From May through July, PBT dancers take a well-deserved break from their full-time rehearsal schedule. For many dancers, summer layoff is a time to travel, to soak in the sun, to guest perform and teach, to rest and recuperate. But whatever their summer plans, we’re grateful that these PBT dancers found time to snap stunning dance shots in the open air. Enjoy the gallery and a glimpse into their summer breaks.
On a recent weekday afternoon, a group of ballet dancers ducked into the shell of an abandoned Strip District building for an impromptu photo shoot. Like the greenery sprouting between the slabs of concrete, the dancers made this unlikely spot their studio for a few hours, striking pose after pose against the graffitied cement walls.
Behind the lens was someone with an eye for a good location: 20-year-old Emily Northrop, who’d noticed the wide-open space, the light streaming through the steel frame and the chance to juxtapose the gritty space with graceful dancers.
But she also brought something even more important to the table: an innate sense of timing. Northrop, along with her subjects, is a pre-professional dancer in PBT School’s Graduate Program.
It’s no small task to translate the dynamism of dance to a still photograph. In dance photography, much depends on the timing. It’s the key to catching a fully extended arabesque or a grand jeté at the pinnacle of its arc.
So it’s no surprise that many successful dance photographers, like Northrop’s role model Rachel Neville, are former dancers. It’s essential for capturing both the energy and the technique at their peak.
A Florida native, Northrop grew up in Seattle and started dancing around age 10. She trained at Pacific Northwest Ballet through high school, where she took her first photography class, and just finished her second year in PBT School’s Graduate Program.
“I think I really enjoy how you see your hard work pay off,” Northrop said of her love for ballet. “It’s a great way to express yourself and work through feelings. When I have stressful stuff going on in my life, when I dance it just completely erases all of the stress.”
Over the past year, Northrop began merging her two artistic passions. She saved up to buy a camera and started heading to photography classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers after ballet each day.
She started her practice with portraits.
“I like to do portraits that have meaning behind them. They’re not just faces, they have an important message to say.”
Around the New Year, she began experimenting with dance – and that elusive ability to effectively freeze motion into one frame.
“Being a dancer helps immensely,” Northrop said. “When I’m taking the photos I can feel the timing in my body. Knowing the technique…you know how to turn the angles to make the dancers body look the best.”
Over time, and after taking a weekend workshop with Neville, whose photographs have been featured in Dance and Pointe magazines and by a variety of dance companies, Northrop began cultivating more detailed concepts for each shoot.
“I’ve been thinking more in the form of shapes rather than dance poses,” Northrop said. “For some of my dance photos, the ones that are a little bit more thought out…I thought of a word I wanted to express first and we did a bunch of different poses that expressed that word.”
For inspiration, Northrop scrolls through thousands of Pinterest photos, admiring other photographers’ work and filling her mind with ideas.
“I’ll look at thousands of images. When I go to bed it will be in my brain and when I wake up usually there will be some ideas there.”
She’s also taken inspiration from Neville’s ability to coax peak performance from her subjects and to conceptualize photos that put interesting dynamics at play.
“I noticed that (Neville) definitely pushes the dancers to their limits technique wise to get the best technical photo,” she said. “Now I am definitely more picky. I will give many, many corrections for one pose…to get the very best that they can make it look.”
Whether it’s dance, portraits or artistic side projects, Northrop showcases her work on Instagram under the handle @NorthropPhotography and on Facebook. One day she hopes to make it professional. For now, much like her 10-year pursuit of ballet, it’s all about the practice.
“I feel like the only way you get better is by practicing more and more. I really do love it.”
For more inspiring dance stories, plus exclusive ticket promos, sign up for the PBT e-news here.
It wasn’t easy to whittle down material from nearly 50 performances to just top 10 ballet photos, but we were able to assemble a short list of shots that left a lasting imprint on our imaginations. Captured in the studio, on stage and behind the scenes, these images represent our favorite photographic memories of the 2016-2017 Season. Enjoy!
This was one of the first photos taken in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s brand-new Byham Center for a dance, a two-studio annex building at PBT Studios in the Strip District. Here, company members are settling into their bright new rehearsal studio.
We love this atmospheric shot from PBT’s redesigned Giselle, which opened the season in October. Here, the “Wilis” move in their signature arabesque formation, while their queen, Myrtha (danced by Julia Erickson), commands center stage. The thick forest and full moon of Peter Farmer’s new scenic designs add even more dimension.
As Yoshiaki Nakano sails over the flowers, he seems to symbolize the effervecense of PBT’s magical The Nutcracker, which celebrated its 15th anniversary this season.
This top 10 ballet photo was captured right after the September ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Byham Center for Dance. As they watch PBT dancers rehearse in the new Ryan Studio, PBT School students Grace Bond and Eden Lewis illustrate the special connection between the company and school, where aspiring dancers see their role models at work every day.
The Queen of Hearts, danced by Julia Erickson, is seeing red in this shot from PBT’s February production of Derek Deane’s Alice in Wonderland. This scene in particular, complete with playing-card tutus, leaps off the stage with its brilliant character acting and crisp Corps de Ballet dancing.
This shot made our top 10 ballet photos of 2016-2017 thanks to an intimate angle captured from the wings. Here, the ghostly Wilis of Giselle separate ill-fated lovers Giselle and Albrecht, danced by real-life husband and wife Alexandra Kochis and Christopher Budzynski. This production marked the final performance of Budzynski’s ballet career and the last time the husand-and-wife duo would share the stage.
We can’t get enough of our new studios, especially when Principal Julia Erickson is sailing through the air in this gorgeous emerald-green costume from George Balanchine’s iconic Jewels.
The extension and intentsity of this photo from Dwight Rhoden’s Ave Maria, part of the March mixed repertory collaboration with Dance Theatre of Harlem, made it an instant pick for our top 10 ballet photos of 2016-2017. Plus, hats off to PBT dancer Diana Yohe, who received a promotion to soloist in recognition of her brilliant performances this season.
There’s nothing quite like sitting in on a working studio rehearsal. You can see every expression the dancers make, hear each breath they draw and see the muscle behind the movement they make look so effortless. Here, Alexandra Kochis and Luca Sbrizzi rehearse for the title roles of Romeo and Juliet, and made it difficult to leave the studio with dry eyes.
Seen here onstage, Romeo and Juliet ended the 2016-2017 Season on an “emotional high.” The scenery was exquisite and the score is a masterpiece unto itself. But the dancing and acting, portrayed here by Yoshiaki Nakano and Amanda Cochrane, were enough to reduce us to tears.
Make more photographic memories next season! Don’t miss a banner season, featuring Dracula, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, PBT: New Works and UPMC Presents West Side Story Suite + In the Night! Learn more here.