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Images that are moving, on the move

June 29, 2008|Lynne Heffley | Times Staff Writer

"There IS a kind of element of the hunt," says Nancy Ellison about stalking the elusive moves of a certain exotic species -- ballet dancers -- with her camera.

The veteran dance photographer strives to capture in still images what Somerset Maugham described as "the fugitive beauty of a dancer's gesture," a quote Ellison includes in her new book, "In Classic Style: The Splendor of American Ballet Theatre" (Rizzoli).

The oversize tome is Ellison's visual record of 10 ballets performed during ABT's 2006 and 2007 seasons, from "La Bayadere" to "Swan Lake."

It features the corps de ballet and such headliners as Ethan Stiefel, Diana Vishneva, Irina Dvorovenko and former principals Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca, frozen in time in all their graceful, dynamic, gravity-defying splendor.

"When motion looks as though it's totally stopped and there's no energy being expended anywhere, those moments for me are breathtaking," Ellison said by phone from New York.

She played with the compositional frame and with lighting effects that often suggest an Old Master glow in ballets lush with period pageantry.

The results contribute to Ellison's own photographic narrative, created within the context of performance and in the juxtaposition of images, as in her stop-action exploration of "Othello."

Underscoring the disturbing power of the Lar Lubovitch choreography, one triptych shows Sascha Radetsky's Iago invading the personal space of the Moor (Marcelo Gomes) with aggressive physicality.

"He's just all over him like some horrible itching disease," Ellison said, "and you know that if anyone got on your case like that, you would go crazy."

The weighty volume includes essays by Ellison, ABT Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie and Executive Director Rachel S. Moore as well as candid and rehearsal shots.

"I hope with this book that you see the beauty of the dancers and the complexity of the choreography," Ellison said. "And that you see a collaboration of artists, all working together to create something that is transcendent."


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