Dance photography offers a different lens through which to look at movement. By capturing single moments of a dance and freezing them in time, it acts as a magnifying glass, calling attention to details that can get lost in the unfolding of live performance –such as the specific physicality of a dancer, the elaborate composition of a short section or the mood of a piece.
Dance and photography both evolve within a visual frame: the square or rectangular format for the photograph echoes the frame of the black box theater or proscenium stage –although that frame becomes more elusive in non traditional performance spaces. Dance’s ephemerality also recalls what photographer Ansel Adams said about photography: It “can only represent the present. Once photographed, the subject becomes part of the past.”
Featuring a series of photographs taken by dance photographer Andrew Weeks over the past year, the current exhibition installed in the ODC Theater lobby gallery reminds us of the similarities and conversation between the two art forms.
Weeks started photographing dancers shortly after meeting his wife, then a ballet student, in Chicago. When she landed a position with the Oakland Ballet, Weeks followed her to California, where he started taking photographs of her dancing, as well as her colleagues and the companies they danced for. “I really fell in love with [dance photography.] The two arts, dance and photography, are a perfect match and together can produce some beautiful still imagery. Getting to photograph dance is [to me] what a candy store is to a 7 year old kid,” Weeks mentioned in an interview over the phone.
For the past two years, Weeks has been working at ODC and taking photographs in the studio, on stage and backstage. Being at ODC on a regular basis over a significant period of time –as opposed to coming in occasionally for a performance – has allowed Weeks to familiarize himself with ODC’s community and values: “ODC is an amazing place. You walk in and you cannot help but get the sense of community – so many friendly smiles and ‘hellos,’ so many friendships and bonding to witness, it makes me smile every time I walk in.”
It has also allowed him to get to know the Company dancers and the choreographers’ work: “As far as shooting the Company, the most enjoyable part about it for me as a photographer is letting my camera’s relationship with the dancers and choreographers grow as I have become more familiar with their work. Timing and anticipation are such an important part of dance photography, the more familiar you are with the dancers’ and choreographers’ movements, the easier it is to catch the right moment.”
Rather than coming into the studio with an agenda, Weeks shared that he’d rather “capture real moments with whatever [he] photographs -where the subjects are in their world, [while] doing their thing, not aware the photograph is being taken. I want my photography footprint when shooting to be very small. If I could be a fly on the wall I would!”
Given the copious amount of photographs that Weeks has taken these past 2 years, selecting the 10 works that are displayed in the exhibition was a challenging task. Comprised of soloists or duets in relatively sparse settings, the selection reflects Week’s attention to form, details and emotions, but are also an indication of how he watches dance: “My favorite part of watching a performance is when I get zeroed in on a dancer or a section of a piece of choreography. It is when I forget the outside world and live in the dancers’ movement or a piece’s moment that I love the most. To me, these photographs seem to speak to that.”