JoDe Romano is a teacher and choreographer of Spanish dance currently working in New York City. Here she is joined by pianist Felix Ventouras for a selection of ten pieces by George Bizet, Isaac Albeniz, Manuel De Falla, and others.
Both Romano and Ventouras perform with great joy and brio, and a precision that sounds clean but never constrained. There’s a spirit of excitement from beginning to end that makes the CD a pleasure to listen to, even though there are works here from Spanish, Cuban, and French composers. Some of the music, like Albeniz’s sensual “Cordoba,” was originally written for piano, but most are opera dances: De Falla’s La Vida Breve, Bizet’s Carmen, and Geronimo Gimenez’s rhythmically playful El Baile de Luis Alonso. The latter is part of the opera sub-genre of Zarzuelas, traditional Spanish operas, several of which JoDe Romano has herself choreographed at Thalia Hispanic Theater in Queens.
Much of this music (like Emanuel Lecuona’s “Andalucia” and Pascual Marquina’s famous pasodoble) is instantly recognizable, and Romano and Ventouras overdo nothing. The piano and castanets are animated and expressive enough in the hands of these two skilled artists. Carmen has more mystery and allure in this arrangement than in many orchestrations I’ve heard. Joaquin Turina’s saucy Sacro-Monte is also a delight.
This is the only CD collaboration between Romano and Ventouras. It’s intended as dance accompaniment, but is worth listening to on its own.
by Nel Shelby
What a wonderful week at Jacob’s Pillow! We’re uploading footage of the Pillow’s awesome and illuminating post-show talks each week, and I’m sharing them on my blog. Learn more about all of the dance companies performing this festival season, and see some highlights from their shows edited into the Post-Show Talks, too.
This past week, our daughter Gracie saw FIVE shows of Compagnia T.P.O. and performed in each of them, and my husband Christopher Duggan continued to photograph amazing dancers.
Here, watch Hubbard Street Dance Chicago & Compagnia TPO discuss their phenomenal shows:
Contributor Nel Shelby, Founder and Principal of Nel Shelby Productions, is deeply dedicated to the preservation and promotion of dance through documentation of live performances, fully edited marketing reels, live-stream capture, and documentaries and films that encapsulate the essence of nonprofit organizations.
Her New York City-based video production company has grown to encompass a diverse list of dance clients including American Ballet Theater II, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, Gallim Dance, Gotham Arts, Kate Weare and Company, Keigwin + Company, Monica Bill Barnes Company, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Shen Wei Dance Arts, Wendy Whelan and many more. She has filmed performances at venues throughout the greater New York area including The Joyce Theater, New York Live Arts, Lincoln Center, Symphony Space, St. Mark’s Church and Judson Church, to name a few.
For nearly a decade, Nel has served as Festival Videographer for the internationally celebrated Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in the Berkshires. Each season at the Pillow, Nel’s responsibilities include documenting aspects of festival culture in addition to its 20 mainstage dance performances, filming and overseeing documentation of more than 100 free performances and events, managing two dance videography interns and an apprentice, and educating students about the technical and philosophical aspects of filming dance.
She also serves as Resident Videographer at the Vail International Dance Festival where she spent her first summer creating five short dance documentary films about the festival in addition to documenting its events and performances. Her longer-form, half-hour documentary on Vail’s festival, The Altitude of Dance, debuted on Rocky Mountain PBS in May 2013.
She has created four short films for Wendy Whelan’s Restless Creature, and she collaborated with Adam Barruch Dance to create a short film titled “Folie a Deux,” which was selected and screened at the Dance on Camera Festival in New York City and the San Francisco Dance Film Festival. She is making a dance documentary featuring Nejla Y. Yatkin, called Where Women Don’t Dance.
Nel has a long personal history with movement – she has a B.A. in dance and is a certified Pilates instructor. She continues to train with world-renowned Master Teachers Romana Krysnowska and Sari Pace, original students of Joseph Pilates. In addition to her dance degree, Nel holds a B.S. in broadcast video. She often collaborates with her wonderful husband, dance photographer (and fellow 4dancers contributor) Christopher Duggan on creative projects with dancers in New York City and beyond. They live with their beautiful daughter Gracie and son Jack in Manhattan.
Non-dancers are often captivated by our field–and this is for a myriad of reasons. Some always wanted to dance. Others enjoy getting lost in a good story ballet, or love the thrill of experiencing a world premiere by a contemporary choreographer. But conflict photographer Sebastian Rich was drawn to our profession to soothe his own soul after seeing over four decades of unspeakable images, witnessing shocking acts of violence and documenting moments of extreme sorrow. He captures many of these moments on camera for organizations such as UNICEF, Save the Children and The United Nations.
4dancers reached out to Rich to learn more about his interest in photographing dance and what has driven him to seek out such a different expression for his talent behind the lens. You can view more of his dance (and other) photography, or get in touch with him at his website.
You have been covering hard news and current affairs for over 30 years. Where has that taken you as a person, and how did it evolve into you wanting to shoot dancers?
I was born in central London England in 1953 and I am a so-called “war photographer”. I ran away from school at the age of fifteen, branded as terminally stupid by my teachers. No one had heard of acute dyslexia in the fifties and sixties. So rather than using a pen I somewhat naturally picked up a camera to tell stories.
For over forty years I have been photographing the very worst that mankind has had to offer my lens. But here is the paradox–on many occasions an image I capture of someone in his or her most quintessential moment of loss or terror in some disgusting war–and the image has been remarked on as ‘beautiful’.
This well-meaning and flattering remark about my photography rests very uneasy with me. I get it–and at the same time I don’t!
In my youth as an arrogant young photographer I thought that the people that I was photographing were there for no reason other than to further my career! So then, to have the compliment of “it’s beautiful” was most rewarding.
As the years moved on–in some respects I grew up. Not all, but some. It took a catastrophe to knock the stupidity and arrogance from my young bones. A catastrophe that killed two soldiers and sent hot screaming metal through my stomach.
I became the victim–the photographed, the exploited and the frightened.
Now I spend time, maybe too much time with my subjects, as one client was to remark just recently. I listen to their stories in great detail, as sometimes I am the only one who will listen, or remotely care. At some point I will take their photograph, I will hardly notice that I have done so, nor will they. Maybe it’s a technique, but it’s a subconscious one.
Why does poverty, war, famine throw up such sharp, hard beauty? I have no idea, as photography is so utterly subjective.
As a war photographer, I have witnessed unspeakable acts of violence. I had to photograph something beautiful, something–anything to save my soul. There comes a time in the life of some in my profession that we cry out for beauty and a gentleness that is missing in our lives.
I have reached that stage.
I have no idea why ballet popped into my head—it just did. I have never been to a ballet, never met anyone involved in the ballet, and certainly never photographed anything close up. Yet I managed to convince the Julio Bocca Ballet School in Buenos Aires to let me into their world.
I was soon to discover that the Julio Bocca School was one of the very best in the world. Even the cabbies in Buenos Aires had heard of the legendary ballet dancer Julio Bocca. I confessed to the school that I was somewhat of a burnt-out old warhorse who knew nothing about their profession. This was to be the best confession I have ever made. The door, along with the hearts of the school administrators and the dancers flew open to me, welcoming me into a marvelous new and dazzling world of creativity.
While fiddling with the lens on my Nikon and at the same time trying to give off the air of a professional dance photographer, 17-year-old ballerina Augustina Flores Saavedra took flight like a giant, long-legged bird of paradise. My jaw dropped as she smiled down at me floating two meters above the studio floor. The image that I had just witnessed (and not photographed) was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen in my life.
I had not been long out of Afghanistan and was wondering just how the hell I was going to capture what I had just seen on film. Normally the only bodies that fly through the air in front of me are in torn, bloody pieces. And I am normally hiding and terrified, waiting for the moment to pop out like a snake so I can photograph what remains of the flying corpse and run away.
Then Augustina and three other girls took off their pointe shoes. I was instantly back at home—these girls’ feet were bruised, bloodied, bandaged, and broken for their art. I was back in a war zone, I circled the trio with shutter continuously shooting every torn toe in extreme close up.
Unfortunately for me, the very first frame that I shot in the dance studio in Buenos Aires took me straight back to something horrible I had witnessed and photographed in a shop in Mogadishu. I visibly winced as I saw the bloodied, bruised, and deformed toes wrapped with tape and padding.
But as soon as they were up “on pointe,” Mogadishu and its nightmares vanished from my mind altogether. These girls moved so beautifully and with such grace and poise that once again, for a little while, I didn’t shoot a frame, but just watched in fascination.
I am now starting to smile behind the camera. Not the perverse smile of the photographer who knows he has caught a moment of terror in a war zone, but the smile of the photographer who has just captured the most beautiful movement he has ever seen. As I am a lensman and not a pensman I will try and let my pictures tell the story of the dedication and sacrifice of these ballet dancers. I think that’s fair to them and me.
How is photographing dancers different for you than the other photography you do?
Because photographing dance is still so very new to me I am like a child in a chocolate factory, just spoilt with wonderment at what beautiful shapes a human body can achieve.
After a lifetime of photographing human movement, albeit in a rather different scenario, you gain an instinct for when movement is perfect. This could be dance, sport or even a soldier firing a gun. There is a fraction of a second that all the elements, muscles, light, expression, eyes combine and create the essence of that movement. That “moment in time” again. But this is a magical moment not a terrifying moment–that is the difference.
What is the greatest challenge in taking photos of dancers?
Patience, more patience and then just a little more patience.
What is the most rewarding part of photographing dancers?
Knowing exactly when you have captured the very essence of the dancer.
What is it that you are seeking to capture when you look through your lens at a dancer?
I am not really seeking anything I just wait to be pleasantly surprised. I have no preconceived ideas when going into a rehearsal studio–none at all.
What are you drawn to in terms of the dance field?
Dedication, determination, and above all else–passion.
How do you think your skill set as a conflict photographer has helped your perspective in terms of taking photos of dancers?
Once again the ability to be patient and capture a moment that tells a story.
Where is your photography taking you next?
I will be photographing refugees from the dreadful war in The Central African Republic for The United Nations.
What, ultimately, would you like to do in terms of photographing dancers?
To be able to earn a living photographing dance! I have been so lucky–I have worked dancers from Julio Bocca, The Eifman Ballet, the Kate Weare Company, Peridance Capezio Center–they have all taught me so much in such a short time.
But I am always looking for ideas, so dancers out there–shower me with your thoughts, ideas and dreams.
Watch this interesting segment from NBC News on Sebastian Rich and his ballet photography. With Ann Curry.
The impressive sets and exquisite costumes for Yuri Grigorovich’s staging of La Bayadere primed me to be blown away by the whole production. It’s superbly danced, but some just-missed dramatic moments left me wanting more at the final curtain.
In scale and technical execution, the ballet is outstanding, as should be expected from one of the world’s top companies. Parades of dancers with scarves, fans, drums, birds, and water jugs fill the first two acts in strings of divertissements celebrating the engagement of Gamzatti (Maria Alexandrova) and Solor (Vladislav Lantratov). When the High Brahmin reveals Solor’s involvement with Nikiya, a temple dancer (Svetlana Zakharova), Gamzatti vows to seek revenge. After Nikiya’s death by snakebite, Solor falls into an opium dream in which Nikiya is multiplied by thirty-five shadows. His guilt and despair remain unresolved as the curtain closes on the third act.
Few companies display character dances as energetic as the Bolshoi, and those in Bayadere are no exception. The drum dance is a highlight of the Act 2 variations. The dances for the bridal attendants look crisp and fresh. Soloists in all three acts excel dancing to tempi that bit excitingly at their heels.
As Gamzatti, Alexandrova commands the palace scenes. She’s a haughty woman, fully in control of her body, her kingdom, and her future. Her rage toward Nikiya is unsettling, lending suspense to her forced composure as the Bayadere dances. Lantratov’s Solor seems youthful in comparison to her power.
Zakharova’s extreme flexibility is hypnotizing, but her Nikiya is frequently unreadable. She really opens up in a solo in Act 2, dancing a plea to the gods accompanied by a lone cello. Her prayer is in vain; after an inconvenient dance with a basket of flowers, a snake hidden inside the basket bites her fatally. In this version, Gamzatti is never implicated. Who would dare accuse Alexandrova?
After the extravagance of the first two acts, I looked forward to the simplicity of the Kingdom of the Shades. The Shades’ entrance—32 white tutus , one arabesque after another, snaking down a three-tiered ramp to assemble in a wispy, reverent block—is worth the wait. There’s nothing flat or tedious here, just a dreamy treat for the eyes and ears.
The highlight for Zakharova and Lantratov’s chemistry is her scarf solo in Act 3. It says as much about Solor as Nikiya; her sensitive footwork and phrasing make her no more or less than an extension of the opium smoke that brought about his delirium. I wanted that connection to continue through the end. The rest of the dance-mime in the act is beautifully musical but lacks candor.
If the purpose of remounting the classics is to transport the viewer to the past, the Bolshoi’s production does so. This performance is expertly danced, though it raises few questions about the principal characters.0
by Christopher Duggan
It’s been a glorious first week back at Jacob’s Pillow in every way. Fantastic dance, beautiful sunshine and lots of making pictures. I wait all year for this and it’s finally here.
This year was my first time photographing the Pillow’s Gala in many years. It was fun to be a part of all the season opening festivities again.
My friend John Heginbotham received the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award given to visionary artists for their creativity.
The amazing Carmen De Lavallade danced with the back barn doors of the Ted Shawn Theatre open, in my mind symbolizing the opening of the festival’s doors for all to come this summer.
A few of my Inside/Out images were included in the Gala’s silent auction, and though the auction is not officially over, I’m honored to say it looks like my dance photography brought in a few thousand dollars!
The Hong Kong Ballet is a stunning and exciting company. So many dancers. Impeccable technique. Really fun to photograph. The company only did one dance in costume for our photo call together, but it was plenty for me. I’m so glad these strong ballet dancers are opening the festival.
It’s hard to describe photographing Ms. De Lavallade. She has such grace and dignity. She raises the bar just by walking into the room. Her show is poignant and funny, and it’s just a treat to watch such a high level of performance coming from a woman who has more than six decades of experience onstage. She holds the distinction of the longest Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival performing career on record, and made her Pillow debut with Lester Horton Dance Theatre in 1953. Just out of this world.
He photographs dancers in the studio and in performance, for promotional materials, portraits and press, and he often collaborates with his wife, Nel Shelby, and her Manhattan-based dance film and video editing company Nel Shelby Productions (nelshelby.com). Together, they have documented dance at performances from New York City to Vail International Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan Photography also covers the finest wedding venues in the Metropolitan and Tri-State areas, in Massachusetts and the Berkshires, and frequently travels to destination weddings.
His photographs appear in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Knot, Destination I Do, Photo District News, Boston Globe, Financial Times, Dance Magazine, and Munaluchi Bridal, among other esteemed publications and popular dance and wedding blogs. One of his images of Bruce Springsteen was added to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and his dance photography has been exhibited at The National Museum of Dance and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.
His Natural Light Studio (http://www.christopherduggan.com/portfolio/natural-light-studio-jacobs-pillow-photography/) at Jacob’s Pillow is his most ambitious photography project to date – check out his blog to see more portraits of dance artists in his pop-up photo studio on the Pillow grounds.