One of my favorites things in the whole world is a great photography book. I remember going in to Borders or Barnes and Noble to grab a book, and meandering toward the photography book section. Sometimes, I would get caught up for hours staring at the beautiful photos of nature, people’s faces, landscapes, babies and animals. I love photography, and especially dance photography, which is now becoming increasingly popular. So imagine my joy when a package came in the mail, and I opened it to find The Art of Movement by Deborah Ory and Ken Browar, also known as NYC Dance Project.
I immediately dove into each page, absorbing all of the shapes, colors and beauty of the dancers’ body positions, costumes and quotes. The photography book is a compilation of images of some of the dance industry’s biggest stars, from Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild of New York City Ballet, to Misty Copeland and Gillian Murphy of American Ballet Theatre, to Addison Ector of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, to cover photo artist Masha Dashkina Maddux, principal with The Martha Graham Dance Company. Each page holds wondrous grace and energy, and each photograph truly grasps what the art of movement embodies.
Half of the photography duo, Ory, grew up dancing. While attending the University of Michigan for dance, Ory suffered an injury that caused her to change her mind about the path of her future. Because of her injury, she turned to photographing rehearsals. “I spent that semester of college photographing all the dance rehearsals I was supposed to be in,” she recalls. “Soon afterward, I realized I was more suited to being a photographer than a dancer.”
The other half of the photography duo, Browar, “began photographing in high school and quickly knew it was a career he wanted to pursue”, Ory shares. “After high school, [Ken] went to Paris to become a fashion photographer.”
When asked how the couple grew to become the photography duo they are now, Ory states, “I remember when I first met Ken, one of our first conversations being about photographing dancers. Early on in his career, [Ken] had photographed some dancers for the Paris Opera Ballet for a fashion magazine. As our relationship grew as a couple, we wanted to work on a photography project together. At the time, both of our daughters were studying ballet, and we decided it would be nice to photograph dance.”
Enter NYC Dance Project. The pair photographed some of the most famous dancers and choreographers for their book, The Art of Movement. The inspiration for the photography book came from their 13-year-old daughter, Sarah, who is an aspiring ballerina. She wanted to hang beautiful images of the dance stars she looks up to right now in her room, but her parents were having a hard time finding images of dancers from this decade. So, Dad developed a solution.
“Ken decided we needed to photograph these dancers ourselves,” Ory says. “We are fans of Daniil Simkin, the American Ballet Theatre principal dancer, and sent him an email asking him to be our first subject. Daniil loves photography and agreed to be photographed. After a successful photo shoot with Daniil, he arranged for other principal dancers to work with us, and before long, NYC Dance Project was officially launched. Once the images were posted on social media, the word spread in the dance community, and dancers from all over approached us to collaborate. Both Ken and I had always wanted to do a book, and these images seemed to flow beautifully into a book format.”
The images do flow beautifully, and really tie in all different types of dance styles, and people from all different backgrounds. Several photos stand out and blew me away the first time I saw them. One of my favorite images in The Art of Movement is of PeiJu Chien-Pott, a principal with The Martha Graham Dance Company. In this photo, she seems to be actually flying through the air toward me with her beautiful dress being blown back. It’s truly breathtaking.
When asked to choose a favorite photo in their photography book, Ory says, “There are so many photographs from the book that I love, so it is hard to pick a favorite. I do really respond to the image on the back cover. It’s of three men from Alvin Ailey [American Dance Theater] jumping in the air. The image was inspired from a famous photo by Barbara Morgan of The Martha Graham Company doing a piece called Celebration. While we used it as inspiration – the dancers are in a similar pose – it really felt like we made the photo into our own. It’s been one of our most popular images.”
Another one of my favorites is an image of Lloyd Knight, principal with The Martha Graham Dance Company, leaning back in a forced-arch hinge, where you can see his muscles so wonderfully defined. Accompanying his image is a quote from Janet Eilber, artistic director of The Martha Graham Dance Company, saying, “Martha Graham never met Lloyd Knight, but when she coined the phrase ‘athletes of God’, she must have had Lloyd in mind.”
There are several quotes from the artists in the photographs. Some are motivational, some are reflective, but all are interesting and valuable to dancers and “regular people” just in a bookstore looking through photography books.
Next to a stunning photograph, Simkin shares, “Dance is very much in the flow, in the moment. Each performance on stage is unique and it will not repeat itself. That’s why I love photography so much, because you can remember the moment. Photography freezes a moment in time, especially as it’s very different than the fleeting work that dancers do, that’s very ephemeral.”
For aspiring photographers, Ory thinks her dance background helps when photographing dance, but it’s not necessarily essential. “I come from a dance background, which I feel is really useful, as the dancers and I have a vocabulary we speak in common, which helps when creating the images,” she says. “Having been a dancer, I have a sense of timing and understand the movement. I’m not sure it’s essential for the photographer to have been a dancer, but it certainly is helpful.”
I highly recommend buying The Art of Movement for yourself, and everyone in your life. The book will help your non-dancer friends and family understand what beautiful dance movement should look like, captured by the most skilled of photographers. The quotes in the book will serve as inspiration if you ever are feeling unsure of your career path, and now you, and Ory and Browar’s daughter Sarah, have photos of your favorite dancers from this generation.
The Art of Movement now holds a permanent place in my house, on the coffee table in my living room for all to see, so all of my friends and family and I can share in the splendor that is dance, and a great photography book.
By Allison Gupton of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Sample pages from ‘The Art of Movement’, featuring Jacqueline Green of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Photo by NYC Dance Project.