Motivation is Rewarded

01After photographing dance in Cuba & then at Chautauqua Institute in 2017 I was hooked on this subject. Earlier this year I sent out emails to potential resources seeking to collaborate. This gave me the opportunity to explore other genres & environments of dance. The basic challenges of capturing dynamic images during rehearsals or stage performances were the same as the limited ballet photography I had done. That experience proved to be of value.

02Attack Theater performances are of the modern/contemporary genre. Although the dancers choreography is significantly different than classical ballet, the movement, athleticism & the forms are entertaining & inspiring. I did notice that more often than not, the number of dancers on the stage was an even number. I prefer odd numbers of primary subjects but I was able to adapt.

03During a tech rehearsal I was able to be very close with my 40mm lens allowing me to capture some of the facial emotions, which are an important aspect of this performance. The side lighting was typical for a stage performance but the production also included projected images on the background screen. The imagery of the projections added to the impact of the performance. However, for still images it was distracting when on the dancers body. This image is a good example of why I like odd numbers of subjects.

04“Game Night” was a chance for Attack Theater to engage with the audience in a relaxed atmosphere while developing an upcoming performance. The space is a rehearsal hall with no defined seating for the audience. This was a good opportunity for me to be close enough to use my 28mm. I targeted to pools of light waiting for the dancers to move into them. The background worked surprisingly well. Stage lighting, while not always good for photography, can create strong shadows.

05Using the shadow to make this a 3 shot works for me. The ISO is high making it grainy but that’s OK. At first the wooden apple box bothered me but the strong low/side lighting on it adds to the geometry in the frame. This is an image I would like to choreograph for photography. I also like the re-crop to a 2 X 1 format.

06Wide shots with empty space can be as dramatic as a close-up & can be an important part of the story. Each of the dancers hit the perfect mark for the lighting. Positioned near stage left & slightly elevated I was able to add some dimension while including well-lit props. Even when the dancers are not moving, I believe including the space they are in reinforces their form. Using the 2 X 1 crop again, I emphasized the weight of the lower 1/3 pulling your attention down to the floor.

07Call it modern or contemporary, the movements & choreography on stage are entertaining. Attack Theater incorporates music & theater into a dance performance I found as powerful as my limited exposure to more classic ballet. The human form is a wonderful brush to paint with. Including emotion with character while doing this provides an inspiring performance that sticks in your mind.

08In a post from 6/15/18 I explored the creative process of Mary Miller & Charles Hall as they developed a dance piece with a story-line about friendship. My early involvement with their work allowed me to know when & where to be to get that moment while providing a better understanding of creative development.  Initially I was disappointed at the vertical split of the background in this shot but I got over it. The strong lighting & the facial expressions dominated my eye. The motion blur of his right hand is a nice reinforcement to the message on his face.

09bAt the performance of the Nandanic Dance Festival I had the chance to see different styles of Indian dance. It is not Ballet or Modern. These performers have exclusive genres of movement with elaborate costumes & make-up. In this medium close-up shot it is easy to see the importance of the eyes & facial expression in the character of the dancer.

10Another dancer in the Nandanic performance provided his own soundtrack as he choreographed his drum playing with impressive dancing. The combination of coordination, musical talent & expression made this piece exciting.

11While I thoroughly enjoyed the performance on the stage, as a photographer, I would like to have controlled lighting in a studio with this genre of dancers. The costume, the jewelry, the make-up when used on these performers deserves special attention separate from a live performance.

12My initial attraction to this image came after I cropped it square. The depth & the balance worked well. However the lighting, the background and the color were distracting. With no offense to photogs that do good B/W, sometime just removing the Chroma can make an OK image much better. I am fortunate that I was able to explore more dance photography. Come 2019 I will try to coordinate more opportunities or even enroll in a workshop.

Inspired by Collaboration

My minds eye for Dance Photography was to capture that moment of form. Following Mary Miller & Charles Hall as they created a new performance for the Nandanik Dance Festival. I witnessed talented professional artists building a performance.

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Creative collaboration is a dynamic process especially when the artists involved have known & worked together for 20 years. Mary has danced professionally since 1967. Her work in Modern Dance doesn’t mimic what others do. In Charles’ career as a musician, he has had many opportunities to work with Mary as an accompanist at classes, with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, Civic Light Opera & many site-specific theater performances.

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The essential musical talent Charles brought to the development of this work was his drumming. However, his presence on stage & interaction with the drums became an integral part of the choreography. Mary was the motivator of movement. Their ideas merged & evolved as I experienced more than just a few chances to capture some photographs.

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In the rehearsal studios of Point Park University, where Charles is an accompanist, Mary guided the staging & basic flow of the piece. Charles was nurturing not only the live voices of the drums but a soundtrack he would record to add another musical layer. Watching the free flow of ideas between these professionals as they cultivated their options during run-throughs was intriguing.

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Mary likes working with people who don’t take themselves to seriously because they are more open to what they will experiment with. During her career, she has worked with poets, fiber artists, sculptors & other artistic partners. Talking with Charles about the collaboration he immediately remarked upon the importance of trusting the other people. They must be invested in working together & listening to all ideas.

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Mary’s interaction with the drums & music developed into a vehicle for Charles. As the design of the piece came together, his character observed her & the drums with trepidation. Until, with her enticement, he became comfortable with making his own music. Their combined interaction added emotion & character to the work now titled “Friendship”. The resulting music at the hands of Charles unlocked the movements Mary had been walking thru. In true Miller style the performance with a live musician was much deeper than possible with just pre-recorded music.

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With opening night a few days away the Tech Rehearsal at Carnegie Library & Music Hall, they went over the props, audio & lighting with stage manager Joan Greenwood. With as much combined experience as both Mary & Charles have they realize the importance of coordinating with “the house” to put the final details on their work.

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The difference between the rehearsal studio & the tech run-thru on stage is significant. It isn’t just because of the lights, audio & space. This is where the final decisions are agreed upon while defining positions in the actual environment. Their movements in their final rehearsal became even more precise as the performance was almost at hand.

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It is difficult to say if it was decades of experience, self-confidence or the diversity of her career that leaped out as she began polishing the final touches on “Friendship” during the Tech. It was obvious Mary was headed for a new crescendo I had not yet seen. Even though I had watched the piece develop I was anxious to see the final result.

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With the background soundtrack complete Charles was confident in what they had forged from their ideas. He had channeled his initial reluctance to be moving around on the stage into a motivation for his character.

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“Friendship” had become more than contemporary dance. It was a musical performance. It was theater. The drums weren’t just instruments & props. They played a supporting role. The collaboration of vision, experience, talent & trust was now what I was seeing.

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The night of the performance the dancer, the musician & the drum ended the work by exiting stage right as they had done in rehearsals. This time they had a little more spring in their step. The culmination of all of their work & molding of ideas had reached the inevitable conclusion with style.

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After returning to the stage for their bows they each stepped back gesturing to the now static & silent drums acknowledging the role they had played. They had not done this in rehearsals but I was ready & got the shot. Not what I had originally envisioned but I captured my moment of form for a scene that was part of a very human story.