In 1978, with an interest in photographing dance, I was fortunate to receive a Canada Council grant to travel to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. I spent two weeks in their studios photographing the morning class and rehearsals. At night I set up a small darkroom in a friends bathroom and made contact sheets from the days work. I would post them on the board and get the dancers feedback. I learned the language of ballet there. Jeté, arabesque, plie, demi, turnout, were all terms new to me. Even though I have never taken a dance class, I can now give notes to a ballet dancer when I see something that is wrong during a studio shoot. You will hear me say “let me see that back arm”, “flatten the line to make the legs longer”, “drop your shoulders”, “can you match that arm to your leg.” It’s a constant barrage of notes to get the lines perfect. A lot of dance does not translate well when frozen in a still. What is needed for the still camera is much more specific than what is presented on stage during a live performance.
EVELYN HART (1980) Photo credit: David Cooper
There is a beauty and striving for perfection in ballet that I found in Evelyn Hart who was a soloist with the company in 1978. It was only two years later that she won the gold metal at International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria.
Performance here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_ycPIV4hEQ&feature=share
I was invited back to the RWB in 1980 to shoot their promo photos and souvenir book. This began a 30 year relationship with the company.
Evelyn was the only dancer who would discuss lighting before a shoot. She would suggest silhouette or back light and have a clear idea of what she wanted in her photographs.
She brought tremendous energy and a sense of humor to the photo sessions that demystified how big a star she was. Here she is during a photocall for Giselle goofing around with a big nose and glasses.
In July of 1985 my daughter Emily was born. A month later I had my annual trip to the RWB to set up a studio and shoot the company. I brought the family with me and Evelyn presented us with the smallest pair of ballet slippers for our 5 week old daughter. She held Emily over her head on pointe and my daughter was introduced to the world of ballet being partnered by one of the greatest ballerinas of our time.
Evelyn was a very passionate dancer, like a great actress. She was very sensitive to music too. I remember she was once reviewing a contact sheet from Giselle. There were these blurred images during the mad scene where the light was too low to get a high enough shutter to freeze the motion. I thought I had messed up technically but she got really excited when she saw those frames and said the blurs felt exactly like she feels in that moment. The motion and blurs were perfect according to her. The camera was in sync with her emotions. She felt things in a very deep way through dance and I was responding to them with my camera.
There is a permanence to a still photo that lives on forever so ballet dancers are by far the most critical of themselves in pictures and by nature very hard to please. But I love the challenge. To this day, I love shooting during the morning class and hanging out in the wings during a performance.
Blog made possible by Impact Dance Productions, Founder&CEO Danielle Gardner, http://www.daniellelgardner.com and David Cooper