In The Art of Movement: NYC Dance Project, stars from the world of dance are captured in evocative poses that sometimes suggest weightlessness or even flight. Published this month by Black Dog & Leventhal, the book, by photographers and dance enthusiasts Ken Browar and Deborah Ory, reduces dance to its essential visual elements—bodies in flowing or minimal costumes lit by soft, directional light against a plain backdrop. The rest depends on the dancers’ ability to transform movement into emotion, and Browar and Ory’s ability to distill what they emote by recording the subtle ways their subjects use their bodies. As Ory writes in the book, dance is “a language that is spoken through movement,” which can be articulated by “simple moments such as the breath the dancer takes preparing to do a movement or it could happen in the freedom one experiences in a beautiful jump.”
The book grew out a project inspired by the couple’s daughter, an aspiring dancer who wanted photos of the dancers she admired for her bedroom wall. When Browar and Ory couldn’t find good examples, the couple approached Daniil Simkin, principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, who became their first subject. The project grew to include photographs and interviews with more than 70 dancers, from companies including New York City Ballet, the Martha Graham Dance Company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Royal Danish Ballet, Boston Ballet, the Royal Ballet, The Bolshoi Ballet and others.
Shot with a Hasselblad mostly in the Greenpoint, Brooklyn factory space where the couple live and work, the images exude a sense of relaxed concentration that Ory attributes to working there. “Having the dancers come into our home creates a different environment for our shoots. During the photo sessions, our cats walk across the set and nap in the tutus. My daughters arrive home from school and chat with the dancers. It becomes a very warm and friendly place and completely differs from shooting in a rented studio or on location,” she writes. The atmosphere “keeps the emphasis on the dancer, the movement, the lighting, composition, and emotion of the image.” As dance critic Gia Kourlas writes in the book’s introduction, the dancers were able to examine their movements on a monitor as they worked, and “scrutinize their line before getting back into the shot, knowing that they are in safe hands.”
In their precise recordings, Browar and Ory freeze what is usually an ephemeral art form, allowing for a closer examination. As Simkin notes in the book, “Dance is, of course, comprised of many fleeting moments, but photography can address the evanescence of dance and preserve those moments that would otherwise be just a memory.”