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– How did your relation with ballet start? Were you always passionate about dance or was there some special event or person that influenced you?
I’ve been interested in ballet and contemporary dance for quite a long time. There are not that many dance companies in Norway – and most of them are located in Oslo and Bergen – quite far from where I live on the west coast of Norway in the town of Alesund not far from the famous Norwegian fiordland. My first ballet photos I took at the National Opera and Ballet in Oslo in the early eighties – and also in London shooting dancers at rehearsals. Over the years I’ve watched quite a lot of dance films and bought photography books on dance by photographers like Lois Greenfield and Howard Schatz. In 2012 I attended a workshop with Lois Greenfield in New York. In addition to photography I’ve also done a bit of sculpting in marble and clay for which I’ve used dancers from a local ballet school posing for me.
dancers: Philipp Parkhachev and Maksiim Zubarev
– Being a ballet photographer – what is the difference with any other professional photography field in your opinion?
– Ballet photography is not that different from other genres of photography. It’s all about finding the decisive moments to press the shutter but obviously it’s an advantage to know about dance before to take on dance photography. I’ve learned a lot from studying the works of other photographers. Over the years I’ve been shooting dancers nude. I find that they take direction more easily and in a way more conscious about moves and poses than models with no background from dance.
dancer: Olga Guseva
– When did you go to Russia for the first time? What was your first impression?
– Each summer I invite models to come and work with me in Norway. In 2014 I invited a Russian nude model from Saint Petersburg; Anna Orlova. We got on very well and she invited me to come to Saint Petersburg the following year. When not modelling she was a secretary for a guy who also had a studio in SPB. From the summer of 2014 until I went to SPB for the first time in March 2015 Anna Orlova and I kept in touch and she was kind enough to organize photo sessions with models and dancers at the studio – among them Olga Guseva and Elena Stepanova. I also wrote to the Mariinsky, Eiffmanand Mikhailovsky theatres asking for permission to come and shoot at the rehearsals. Only Mikhailovsky gave me a positive reply and when in SPB I spent 4 days there shooting at their rehearsals. It was a bit chaotic with a lot of dancers as I had no control but on my last day there I had sessions on a 1-to-1 basis with dancers like Anastasia Soboleva, Yulia Tikka (nowwith The National Ballet of Hungary) and Svetlana Bednenko which was much more rewarding. Svetlana and me became very good friends and we’ve kept in touch via Facebook. I would also like to mention a session I had with Anna Klimakova at the studio. Anna Klimakova is a contemporary dancer and choreographer. We got on very well and in August last year she came to Norway to work with me for one week together with a male dancer.
dancer: Andrea Laššáková
– Your latest travel to Saint Petersburg, did you have any specific artistic project in mind or did you just “go with the flow” of your journey?
– After my first visit to SPB I had so many images to edit. I have posted one image on Facebook every day and soon friends request from other dancers started coming in and I also sent friend request to dancers I’d love to work with located in SPB (and all over the world). Anna Klimakova knows so many dancers in SPB and she was very helpful in hiring dancers for my next visit to SPB in March this year. This time I only worked in various studios with one or two assistants. Sessions with Olga Guseva, Elena Stepanova, Svetlana Bednenko and Andrea Lassakova I arranged myself directly with the dancers. The session I had with Philipp Parkachev, Maksiim Zubarev and Ilya Beykov was arranged by German Shnaider – a dancer I worked with in 2015.
– You work a lot with professional ballet dancers world wide. Is there any specific trait that belongs to Russian dancers?
– I normally bring sketches (drawings and photos) with me to a session. In this way the model will grasp my idea much quicker than if I had to explain what I’m after orally. Needless to say It’s important especially in cases where the model does not speak English. This is also the reason why I hire assistants in SPB with a fair knowledge of English. I don’t always follow the sketches though. In many cases we will end up with something quite different which can be even better than my original idea.
dancer: Elena Stepanova
– Please tell us more about your collaboration with models that we see on the photos published here…
– I must say that all models and dancers I’ve been working with in SPB have been wonderful! So positive and enthusiastic and eager to achieve a good result for me. After the sessions I invited them for lunch or dinner and in this way I got to know them quite well. I send them all the edited images via email and they can pick a few that they want to have prints of. Each of them have expressed that they will continue to work with me again.
– Do you have any programs for the future connected with Russian ballet and Saint Petersburg?
– I definitely will go back to SPB at least once a year to shoot dance. I assume it will be quite difficult to get permission to shoot during performances as all the theatres have got their own staff photographers. Anyway I prefer shooting in a studio giving me much more freedom.
dancer: Olga Guseva
– Please describe the character of the city of Saint Petersburg how you feel it.
– I’m so impressed by Saint Petersburg! It’s simply the most beautiful city I’ve visited and I’ve seen quite a few around the world. The architecture, the cathedrals, the parks – the lot.
And the people! I’ve never met so many beautiful people, not only the dancers and models – but everyone I met have been so kind and helpful to me. The only problem I encountered was that so few taxi drivers spoke English!
– When and how did you choose black and white as the main path to follow in your art?
– When I took up photography in the early seventies I used to shoot in both colour and black and white. I really loved being in the darkroom to develop my black and white prints and I quickly realised that black and white was my media and since then I’ve shot in BandW only.
As far as dance photography is concerned I’m not that experienced, but my background as a nude, portrait and landscape photographer has helped me a lot in my creation of dance images.
dancers: Anna Klimakova and Nikita Markelov
– If you talked to a young photographer who wants to go to Russia to shoot ballet for the first time what advice could you give him?
– If a young photographer wants to go to Russia to shoot dance I would advise him to first study images of ballet on Facebook – find Russian dancers and send them friend requests.
I’m confident that he or she will receive positive response and ask if they would be interested in a collaboration. It would be helpful if he or she has some dance photos posted on their Facebook page before they contact the dancers.
dancer: Andrea Laššáková
dancer: Andrea Laššáková
©Sjur Roald, interview for Anna Pavlova Network. All rights reserved.