As I have said in earlier blog posts... I was a Contributing Editor for American Way, the in flight magazine for American Airlines and it was a wonderful gig! The magazine needed content and I could do pretty much whatever I wanted, as long as it related to an American Airline destination. Having been a dancer growing up (went to Jeoffrey Ballet as a scholarship student right after high school) it occurred to me that an interesting story might be one that focused on dance.
Mulled over the idea for a week or so and decided that I would create a portrait series documenting elite dancers of various disciplines. The place to do this was (of course) the home of the greatest dancers in the world...New York City. To find someone that might help me locate my subjects I contacted Dance Magazine and through them, was put in touch with Deirdre Towers. Deirdre wrote for the magazine and was super connected to the New York Dance scene. I described the concept to her and without a moments hesitation she dove in with both feet....rounding up an amazingly diverse group of dancers AND writing the copy for the article.
On the cover of the magazine (dated January 1988) was 68 year old "hoofer" Chuck Green. Chuck was one of the legendary tap dancers of his era and as you can see, had not lost any of his mojo with age. I knew after photographing him that I was in for a really fun ride!
Much of my work in the period was created on painted backgrounds and my artist of choice was Kip Lott. He had just created the drop you see throughout this series and it had a kind of wild quality that I thought might relate to the dancers. I showed up in New York in November of 1987 with the background, my camera and my lighting equipment. Rented a modest studio downtown and dove into the project.
The article opened with a dramatic portrait of Butoh dancer Maureen Fleming. Butoh practitioners traditionally paint their bodies white and perform naked (loincloth only). Knowing that the magazine was a bit conservative, I had her wear a bando top for some of the photos just to be safe (and that image, not this one ran in the magazine). The actual color of the blowing fabric was orange (I made it look white by using an orange filter). Through lighting and the use of a focused fan during her performance , Maureen actually looked as if she were on fire. It was haunting and made me wonder if it had been created as a response to the horrors of Hiroshima.
The photo above is of dancer/choreographer Elisa Monte and her husband David Brown performing "Treading". Before starting her own company, Elisa was a principal dancer with Martha Graham, Lar Lubovitch and Pilobolus. Her company, Elisa Monte Dance is still active today.
No series on dance in New York would be complete without a nod to the great American Ballet Theater. ABT dancers Bonnie Moore and Craig Wright posed for me in their "Puss 'n Boots" costumes from Sir Kenneth MacMillan's ballet Sleeping Beauty. The company was under the artistic direction of Mikhail Baryshnikov at the time.
My very first introduction to dance came at the tender age of six when my mother took me to see the great flamenco artist Jose' Greco. The passion and bravado of his performance blew my young mind and I told her afterwards that I wanted to dance like that one day. She enrolled me into a dance program and my own passion for dance blossomed. Because of this introduction, I asked Dierdre to try to find a contemporary flamenco artist. The man she came up with was the great Manolo Rivera, a virtuoso performer/choreographer that worked with various Spanish dance companies through out the world as well as the New York City Opera.
Because most of my dance experience had been that of a student, I also wanted to represent this category in the series. Pictured above are New York City Ballet students Kristen Copenhaver (bottom), Blanche Hampton and John Selya. At the time, they were under the tutelage of director Peter Martins. Googled their names and could see that John went on to dance with American Ballet Theater and Twyla Tharp.
Growing up, I'd LOVED the movie Caberet with Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, so I asked Dierdre to see about procuring dancers from the Broadway show which was running at the time. Noreen Evans and Mary Rotella were Kit Kat girls from the play and really cracked me up. They were both gum chewing Broadway gypsy's from the Bronx with accents to match. We did a number of great shots. This one did not end up in the article but remains my favorite from the session.