Dance: A Light In The Darkness  Amy O'Malley

A look at the movement of dance captured by the art of black and white photography.  By stripping away color, the photographers of this collection are able to concentrate on lighting effects such as chiaroscuro to create a high contrast.  Though the works are presented on a two-dimensional plane, this high contrast allows the viewer to understand the movement of the dance, and recreate the feeling emoted by the dancers.  A moment captured in time, the photographers are able to draw the viewer into the heart of the dance.  So take a leap, and find the light in the darkness.

This photograph shows six dancers in a crouched pose with their arms spread in a scene from the ballet Revelations. In this scene, the use of chiaroscuro draws the eyes immediately to the shape and lines of the arms of the dancers. The shape is strong and the outstretched arms are taught with power. However, there is a grace as the image is reminiscent of a bird in flight. By capturing a moment where the dancers are crouched and facing down, the photographer is able to show that moment of discovery. It’s as if these dancers are about to reveal themselves. The beauty of this moment is in the anticipation before the revelation of the next move.
Rudolf Nureyev is featured in this photograph in a simple costume of light pants. In this picture, the dancer fills the frame. His hands and feet nearly touch the frame of the photo. Though the top of the background is black, it slowly fades to a lighter color at the bottom. The lighting comes from the right of the photograph and highlights the dancer’s face while his dark hair becomes part of the background. The light shows the strong lines the dancer makes with his body. It also shows the contraction of the back by shadowing the muscles and ribs. The wave like line of the arms contrasts with the powerful angles of the legs. The movement is free to have grace because of the strength and power of the dancer as shown by light and line.
This photo shows five dancers. One is positioned on the left side of the photo in a static pose with his arms spread. The other four dancers are shown leaping in the air. The chiaroscuro in this picture puts the emphasis on the hands and faces of all the dancers, and on the legs of the dancers in mid leap. The lighting highlights the strong lines and stance of the dancer on the left, though one foot is lifted in the air, she appears grounded and set. Her arms are spread as if telling the others to stop. However, the lighting on the other dancers, not only captures their exposed faces, arms and legs, but also shows the airy movement of their costumes. They are still powerful, but in contrast to the grounded and static movement of the one, they are captured as graceful and strong in mid-flight. The juxtaposition of the dancers versus the one gives the picture an air of defiance.
This piece shows a single dancer in a white dress with a wide stance looking upward. In this photograph, the contrast makes the costume the main focus of this piece. However, as the eye moves through the photo, it is drawn to the taught muscles of the neck and then to the power of the open palms. The stance is wide and in this picture and the viewer is able to see the shadow of the dancer, this repetition shows the importance of the stance. However, the open stance is just the base that shifts the eye upward much like the actual dancer is doing. The importance of the gesture here is in the empowering movement of looking to the heavens and as the spreading hands suggest, opening one’s eyes to the freedom of possibilities.
This photograph features a dancer from Alvin Ailey in mid kick. A rarity in the pictures featured in this collection is how well the viewer can see the stage. Though the stage is lit very well, there is still a heavy contrast on the dancer. The lighting hits her full in the open chest, on the right arm, the left side of her face, and on the top of her left arm and left leg. Everywhere there is light, the lines are drawing the attention of the viewer upward. The face is elevated, as are the arms and left leg. As the eye moves from the open palm of the right arm through the left leg, it does so in a gentle sweep much like the one suggested in the movement. There is an openness in this picture and a feeling of lightness.
The dancer shown in this photo is in a strange position. The lighting and composition of this picture focus on the unusual position of the dancer. The lines of his outstretched arms, and up lifted face are highlighted, as are the feet. The lighting also emphasizes the the contraction of the chest showing not only the muscles, but the ribs making him appear almost emaciated. His legs nearly disappear with the exception of the crossed and bent knee and the feet which are pointed in two different directions. The circle lights on the right draw the viewer directly to the top of the man’s left arm. This gives importance to the odd pose. As the viewer moves through the photograph there is a sense of uncomfortableness as suggested by the pose, and a sense of longing as suggested by the lines of the arms and the tilt of the head.
This black and white photograph shows an Alvin Ailey dancer filling the entire frame in mid leap. In this piece the lighting of the dancer is enhanced by the framing and composition of the photograph. The photographer has chosen to crop the picture so that the dancer fills the frame. The dancer’s right and left hand, right knee, and left foot nearly touch the edge of the photo. The main focus of the light is on the dancer’s right leg. However, the position of the leg, the costume on the man’s chest, and the lighting on his left arm lead the viewer to the man’s face, and then back out to the extremities. Though the photographer has chosen to present the man tightly bound in the frame, the motion itself seems to project beyond.
Martha Graham is the subject of this photograph. This photo has a high contrast between the background and the upper body of the dancer. Her shirt is white and her face and arms are evenly lit. Though her feet are also lit, they, along with her legs are out of focus. So, the focus is on her upper torso, arms and face. The intensity of the lines of the arms and the expression on her face shows the power of the leap. It also shows the freedom of that movement.
The photo of dancer in a white dress shows the dancer and costume moving as a unit. As in the previous photograph, it’s a combination of high contrast and out-of-focus portions that tell the story of movement. The dress stands out against the black background and the darkness of the dancer’s skin. The sharp angles of her arms also contrast with the fluidity of the dress. The graceful and sweeping arcs of the dress mirror the power within the stance of the dancer. She is pushing forward and the dress frames her and carriers her movement outward.
In this photograph, the subject is a dancer supported upside down and seemingly floating in the air. This photographer uses chiaroscuro to hide the movement behind this dancer. The light is entirely showcasing the dancer in a static upside-down pose. The pose reflects an image of the crucifixion. She is completely at the will of the dancer or dancers supporting her. However, the viewer is left in doubt as to how many people are holding her aloft and how. This choice allows the viewer to experience the vulnerability of relinquishment.
Credits: All media
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