While photographing a dress rehearsal of RIOULT Dance last week, I had to stand on a chair in the middle of the theater’s aisle to get the angle I wanted on the dancers. I had to be in the way of everyone but Pascal and Penelope said it would okay. So there I was, standing over the empty theater, joined only by Pascal (Rioult), Joyce Herring, Penelope Gonzalez, the lighting guy and the live musicians. Oh yeah. That’s another reason I had to stand on a chair. There was no orchestra pit and the musicians rose above the edge of the stage, blocking my view of the dancers. It’s never easy!
So here I am, one foot on the chair and the other balancing on the armrest of one of the aisle seats. It took me back to my shoot of Twyla Tharp’s The Catherine Wheel over 30 years ago, standing on the armrests of a seat in the middle of the Winter Garden Theatre. I remembered how good that felt. I was so new to dance then. Everything felt fresh. Now, in this small theater at the Manhattan School of Music I still felt that same joy I had decades ago.
When I’m the only photographer in the theater I feel alone. Everyone else is working on the production and has little time for me. Some of the dancers stop by and say hello but then they’re back to concentrating on the dances to follow. I love it like this! It’s almost like I’m invisible. While standing on my chair in the middle of the theater it felt this way. I felt good. I rocked back and forth waiting for the production to begin. I live for these moments.
During a break in the dress rehearsal I overheard there would be a lighting tech the following afternoon. I was already getting great pictures but I’m still learning Pascal’s dances and today it’s a fight to shoot over the musicians… standing on a chair! I wanted to buy the new Canon 7D Mark II camera and shooting the next day’s rehearsal was going to be my excuse. With the new 7D and my longest zoom lens I could shoot, hopefully, from the back of the theatre. The back rows were at a perfect level to capture the dancers and rise above the musicians.
In the morning I ran out to B&H, my favorite camera store, bought the 7D Mark II, hopped back on the subway and raced uptown to shoot the tech. Fortunately, the subway gods were looking out for me and I arrived early enough to rip the camera out of the box and set some of the basic camera and focus settings.
With this new camera and lens I could shoot from the back of the theater and still focus close in on the dancers if I chose to do so. Those of you who have seen my dance photography know I love to shoot close in to the dancers’ faces, capturing their intense emotion and energy while they perform. Pascal Rioult’s dancers are an incredible group. Whether it be during a studio or dress rehearsal, they always give 100%. It’s one of the reasons I decided to work with the company. Shooting the same pieces two days in a row would give me a chance to better understand and capture the best possible images.
My camera smelled like a new car. I pulled it to my face, watching the dancers through the long lens. I didn’t have the same fresh feeling as the day before. New camera. New opportunities. I planned to shoot the dancers flying across the stage close up. It’s crazy. I needed to concentrate. The decades of experience and millions of photographs taken over the years controlled my focus. I felt good!