Photographers' Blog

Rio’s ballerinas

By Pilar Olivares

When I first reached Ballet Santa Teresa’s school for underprivileged girls and met the students, I didn’t take a single picture. I didn’t dare to. The girls, who are almost all from families living in some form of social risk, approached as if confronting me, dancing and yelling.

For a while I felt like an intruder. They were wearing jeans instead of ballet dresses, and were listening to Rio’s famous funk carioca music. At my home in a mountainous neighborhood of Rio, I hear funk floating towards us from the surrounding shantytowns known the world over as favelas.

So these girls, completely fascinated by this music that I find irritating, shut off their music players as soon as Vania arrived. Vania, a former professional ballerina and now director of the school, doesn’t like funk either, and doesn’t like them to listen to it. The girls, who can be as rude as they are angelic, hurriedly dressed and suddenly became purely feminine as they put on their makeup for an important rehearsal. Several of them didn’t know how to use makeup, so Vania came over to help.

I was impressed by the mixture of races and colors among the girls, each of them beautiful and brave.

I had just moved to Rio and my most frequent question is how the people get used to living with the violence. Most of the girls at the Santa Teresa Ballet are victims or witnesses of domestic violence, and some of them are already mothers themselves.

Therapy ballet

By Jim Young

I found out about the program, “Ballet Class for Kids with Movement Disabilities”, while flipping through a brochure as I waited for my daughter at her ballet class.

I contacted the instructor Dr. Citlali Lopez-Ortiz, who has a Ph.D in Kinesiology and a Masters in Dance, to see if I could photograph the weekly class. A week later she said the parents and instructors agreed and I could join them on Sunday.

I met eight-year-old Samara Almanza, who was dressed perfectly in all pink; tutu, tights, ballet shoes and all.

Blind swans

By Nacho Doce

The sensations of those who can’t see or hear you.

When I learned of the dance school I knew it was for the visually deficient. But when I arrived I found myself with many who also couldn’t hear or speak.

It was one of the most difficult assignments I’ve ever had. I had to learn quickly the steps of their rehearsals so as not to get in the way of their dancing. They surprised me with steps and jumps in which I feared tripping and injuring them. One of the instructors was also nervous with my position, and although I soon understood their movements I knew they could change at any time. That could have been tragic for them.

What most impressed me was seeing how a deaf-mute dancer helped a blind one, and vice versa. They helped each other by holding hands to learn classic ballet together, with extraordinary simplicity and beauty. Simplicity describes the way they behaved together, and their young age made an even deeper impact on me.

A day out with a swan

After watching Natalie Portman’s Oscar winning performance in Black Swan which she portrays a perfectionist ballerina who ultimately breaks down, I was intrigued by the life of ballet dancers. They endure hours of toe curling training just to perfect their art.

A dancer from the State Ballet of Georgia warms up before a dress rehearsal for Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial in Taipei March 2, 2011.  REUTERS/Nicky Loh

My chance to meet real life professional ballerinas came when performers from the State Ballet of Georgia performed Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial in Taipei. I was granted behind the scenes access to the famed ballet piece which was also the core theme of the movie. I felt like my sense of curiosity for ballet would be duly curbed.

I was excited the night before and did all the research I could on Swan Lake so as not to sound like a fool when talking to any of the dancers.

The next Black Swans

After almost every assignment I come back home grateful for the peak into the world I was offered or the people I met. This last week was no exception as I covered the 39th Prix de Lausanne, an international dance competition for young dancers.

Ballet dancer Komine Saya from Japan performs her classical variation during the Prix de Lausanne semi-final competition in Lausanne February 5, 2011.   REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud
(click on the image above to view a multimedia presentation)

Some 75 candidates aged between 15 to 18 from 19 countries competed at the Palais de Beaulieu Theatre in Lausanne, Switzerland. The young dancers that made their way to the finals were either awarded with a scholarship granting free access to the finest dance schools or with an apprenticeship allowing them to be accepted without an audition to the most renowned ballet companies. In addition to the final and semi-final on the two last days of the event, the first four days were dedicated to training classes and rehearsals of the competition variations. The competitors were judged as they performed their classical and contemporary variation in front of the public during the finals but the jury also evaluated the candidates for their performance in the ballet and contemporary classes.

Ballet dancers perform during a contemporary class at the Prix de Lausanne in Lausanne February 1, 2011.   REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

I photographed two days of the preparation and the semi-finals, following the dancers through the different aspects of the competition leading up to the final. This included early morning warm-ups in the studios, individual coaching sessions on stage, backstage preparation and the semi-final leading to the selection of the 20 finalists. More photo opportunities than any photographer could hope for! These dancers devote their life to their passion, spending three days witnessing their rigorous training and the realization of their dream as they performed in front of the public was, once again, one of these assignments I come back home grateful for.

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