For almost a year now, I have had the great honor to be associated with the Loudoun Ballet Company (LBC). No, I don't dance and never really could. But I have always liked the thought of being able to dance, and I've certainly always enjoyed watching dancing excellence.
In December of 2015 I saw a sign advertising LBC's annual production of "the Nutcracker," and on a whim I sent an email to the Company asking them if I could photograph their rehearsals just for the experience. Through a very fortunate chain of friendships my request was granted, and it has led to great opportunity and pure enjoyment. After "the Nutcracker" I photographed "the Sleeping Beauty" in the spring and "Dracula" just last week.
To be honest, I don't know the stories very well. To be really honest, at first I didn't realize that no one speaks during ballet performances. I don't mean the people in the audience, I mean the dancers! I thought that ballet was more like a broadway musical with a little less dialogue and a lot more dancing.
At that first rehearsal I could barely keep up. I found that photographing ballet is not unlike photographing sports: you have to understand what's happening in order to predict where the best shots might be. Without hearing the dancers speak--which would be a good indicator of what's going on--I have learned to hear what's going to happen via the soundtrack. The pace, tone, and volume of the music actually gives me hints as to where to point my camera and what to expect. That may seem obvious to most, but it was news to me at first.
From a technical perspective, it's far from easy to create great ballet images. Stage lighting in high school auditoriums is not always bright and, then again, it's sometimes too bright. And some dramatic scenes are very dark on purpose. I am humbled by photographers who learned how to do this without the incredible capability of today's digital cameras which can shoot in low light at high speed. I'm still not great at capturing the leaps and positions, but I'm getting closer.
LBC is led by their wonderful artistic director, Maureen Miller. Her dedication to the ballet shows through the beautifully poised dancers who grace the stage. She demands and inspires discipline in the teenagers who must audition for membership and then train virtually year round for the chance to perform for a brief period a few times per year. Their commitment to the craft is absolutely impressive--and that's one of the things that I find the most compelling. These young people are simply amazing.
I don't yet know the difference between an arabesque and a pirouette, but I'm learning and enjoying every minute of the process.