02/27/15 – boston ballet: freedom/rebirth/love


rie ichikawa and kathleen breen combes in "bella figura"

It’s been months now since I photographed Boston Ballet’s dress rehearsal of Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura. The photographs (along with several essays written by the dancers) are the cover story and feature in the fifth issue of VISION magazine. The images I took of this piece have been well processed in my head. With the passing time and many changes in my life, I now see the images for what they are; full of the feeling I had during the moments I shot the closeups of Rie and Kathleen during the ballet.

rie ichikawa and kathleen breen combes in jiri kylian's "bella figura"

Before I began this essay, I had planned to compare my Bella Figura photographs to Degas’ paintings of dancers. But they are not like that. My photographs are more similar to Degas’ sculptures of bathers. His paintings and sculptures of dancers are too formal in comparison to my work. As I sit in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and write these words, I realize the emotion of my Bella Figura photographs in some way more match the museum’s Rodin sculptures, especially those originally created for The Gates of Hell. Rodin’s sculptures appear to be a negative, three-dimensional version of my photographs.

I’ve looked at the Degas sculptures many times before. I wonder if they seem less lifelike now because there never was any emotion to be found in the first place? Possibly it is something in me that has changed? Degas has been one of my great inspirations. Did I previously avert my eyes from the reality of his work?

rodin's "the muse" and rodin's "eve"

I still love the sculptures of Degas’ bathers. There is a sense of freedom in their forms. While the dancer sculptures appear as stiff, impressionistic anatomical models, illustrating the different positions, the bather sculptures are full of life, passionate and free in their poses. I wonder if Degas was aware of this? I wonder if Rodin’s sculpture influenced the work of Degas. Both men lived long lives at the exact same time, dying in 1917 within two months of each other.

rie ichikawa and kathleen breen combles

One reason I have always preferred to photograph ballet from backstage is because at that angle, I can take the formality out of the choreography. My favorite Degas paintings are from that vantage point. Shooting the dancers physically close to my camera, into the stage lights; what to the seated audience looks like “a show,” from my viewpoint in fact becomes reality. Bella Figura, as a modern ballet, has no such formality. It is all about the passion.

degas' bather (left) and rodin's bather (right)

I’ve never compared Degas and Rodin before. A distance of less than thirty yards separate their sculptures at the museum. As I walk back and forth comparing the work of the two artists, Degas’ dancers, and to some extent the bathers, appear encased, trapped in their bronze exterior. Rodin’s subjects seem to be breaking through their shells, be it with strength, misery, or passion. They want to be free.

rie ichikawa and kathleen breen combes

This is what I saw in Rie’s and Kathleen’s performance. Two dancers, breaking out of their shells with strength and passion. They reached out to each other with love and wonder. I’ve photographed over a thousand rehearsals and performances and don’t think I have ever seen anything like it. I thank you both for allowing me to share your experience.

rie ichikawa and kathleen breen combes on the cover of VISION magazine #5


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