Dear Paco, please tell us how you decided to photograph dancers. Were you connected with ballet before? Is there a special person or event that brought you to this field?
I did photos on some courses on ballet in the late 80’s but was not happy with what I saw done by other photographers when they shoot dance out of the classroom. Ballerinas with tutus in gardens. It seems all you can shoot were that kind of imaginary so I stopped photographing dance. My last session was in 1991 on month before I went to my military service. It was done in the Conservatory with Emilia Zambrana and until 2014 I did not take another image of a ballerina.
About 2010 I felt the need to shoot dance to ilustrate my illumination classes (I am a teacher of photography and stage lighting) so I began studying theory and history of dance. From thinking about a series of images to illustrate my notes on lighting I went to thinking of a series for stock photography… so in 2014 I began working on my actual project “A stroll through dance”.
Do you prefer open air shootings or photo sessions in studios?
Both of them.
I like working outside and playing with the architecture, the space and the people who pass near when we are shooting. I like to shoot in the street because it gives you plenty of possibilities and there is always some spontaneity in it. . You never know what happens next when you play on the street.
I shoot in studios in a different way than I shoot on the streets. Studios means total control over light and background and I shoot in minimalistic way: plain backgrounds, no furnitures, no equipment at all.
Who are the dancers with whom you collaborate most?
Usually they are studients of dance conservatory and the Andalussian Center of Dance (CAD) a kind of high school for dancers. They come from the four specialities in dance we have here in Spain: Classical and Neoclassical, Contemporary, Spanish Classical Dance, and Flamenco Dance.
What is the main idea that you want to express with your ballet pictures?
I want a portrait of a ballerina (or male dancer). So I work in three directions:
-First are the clothes. I ask them to wear what they use in a classroom, not on stage. This is because what you wear is on of the most intimal acts of freedom you can achieve. When you open your wardrobe you have many possibilities to chose from, so when you make a selection in some manner you define yourself. What you wear talks about your personality. Sometimes I ask my models to wear normal streetwear that is comfortable to dance with.
-Second: We are going to shoot on the street, under the open sky, not in class, not on stage, not in a studio. This should represent dance as something that goes with you. It is not what you do some days, but what is makes the sense of your life. This is like the color of your eyes, or the way you move when you walk, part of you, not an activity to spend your free hours. Dance comes with you every minute of your life, as your breath. So your inner dance goes out on the streets when all other people see you dancing. That’s the reason, too, why I want to see people on the background; people who see us and may be think – what in the hell is she doing dancing instead of walking as the rest of the world does.
Do you like improvisation or do you prefer to have a strict plan for every photo shoot?
The war cry is “Don’t strike a pose, just dance!” (“¡No poses, baila!”). Maybe it is the phrase I repeat most while shooting. I ask the dancers to execute a variation or an improvisation, and that keeps repeating about six or seven times (what is some kind difficult when they improvise).
I don’t want them to strike a pose, draw a figure, but many dancers who have been photographed previously by other photographers are used to draw a figure and await until the shutter sounds… I always ask to forget this way to work and just dance. If you want to accomplish some figure, please, make it a part of your choreography. When posing, I always ask the my models not to start from a static position, but always to begin in a previous step of movement and get involved in some other steps so you come from some position and go to another position through the pose you want to perform. ¡Dance! ¡Don’t strike a pose!.
One thing, we do not use music to dance. All is in the head of the dancer.
As for the places where we dance, we select thinking first of all of the background (“¿Where would you like to dance?” I ask) and consider how the floor looks like. I think I will create some kind of a book about the floors and grounds of the city where we dance…
How do you explain to the models the way they should pose and move? Is it difficult for you to work with dancers?
I try to give them some references of choreographers I like. I always ask for who are their preferred choreographers. Then we explore the variations and try to stay in some movements. You know everything has its name in ballet, and Spanish Classical Dance too (usually the french names translated into XIX spanish jargon). But in contemporary and flamenco it is not so easy. And my French is too bad, the way dance words sound in my mouth is very distant from what it should sound… I try to use the correct words to compose movements or to ask for a repetition of some steps.
When we begin a session we establish a system of coordinates. I ask if the dancers use the Royal system or the Cechetti (the way to number the eight directions of the body) and the sense of my words is this: I am here (usually on the ground) and you are there, please do not pass over this, this and this lines, if I say “Come” o “Go” it means come near or get far from me but if I say “To the front” or “To the back” this is the direction from where you are oriented and not in reference to my position. If you are going to make a jump or a relevé, especially a fast one, repeat it twice because I will lose the first movement and I will be able to catch the second one.
What can you say about the dancers who we see on the photos in this article? What are your impressions of your collaborating with them?
Violeta is one of the more flexible and versatile ballerinas I have been working with. She studies Spanish Classical dance but also Ballet and performs in oriental dance, belly dance and others. She has a tall and strong body. The first time we worked together she literally couldn’t stop her improvisation, and at one moment I thought “If I don’t tell her to stop she will fall on the ground, dead”… great girl, great dancer. And she is only a student.
What are the rules of ballet photography for you?
Using the three rules of the New York Institute of Photography: Try to get know what you are going to photograph, focus on the dance, don’t forget about the environment, what happens arounds you and the dancer, and keep it simple.
I think that there are two kinds of moments: decisive moments, where the dancer draws a figure with her body on a background, when it seems that the universe gets in perfect order and stops to give you a 1/500 of second of stillness, all in its place and then brakes away and goes on in movement. The other moment is the interstitial moment, when the ballerina is between two “great-decisive moments” and draws a line full of motion, staying in a “out of dance” code moment which turns into a “in-dance-code” moment a second later. I prefer this interstitial moments.
Your most important dream connected with your work. Maybe a special project or a location or a dream model that you would like to collaborate with.
I would like that more people would call me to shoot with them and i wouldn’t have to keep asking “Can you shoot with me?”.
The initial project “A stroll through dance” is the log of some branches, other dance related projects. One of them is a part of the “A stroll” about “dancing in ordinary life” with dancers reading, crossing the streets with some style, throwing the trash, writing, etc. Other branch is the “Nude dance” about nude and dancing, a series of images of nude bodies performed by dancers. All this work is realized under the general name “Antidanza” (antidance). Because if the seed of dance is movement in space and time and the one of photography is to fix a moment in a place then photography and dance are the most antinomic arts in the world. That’s why I see photography of dance as “anti-dance”.
I don’t have a specific dream location, or I would call it “the rest of the world”. My dream dancer… too many… no names by now (ok Polina Semionova).
Paco Rosso exclusively for Anna Pavlova Network, all rights reserved.