There they are, the dancers, so fine and gracious, with make-up and dressed in elf clothing and troll fur, beetle wings and rococo wigs. It’s an enchanting sight. I carefully take the camera from my bag. I do not dare to press too hard on the release button or stand too close. I feel like a stranger here, trying to settle in.
I am given permission to photograph from the auditorium, from behind the scenes and from the rigging loft, where the light technicians work. Looking through my viewfinder, I constantly discover new expressions in the movements, captivating me.
Taken from the artbook: Ballettens Indre Rum – The Essence of Ballet by Ingrid Bugge (Translation: Heidi Rolmar 2014)
These are the thoughts and perspective of Danish photographer Ingrid Bugge, whose recently published book, The Essence of Ballet, might be called a dance photography book, or an art book, or a ballet-lover’s book. But it’s more: an unprecedented, interactive foray into the world of ballet, via Apple’s iBook version. It all started a few years back, when Bugge was invited to photograph the Royal Danish Ballet in action, both onstage and behind the scenes, for a year and a half. She amassed an enormous amount of photographs, but it was only then, at the end of that time, that the true project took seed. “The pictures are beautiful,” she shares in The Essence of Ballet, “but in themselves, they cannot convey the drama, beauty and adventure that danced through me while I was there. And so I begin my work. From each photo, I choose elements that speak to my passion and fascination. Then, I put them together in a way that can express my experience of what I had felt unfold on stage.”
The photographs are simply delicious. Memorable. They are the product of a photographer whose goal was not just to provide journalistic true-to-life photos, but to capture a story through every photo presented. Even more: coaxing out the story behind the story.
It was observing work of the Old Masters, including Rembrandt and Da Vinci, their use of light and drama, background detail, that inspired Bugge to explore further those stories lurking in the periphery, ones that support the main subject of the foreground, much as the corps de ballet supports the pas de deux couple performing center stage. Through digital imagery, Bugge can take one compelling subject and superimpose images shot from the same scene, but from a different perspective. And the end result, a digital collage of sorts, has a fascinating enhanced quality. This is particularly effective in the interactive iBook version, where the choice of how much background story to reveal is the reader’s.
Another example of the photography’s uniqueness can be found in Bugge’s interpretation of John Neumeier’s “Lady of the Camellias.” Marguerite, the lead female, is a famous courtesan who is dying of tuberculosis. In the bedroom pas de deux scene, dancing with the besotted Armand, her movements are at once fierce, ecstatic, sweetly doomed. Bugge’s photography captures her holding her arms out, gaze skyward, expression blissed. Superimposed into this image are panels of her diaphanous skirt that surrounding her, frame her face, indeed, her whole spirit. The gorgeous end-result is the front cover of her book (and at the top of this article.)
Here’s another photo rich with nuance and invisible story that incorporates not just the dancer, the choreographer’s intention, but the artistry and intention of Bugge’s photography.
The project, Bugge has explained, originated from her desire to draw closer to the world of ballet, become a part of it. A non-dancer, she wanted to learn all about it, find ways in which she could contribute with her interpretation. I love her description of this all, because as a dance blogger, that is what I do, as well. And how cool, to have all of this extend on, like waves rippling outward. At the core, there are the dancers, the choreography. Here, there’s the photographer, who is also acts as interpretative artist. And then here we are, the writers, looking at the dancers, at Bugge’s work, absorbing the art of both and offering our own interpretation. To you, dear reader. Whether you’re a ballet person or not, I hope you’re able to appreciate all this as well, enjoy ballet from a different angle, ponder the beauty of the art, all through these layers. Pretty nifty, the whole process of it all.
Here’s a Vimeo description of Bugge’s project, a fascinating and artful documentary well worth watching. https://vimeo.com/90956066 So worthy, in fact, that I’ll embed it here. Give it a look.
Here’s a link, as well, to the iBook: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-essence-of-ballet/id863229052?ls=1&mt=11
Give her website a peek to learn more about The Essence of Ballet, her current exhibitions, as well as more delicious photography HERE.
And what the heck, one more link, if you’re thinking of purchasing the hard copy. This Vimeo allows you to see the actual book, page by page. https://vimeo.com/92737020