Exploring Artistic Creativity

I’m intrigued at the diversity of artists and their inspiring works that bring creativity to life. My insight into anything done “LIVE” gets immediate respect. Capturing The Moment in dance photography was a challenge I wanted to explore as I left the world of video and began creating still images.  Those sources of motivation collided when I connected with Maria Caruso.

She has incorporated her talent and skills into 5 dance companies. Additionally, she leads educational programs in fitness, therapy, health, movement and is the Performing Arts Chair at La Roche College. Multitasking does not come close to describing her lifestyle.  The collective activities of her organization are known as the M Train. Managing all of this, she still is committed to performing herself. Her work ethic fuels her determination to always be doing something. I see these character attributes as part of the foundation of her creativity.

I truly appreciate Maria allowing me access to her company and performances in an attempt to capture images of the athleticism, grace and beauty of dance. Her critique of my photography is honest. I love that!  

The dynamics of what she presents on stage or into rehearsal involves integrating music, costumes, lighting, emotion and movement into the art of choreography. The process she goes thru in synthesizing these disciplines varies. Surprisingly to me, “music is often added after the routine is laid out”.  She also relies on her community of people she has gathered around her to inject ideas. In her dance studio creativity is fueled by collaboration.

The work of a painter can last for centuries as can the words of a poet. The performance of dance, or any stage production, is a brief moment of energy transformed into art that cannot be completely recreated. Choreographers and dancers, like other artists, frequently develop a legacy of style.  Ms. Caruso’s vision of any legacy she is forming revolves around bringing health and wellness into artistic outlets. As an artistic activist she is expanding the opportunities for those without waif like bodies to dance.

The rural roots for Maria began in a well-rounded childhood. Tennis, swimming and crafting were all part of her life. She proudly claims that she was “amazing in woodshop”. Even though she was becoming devoted to dance, her enthusiasm wasn’t always encouraged because of not having the stereotypical dancers’ body. She was determined not to let that stop her moving forward with a resolve that would foreshadow her career. Finishing High School simultaneously with her freshman year of college, she considered a medical career but was searching for opportunities to dance.

In college, the styles of classical ballet were seasoned with her exposure to modern and jazz. Still facing the challenge of not having the body type of a ballerina, she developed a philosophy that dancers shouldn’t be limited by the aesthetics of the body. The aesthetic of the technique gave her gratification.

Here, her vision and mine converge. Classic ballerina images where lighting, costume and form are sculpted onto the human form is indeed an art form. However, I am inspired by the diverse athletic form of dancers. I try to capture the bond of athleticism, emotion and art in my lens.

At 18, during an internship at The Dance Theater of Harlem, Maria found a space and place that felt like home. That connection with the company became a seed for her emerging career. Tempted to remain in NYC, she returned to finish college then went straight back to the city to explore collective opportunities. In an era when dancers were expected to choose a style, she chose diversity. Her inspiration came from Martha Graham, Darcey Bussell, Alvin Ailey, Jawole Zollar and others where the healthy feminine body was not frowned upon as in traditional Balanchine style of that time.

Finding a way to balance artistic objectives with economic survival she connected with people throughout the NYC dance environment teaching, freelancing and connecting with other dancers. Not knowing any better, she sold her car to finance her own show while she also learned about cash advance on a credit card. Financially, her efforts on that 1st touring show were not successful. The discovery of finding out what she loved to do was, as the saying goes…priceless.

The creative fusion of training, talent, interests, inspiration, experience and determination were all coming together. Although she dropped business in college, she realized she couldn’t afford to build her dream in New York and returned to Pittsburgh where she would define and create her space. The vision was locked in her mind.

Her influence from diverse styles allowed her to develop Bodiography, a dance company focused on technique aesthetics and healthy bodies. The support and opportunity for self-sufficiency was fueled by determination. It was now do-able. As her dreams were coming together, she did numerous jobs including hosting a late-night show on the Home Shopping Network.

When I first met Maria and found out her studio was the former studio of Gene Kelly I wondered if the space had creative spirits. For some artists, elusive mystical muses and sacred spaces are not something to dismiss. Her creative ideas are randomly conceived with inspiration from the desert, to dreams…from people she chooses to surround herself with to an inner force she follows without question. The window to the inner muse of her creativity is wide open.

Choreographing for her company is a coming together process watching how her dancers adapt. Although she says she is not a good choreographer, she credits early training for her non-traditional routines. Often, for a personal performance, she doesn’t over rehearse. A plan is in place but details of the movements can be of-the-moment filled in by her spirit and soul. The physicality and technique are the driving motivation in her dance. She trusts her abilities and harnesses her self-confidence to drive creativity.

She does not easily relax. Time spent running, an average of 35 miles a week, is her alone time.  Performing a 50 minute solo show Metamorphosis, her conditioning was put to good use.  The artistic, athletic and emotional talents the performance demanded could only be done by someone as galvanized as Maria.

Surrounding herself with people she respects and loves is important personally and professionally. She quickly gives credit to those she works with that keep the train on the tracks.

The horizon is never very far off in Maria’s vision. Although massive lifestyle changes throughout society are occurring due to the Covid-19 Virus, I believe projects, performances and plans of the M Train will evolve. What happens with The Movement Factory will be an exciting project to watch develop. Her Off-Broadway show Rearview Mirror will happen. The premier of the digital magazine Arts Inclusive could become a co-op of diverse creative individuals. The potential for expanded mentor-ship could become a new garden of inspiration for anyone looking to grow their artistic talent.

Artists and creative individuals are as varied as the human race. Commitment and determination are common character traits of those that achieve their goals. Maria’s self-assurance does not have a trace of arrogance. On and off the stage, she has gratitude and a zest for people in her life. The creative community she surrounds herself with helps breed her artistic directions.

Motivated by a New Opportunity

01I don’t consider myself a competitive person. However, I enjoy the challenge of capturing compelling images of others in sporting events. Mud on the Mountain at Seven Springs seemed like it would offer a variety of new opportunities for my mind’s eye.

02 copyThe weather was cooperative & the runners were enthusiastic subjects. Unfortunately, I had not done enough planning to know where the Mud Pit or other messy locations were & missed one of my primary goals of photographing tight muddy faces.

03A wide perspective the scale of the challenge, an important part of the story. It sets up the impact of tight shots. Atop the Laurel Highlands, I found this migration of competitors that reminded me of images from the Klondike Gold Rush. It’s a different environment & perspective from climbers in single file hiking up a snow-covered pass. In my mind, the push of human endurance was a common element. I also imagined the stark contrast when the terrain was snow covered with skiers speeding in the opposite direction.

04This is my favorite tight action shot of the event. I had spotted her with the war-paint mask as a flight of runners was preparing to start. I immediately noticed attitude & knew if I saw her on the mountain she would have emotion & character on her face. I had found a good position with minimal distractions in the background as runners exited wading thru a lake. She was one of the 1st runners thru after I was in position. Her determination is profoundly obvious.

05In addition to the 7.7-mile run/hike up & down the mountain, there were 30 obstacles. I had zero experience with this type of event from a visual perspective. I wanted to explore perspectives. Although there were “elite runners” competing to win, I believe most of the athletes had a personal goal or focused on just finishing. I did see teamwork as well as athletes helping others beside them. I recognized Mud on the Mountain was as a true personal sporting challenge where collaboration met compettion.

06I’m not sure when or why the Halloween tradition of costumes seeped into many large events. These are not the typical outfits of the competitors. However, they do stand out! Full disclosure, I knew they were a trio of characters but I really had no idea who they were from. When they told me they were from Super Mario I felt foolish for my lack of gaming pop-culture.  My gamer engagement ended at Pac Man. If you don’t know ask.

06a copyI had walked around this climbing challenge 360 degrees before I found a position where the background was clear of distractions. Each runner found a unique way up, over & down. I had good framing with the lines of the wooden structure & the blue sky. Now all I needed was somebody to insert something other than their butt into the frame. Until I sorted the images I had no ideas she had stuck out her tongue when I pressed the shutter. It certainly wasn’t a reaction I anticipated. I knew the elements were in place for a good shot & her expression made it a winner.

6b copyEven though I never made it to the muddy challenges, this shot comes close to what I had seen in my mind’s eye. In this image, there are many stories on the face of this athlete. I find it interesting how the curving contrasting double necklines & the hint of the Batman logo set up his face while the horizontal orange headband divides my attention. A bad hair day can be a strong element. This is another one of my favorite portraits.

6cI believe it is rewarding to put challenges in front of you & attempt to go over them. It can be physical challenges like this event or exploring your creative skills outside of your comfort zone. That is what motivated me to go to this event with my camera. I might go again but if I do I will make sure I do the necessary planning to get to the muddier parts of the course. I can’t speak for any of the competitors that were on the mountain on that glorious spring day, but from my perspective, this runner is a good example of what this event is about. Giving your best attempt at doing what you set out to do.