L.Sterling, Minnesota Youth Ballet Academy

L.Sterling, Minnesota Youth Ballet Academy

In early June, I had an opportunity to photograph a live performance by Minnesota Youth Ballet Academy. This a dance school here in Rochester; Ellen Huston serves as executive director.

I have not attended their other performances, but this one was held in the Rochester Community and Technical College’s Hill Theatre where I’ve attended several plays and other live events. As with other dance school events, the dancers represented a wide range of ages and abilities. I was amazed, though, by the pace and the production values. In particular, the lighting – something that draws my attention as a photographer – was very cool. Between gels and this wonderful side lighting, it made for a visually striking show.

There are venues in town where the lighting capability is just less than ideal. That is, there are stage lights, and I suppose the performance group can adjust and gel the lights, but their placement is not great. Performers on stage should not have their eyes in shadow – well, unless that’s desired for a scene – like the villain.

Using the RCTC stage worked well. The side lights produced some terrific rim lighting as you can see in the photo above. I had to catch the moment, but the lighting helped me make a good photo.

L.Sterling, Minnesota Youth Ballet Academy

L.Sterling, Minnesota Youth Ballet Academy

Since I was shooting during an actual performance and not a rehearsal, I basically planted myself in front of stage-left where I remained. I moved around a bit, but only in the same general area. I had the camera on its silent shutter mode which isn’t really silent but pretty quiet. This limits the frames-per-second, but I wanted to avoid drawing too much attention away from the wonderful dancers.

In many ways, this was similar to shooting a live play, and I started with the same settings. I used a longer lens for most of the shoot allowing me to move in tighter. Especially with some of the younger dancers, there were lovely expressions of joy to be on stage doing something truly fun. Sort of a look of innocence and wonderment of youth. Being in close to catch a few of those expressions was great.

Some of the dances had portions in very low light. I could probably have raised the ISO even more for those. In a theatre performance, there is movement to cope with requiring a decent shutter speed. But in dance, it’s nearly all movement, some of it very fast. It’s almost like shooting sports – and dancers are truly athletes. This is challenging to capture when combined with stage lighting. When you hit it right, though, it’s magic. I’ve often said I need to learn more about posing from choreographers. It’s what they do – creating a pleasing, captivating visual arrangement with human bodies.

Dancers themselves make ideal photographic subjects. When I’ve shot dancers in studio, I know that if I can visualize it, they can likely produce it. When I’m shooting them, I feel it’s my duty to bring drama to the shot. Make a photograph that tells a story just as a dance would. A still photo is an entirely different medium. The movement – the very essence of dance – is easily lost. If I can keep some of that, a visual hint of the movement (I don’t mean motion blur here), then I feel successful.

Now, if anyone knows someone who knows someone who could get me onto the set of So You Think You Can Dance – with my camera, of course – let me know! Okay?