Get out the crayons, markers or colored pencils.
Modern Women: 21st-Century Dance, a 92-page coloring book, feels like the antidote to a COVID-19 winter. Created by Brooklyn-based dance photographer Julie Lemberger, the book pays tribute to this generation of powerful and creative women dancers.
Lemberger, like everyone else, had time on her hands when New York's theaters, studios and dance companies shut their doors in the wake of the pandemic. She has been aiming her camera at dancers in New York for nearly three decades, but suddenly her schedule was empty.
As a certified New York public school dance teacher, she had occasionally created line art in Photoshop to share copies of historic photographs, and she noticed that students would sometimes color and shade them. The idea of making an artistic coloring book had been on her mind for years when she voiced the idea to dancer Barbara Mahler at a photo shoot. In response, Mahler said "Why not?"
"I had a pretty good idea about who I've photographed over the years," Lemberger says. "And I have been thinking for a long time that there needed to be a book or a photo exhibition about women in dance today." She searched through her archives and sought permission from dancers to use their images as line drawings in a coloring book. Modern Women features 60 soloists, three duets and two groups of women representing Philadanco! and Urban Bush Women. Some of the images came from performances, while others were rehearsal shots.
Beyond the photos and a foreword by dance critic Elizabeth Zimmer, Lemberger worked with artist/photographer Roy Reid to select various backgrounds—geometrics, florals, natural settings—rather than placing the dancers on blank pages. "The dancers had input in the way that they presented themselves, and also the world that we will see them in on the coloring pages," Lemberger says. "The backgrounds express something about the dancer, the dance that they're doing, or they create a new idea about the dance."
For instance, dancer Emily Pope selected a rehearsal over a performance image. "Emily said, 'I see myself in that one…in the others I'm playing a role the choreographers gave me,'" the photographer notes.
Former Alonzo King LINES Ballet dancer Courtney Henry is captured in a loose sous-sus with a deeply arched back. "She's really is quite something: Courtney just dives in whole heartedly and really eats up the space and then kicks it back out," Lemberger remarks. "With the background, it's like she's in a caged space and I like the spikiness of her elbow and fingers." Noting Henry's thrown-back head, Lemberger says "Look at her. She's in ecstasy."
Lemberger's main goal, she says, was to showcase the beauty, strength and intelligence of women dancers and choreographers, enabling readers to interact with them on the page.
Along with page after page of female dancers, from solo artist Eiko Otake to ballerina Wendy Whelan, former Ailey dancer Hope Boykin to dancer-choreographer-educator Janis Brenner, Lemberger included the artists' biographies, a glossary of modern-dance terms, and an acknowledgment of choreographers—both women and men—whose works are depicted or inspired the artists: Kyle Abraham, Isadora Duncan, George Balanchine, Garth Fagan and Andrea Miller, to name a few.
While it's her first foray into self-publishing—presently she's seeking a commercial publisher— Lemberger hasn't ruled out another volume: "I have plenty of photos in my archives."
Modern Women is available for $25, shipping included.