapping photos when they were still performing, often from the wings. So we thought we’d take a look at currently active dancers who have become entranced with the camera. We found a range of approaches, from polished studio shots to painterly images to iPhone playfulness.

 

 

“For the seated/relaxed pose, I asked the dancers to imagine themselves watching the shoot from the front and to just react naturally. It is hard to discover a personality in such a strict setting, but I was pleasantly surprised that the dancers were willing to reveal some of their inner dialogue. The inspiration for the shoot was our constant stream of inner thoughts that is instilled by every coach and director, so that we can transform into different characters.” Aleksandar Antonijevic, National Ballet of Canada, celebrating his 20th-anniversary season

 

 

 

Greta Hodgkinson during a photo shoot for National Ballet of Canada’s 60th-anniversary souvenir book in 2011.

 

 

 

Right: Abi Stafford’s feet. Left: Tiler Peck and Cali.

 

“I used to always have a camera in my bag wherever I went. Once I got an iPhone and saw how good the camera was, it became easier to use that instead—and quicker to share photos with friends and family. I like the idea of sharing a moment just as it’s happening.” Janie Taylor, New York City Ballet

 

 

 

Left: Rebecca Hytting and Bobbi Smith of Batsheva. Right: Chen-Wei Lee of Batsheva.

 

“For two decades I used a conventional 35mm camera, but I made a point of rejecting obvious opportunities to photograph dance, thinking the results were boring and unnecessary. Then, going through some old books of dance photography—notably Alexey Brodovitch’s 1945 Ballet, and Paul Himmel’s 1954 Ballet in Action—I discovered that abandoning the crystalline image in favor of blurred edges approximates the excitement of dance in performance.” —Mikhail Baryshnikov on the occasion of his photo exhibit “Dance This Way” at Gary Nader Art Centre in Miami earlier this year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I shot this photo of myself using a self-timer, with my camera situated on a chair on my roof, in Astoria, NY.” —Alexis Silver, independent dancer/choreographer

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The underwater shot was a series I did in a pool with dancers from SFB. The ropes were brought in for a puppet idea that didn’t work out. Once the dancers got tangled, it was a natural extension to try and escape, which is the image here. The dancer is a good friend of mine, Diego Cruz, who is from Zaragoza, Spain.” —Quinn Wharton, San Francisco Ballet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“This is Ashley Lynn Gilfix as Ophelia, a role that we shared, in Stephen Mills’ Hamlet. I photograph when I can, but for now the dancing still takes priority.” —Anne Marie Melendez (aka Anne Marie Bloodgood), Ballet Austin

 

 

 

 

“This photo is of Patricia Delgado and Yann Trividic of Miami City Ballet in Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun. I enjoy shooting dancers from backstage. The ‘right time’ means two things to me: one, a beautiful position, and two, the peak of the artist’s emoting.Leigh-Ann Esty, Miami City Ballet

 

 

 

Clockwise from top left: On tour in Hong Kong, Janie Taylor on the floor and Likolani Brown standing; Maria Kowroski in the mirror; Self-portrait; At home with Charleyrose.

 

“I never imagined before that I would experience the joy of image-making firsthand, until I got an iPhone. My love of taking pictures began simply with…my cats.” —Wendy Whelan, New York City Ballet

 

 

 

“These were taken in a studio downtown last year. We just decided to get together and let me have some fun with the camera. The dancers are Sean Stewart and Lauren Post, both with ABT.” —Renata Pavam, American Ballet Theatre

 

 

 

Lopez in Circus Polka. PC Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB

When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

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Matthew Neenan used images of silencing and control in let mortal tongues awake. Photo by Bill Herbert.

From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.

New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.

A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.

Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.

In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.

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Breaking Stereotypes
Ash in Rochester, NY. PC Thaler Photography by Arleen and Daryl Thaler for the Swan Dreams Project

Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.

"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.

After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.

Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org

In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."

She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."

Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.

Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

Training
Sylvie Guillem, via 1843magazine.com

Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.

But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.

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Dancers & Companies
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series

When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.

Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series

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In The Studio
Abraham.In.Motion performing "Drive." Photo by Ian Douglas.

The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!

We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.

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News
Tero Saarinen's Morphed. Photo by Darya Popova, Courtesy Helene Davis Public Relations

Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.


Rant & Rave
PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.

"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."

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Dance in Pop Culture
Roberto Bolle and Kenall Jenner on set. Photo via tods.com

I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."

It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.

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Training
Anne Arundel Community College students, PC Kenneth Harriford

Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you:

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