Photographers' Blog

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.

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

The next day, I arrived at the venue and was waiting for the media relations representative to bring me in. As I was waiting, a man came up to me and started asking me which brands of camera he should buy and what lenses were good for dance. We started to chat and I asked him what part he played in Swan Lake. “The prince!” He replied, beaming with pride. I was taken aback as I did not expect to be chilling out with one of the stars of Swan Lake backstage (and he did really look like one of the lighting guys in the crew). I thought to myself “aren’t these dancers supposed to be super intense?” But there we were, chatting and joking around just before his rehearsal performance.

I was pleasantly surprised and happy that despite being masters of their craft, they are just everyday people too. I say this because I think that for someone to spend all his life making that incredible amount of self-sacrifice for the art form, it has to make them pretty intense. This experience certainly changed my perspective.

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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