For the first time in a while I've been working again on my on-going project with the English National Ballet. It's a project I started a couple of years ago. Over that time I've managed to nurture and develop a mutually beneficial relationship with England's only touring Ballet company.
Over time I've got to know some of the dancers who give me the heads-up and help integrate an uncoordinated photographer into their world. Kerry, the stage manager, who sits at her station following the monitors also helps me out too. When Kerry reaches for the curtain lever I make myself scarce and wait for my moment to resume safe shooting. I'm not a connoisseur of Classical Ballet. I can appreciate it as an art form and the physicality of it, the strength and coordination required not to mention the incredible dedication.
However for me, it's about the light just as much as what it bounces off! There are lights mounted into gantries that fire across the stage and this light spreads and bounces off the black stage floor and spills into the spaces in the wings casting shadows and leaving pools of lovely light. As a photographer this really does bake my biscuits. Add a cast of very talented dancers in spectacular costumes complete with masks, wigs, props, make-up and you're onto a decent set of frames.
So as the ENB got their Summer production of Swan Lake to the dress rehearsal stage I was there at the Coliseum to record the show from front of house with a few other photographers. Later that evening for the press night I was in the wings to shoot more exclusive material for my project.
Shooting in the wings presents an interesting set of problems. Firstly it's dark. Properly dark. Disorientating, inky dark. It's the kind of dark that as you stare off into it you're aware of noise interference registering on your own retinas. The other issue is proximity to fast moving dancers. All too often dancers will finish a solo and come off stage into the wings at full tilt, and sometime airborne or in large numbers. The last thing they need is to trip up and twist an ankle over some clumsy uncoordinated photographer. Set changes also happen at speed. Best to be aware of those and get the hell out the way pronto.
For a while now I've been using the Nikon D4 cameras. With the second firmware update I'm really happy with them. Now with this Swan Lake job in my diary, I was rather curious to see if the Nikon's much touted advances in focus performance would become apparent and make my day easier. In the past with the D3 and D3s I've missed a good few shots as the auto focus would regularly, and not really surprisingly hunt in such low light. Happy to report that the D4 can acquire and track way better than a D3s in almost no light. Back at home, the frames look really spectacular and defined on my big posh monitor. Definitely a big improvement there.
So, I'm shooting in the wings and there's a ballerina, drenched in perspiration, in full Swan mode pacing out the choreography to herself in the dark. This afforded me a few nice frames as she was moving around into the pools of light. I asked her name so I can voice tag the frames. Ellie Sharpe. Turns out she's a new ballerina fresh out of dance school on a temporary contract at the English National - a really big break and she's very keen to impress and get a full time place in the company. I showed her some frames of the back of the D4 and she was just delighted. With the Principal dancers getting most of the attention it's not that often anyone takes shots of the Artists of the Company.