Ballet Photography: My Eclectic Picks

Photo by Enrico Nawrath

Photo by Enrico Nawrath

(Note: Each photographer’s name, photo project and book is hyperlinked to the relevant website. The link appears in dark brown but may not be obvious on your screen. Please click if you are interested to explore further.)

In a recent post named “Saving Ballet” on his blog “A Ballet Education,” David King listed a number of excellent and well-known ballet photographers who, thanks to the rigor of their skillful representation of the ephemeral art form and through the efficient propagation on social media, have helped to resuscitate ballet and even cultivated a new audience who would otherwise not become aware of it at all.

Photo by Stephanie Ma

Photo by Stephanie Ma

Besides the many ballet photography projects, such as Ballerina Project and NYC Dance Project, based in New York, and Ballet Zaider, based in Los Angeles, I would like to name a few photographers in my neck of the woods who are perhaps not so widely appreciated but worth a mention simply because they represent the ballet community where I live: Conrad E. Dy-Liacco‘s photos of dancers at Hong Kong Ballet and Stephanie Ma‘s photos of Hong Kong dancers and dance students.

Outside of the United States, check out the work of Simone Ghera. Ghera is an architect with an interest in dance photography. His pictures connect dance and architecture. With his project Dancer Inside, he toured several major European cities, and has worked with ballet dancers in major iconic buildings in each city he visits (article).

In Germany, I like the ballet photos of, Enrico Nawrath, a former professional dancer turned photographer who shoots  for National Ballet Berlin and is known for his works of naked and half-naked portraits of ballet dancers.

Stanislav Belyaevsky

Photo by Stanislav Belyaevsky

Russian photographer Nikolai Krusser is also one of my favorites. I think his onstage and backstage shots of ballets such as Swan Lake and Giselle are so good that they really capture the “ghostlike,” ethereal quality of these “white ballets.” Another photography, a former Kirov (Mariinsky) ballet dancer Stanislav Belyaevsky, is well-known for his photos of Vaganova Academy, which have, among other works of his, wowed ballet students around the world with the beauty and rigor of the Russian dancers’ form and technique.

So far I have mentioned but one female photographer, but here is notable one: Spanish-born former soloist of National Ballet Berlin, Maria-Helena Buckley. The way she captures ballet has a distinct feminine sensitivity and energy to it… hard to explain, but if you are a woman you’d probably detect it right away.

Akira Enzeru

Photo by Akira Enzeru

A relatively little known photographer but whose work I love, is Romanian artist Akira Enzeru. I’d use “unusual” and “daring” to describe his work. He uses unconventional concepts, setting and environment for his outdoor ballet shots, the results of which are often surprising and humorous.  He also seems to enjoy doing a lot of nude photography, some of which uses ballet dancers as models.

In the United States, most people know about Gene Schiavone through his work for the American Ballet Theater, but equally impressive and perhaps more fluid and spontaneous in style is the work by award-winning photographer Richard Calmes, who have published two volumes of dance photography, “Dance Magic” and “Lines and Leaps.”

Another photographer’s work who may send a warm and fuzzy feeling through your body—and sometimes makes you gasp with disbelief—is that of Jordan Mather. His carefully and painstakingly planned photos of dancers leaping and flying in the air in mostly urban landscapes can be found in his new book “Dancers Among Us.”

Another dance photographer whose work has impressed me a lot is Jesús Armand. The Brooklyn and Boston-based multimedia artist  and former contemporary ballet dancer has taken a great deal of single-exposure photos of some of the world’s top ballet dancers. He cleverly used a single, long exposure for each set of ballet movements in order to present the idea of continuous movement rather than a frozen moment in time and space (For photos, see  his Kickstarter campaign for Esprit de Corp a year ago).

Also doing long-exposure shots is Brooklyn-based Bill Wadman. See and read about his slow-mo dance photos in this article.

I’ll be posting another article about dance photography from the viewpoint of our local dance photographer, Stephanie Ma, soon. Stay tuned.


Conversations with Adult Ballet Students #6: Chacha Chan

This is the sixth in the series of Conversations with Adult Ballet Students. Leave me a message if you would like to be profiled in a future edition.


Introducing Chacha Chan, a part-time teacher, a glamorous housewife and a business owner. Chacha calls herself someone who never sticks to one hobby but has, somehow, stuck with ballet for seven years. Find out what turned her attraction to ballet into a long-term relationship.



Q: Did you ever take ballet lessons as a kid? When was that?

A: When I was 14, I had a few lessons when my school opened a ballet class for beginners.



Q: When did you start taking ballet class as an adult?

A: In 2007, when I was 32.



Q: What motivated you to do so as an adult?

A: My daughter started to take ballet lessons at that time. I wanted to learn with her so that I could understand her passion better and to see if I myself was really “a good piece of material” for ballet, as I was told so many times by my ballet-dancing friends and even my teacher.



Q: What do you find to be the biggest challenge or difficulty?

A: Knowing fully that there are technical limits that I can never surpass, but still trying not to give up.



Q: What does ballet bring to your life?

A: It brings me new perspectives of looking at life and helps me understand that I can still enjoy something that I am not terribly good at.



Q: What is the greatest achievement in your ballet life so far?

A: Passing the RAD intermediate exam and starting a brand new career of teaching ballet at the age of 39!



Q: What have you gained that was out of your expectation?

A: The friendship I have with very young ballet dancers who have learnt ballet for over 15 years. The way they try to help me understand how to execute certain difficult movements and their encouragement are priceless. The trip to visit China National Ballet at its 50th  anniversary was beyond any expectations I ever had.  An exchange program in Inner Mongolia with a dance buddy I met on the Internet was also something I would never have imagined. Above all, the friendship I have with my ballet teacher and fellow dance lovers is invaluable. All these have helped me become a better person.



Q: What have you lost?

A: I haven’t really lost anything.



Q: What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done for ballet?

A: The craziest thing was to dance three times a week, two hours each time, for two months in a row, and forced myself to do double pirouette before the RAD Intermediate exam.



Q: Is it all worth it?

A: Yes, of course.



Q: Have you ever dreamt of becoming a professional ballet dancer?

A: I never dreamed to be a professional dancer because it was just such a distant dream when I was a kid.



Q: As an adult dancer, what is your goal in ballet?

A: All I want is to keep improving in all areas even though there are limitations. My goal is, from time to time, that I can look back at the techniques I couldn’t master before and realize that I can now handle them like second nature.




Chacha Chan (right) posing with her elder daughter, Gretchen Lee. Mother and daughter often goes to ballet performances together.