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
Danielle Gardner Founder of Impact Dance Productions would like to introduce the first of many blog posts that will be featured on www.daniellelgardner.com.
My own career path is perhaps one of the least traditional I’ve come across, having started a professional dance company at 17. In just under a decade, I have already experienced so many genre shifts that I’ve come to realize that many of the students I’m currently working with have no idea that I started out just like them. While I always placed a strong focus on ballet, primarily through the training from my mother Loretta Lachner, there was nothing I loved more than jazz. I was a Triple Threat scholarship student, Kelly Konno was my number one idol and I was sure that I too would end up dancing for Janet Jackson one day. When I heard students getting excited about attending Triple Threat this year it reminded me of how much I gained from opportunities like my Triple Threat, Groove Street or Harbour Dance Centre scholarships. These organizations gave me access to teachers who challenged me with new vocabulary and they put me in a room with the best of my peers. Through Triple Threat I experienced a week of private musical theatre training at Randolph Academy and had the opportunity to attend their first ever Hawaii Dance Experience. My experiences at Groove Street paved the way for my time dancing in the Source Dance Company and Harbour Dance Centre went on to give me support to enable the realization of my first two professional productions. Above all, I most realize that these institutions and instructors taught me that my individuality was an attribute to be celebrated. They made clear that my greatest offering to the dance world was the unique nature of an artistry that was particular to me. I haven’t forgotten this, as this truth has taken me to places I never expected possible.
Since my relocation to New York I have ironically spent more time invested in outreach work with BC’s young dancers than ever before. The formation of our annual MOVE: the company Summer Intensive, in addition to creating works for Team Canada and Richmond Academy, reignited a passion for exploring the creativity and capabilities of young artists. In the past year I’ve actually found myself seeking out opportunities to have a hand in opening the minds of the next generation of professional artists. It’s steadily growing into a passion that equals my love for directing professionals.
I believe that there is something so uniquely special about the training of young dancers in British Columbia. Many of my greatest collaborators were groomed in BC’s local schools. One only needs to mention Crystal Pite, Tiffany Tregarthen, Simone Orlando, Celine Gittens and Amber Funk Barton among counless others, to realize how much incredible talent has emerged from the BC studio system. I’ve often wondered what it is that keeps BC consistently producing such evolved young artists. Is the importance placed on ballet training without the tunnel vision focus that it’s the be all and end all of dance? Is it the fact that we still have dance festivals and The Provincials, as well as the dance competition circuit? Is it that we’ve had so many truly great local success stories who’ve undeniably made it, and yet still return to BC to give knowledge and inspiration back to the next wave of movers.
It’s certainly some combination of these factors, among others, but I think that the real secret is that our dance studio ecosystem in BC celebrates the individuality of youth. Children are taught to dance in a group but allowed to grow as soloists. They are taught formalized techniques but are also exposed to improvisation. They are even often encouraged to enter student choreography and music interpretation categories at the festivals.