Images of Remembered Passion
You know how it is when a passing comment by a friend triggers a thought that leads to another thought that culminates in a long forgotten memory? I had that happen to me the other day. It started with mention of an auction house here in Asheville, NC, which inspired thoughts about things of great beauty, which was enhanced by an image posted on Facebook of NYC Ballet’s Vienna Waltzes, which led me to think of Max Waldman, whose incredible dance photography had been such an inspiration to me decades ago.
For a while, in the 1970’s and 80’s, I wrote freelance on dance for a few South Florida publications. I also developed a passion for dance photography. I was already an ardent admirer of Martha Swope’s rehearsal and stage photos when I was introduced to Max Waldman’s art. I was blown away. Taken with black and white film in a very small studio, the photos were impossibly alive, giving the illusion of capturing the finest moment in the midst of movement that seemed to span a vast amount of time and space, or the most intimate expression coaxed from the depth of a soul. And all the photos utilized a grainy texture with accentuated light and shadow, which ironically enhanced their elegance. It made one feel as if she were being allowed a gossamer glimpse into the etheric and often private world behind the veil.
As I graced my walls with Waldman prints, I felt the desire to try my own hand at photographing dancers. I had no illusions of grandeur, but I often liked, if at all possible, to experience first hand those art forms I most enjoyed. I craved a larger understanding of and appreciation for what might be involved. I was already taking both studio and performance photos of a pre-professional company of exceptionally gifted young dancers whose artistic directors were close friends of mine. But I had hoped for an opportunity to shoot—informally and just for my own practice—a professional company.
One day, in the early ’80’s, the goddess smiled, and with the help of my editor at the Fort Lauderdale News, I got permission to photograph closed rehearsals of American Ballet Theatre during their Miami season—both Raymonda Variations, and ABT’s premier of Grand Pas Romantique, Fernando Bujones’s first choreographic attempt.
Terry Orr, Fernando Bujones, Marianna Tcherkassky rehearsal Grand Pas Romantique
Marianna Tcherkassky and Danilo Radojevic rehearsal Grand Pas Romantique
I entered the then Miami Beach Theater of the Performing Arts, showed my pass, and proceeded to the auditorium. I set up my tripod in the aisle to the right of center stage, at about the tenth row, and attached my camera and lens. I had to stay close, since my equipment was limited to what I could afford, which meant limited long range lens capacity. The rehearsal for Raymonda was already in progress, Mikhail Baryshnikov, artistic director at the time, and two other assistants viewing the dancers from chairs at the front of the stage. The conditions were less than perfect. The rehearsal was more of a run through and final tweaking than an all out performance, and was done with minimal stage lighting, which made my photos come out pretty bad.
Grand Pas Romantique was choreographed for Marianna Tcherkassky (who Bujones adored) and Danilo Redojevic in the lead roles. It was scheduled for a full dress rehearsal. As the dancers took their places, I noticed that Mikhail Baryshnikov had stayed and taken a seat at the opposite end of the row where I was set up. Without saying anything to Bujones, Misha sat down to watch. It was no secret that they had had a long time friction between them.
The music by Adolphe Adam (from the ballet Le Diable a Quatre) began, but was soon stopped. The auditorium was unusually cold that day, and the dancers were apparently feeling it. They slipped into protective warmers—deep gold tutus now marred by bulgy pink leg warmers from mid-thigh to ankle; regal white tights covered with black warmers, the waist rolled over and bunched up below the navel. Afterwards, they began again. At the end of the first movement, Fernando Bujones trotted down the aisle, his red robe falling open, and rushed on stage to give direction to Marianna.
Soon after, the rehearsal continued through. I was not impressed with Grand Pas Romantique. Luckily, I was not there to review it. And being totally unfamiliar with the choreography made it difficult to know when the best shots would be coming up, which left my photos with much to be desired.
Gelsey Kirkland and Ivan Nagy in Romeo and Juliet
Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov studio rehearsal
Although this photographic venture presented many frustrations, it was still an exceptional experience, and one that gave me an even deeper appreciation for a thing of great beauty—the technical genius and grand artistry of Max Waldman.
Tonight I pull my musty copy of Waldman On Dance from the shelf, flip through its thirty-six year old well-fingered pages. I re-read the beautiful introduction written by Clive Barnes, beloved dance critic for The New York Times: The pictures that follow need no words, They are a constant evocation of the harmonic elements of dance, and a constant reminder of what dance is all about—the fleeting images of remembered passion.