Photographing Dance Performance: Capture the Stage, Reveal the Emotions
As you can see from most of my posts, I have an interest in photography, and am currently learning about it. I try any genre I could get to know, from human interest, landscape, to street photography. To be honest, even until today, I still can’t say what genre becomes my biggest interest. And perhaps, I won’t specialize in any genre, as I wish to keep learning without limiting myself to a particular genre.
However, I have to admit that I have been feeling a stronger interest in stage photography. I can say that, very possibly, it is because I myself have been engaged in stage performance. Since elementary school, I have been involved in several stage performances. During childhood, I used to read poems and joined in several play performances—simple ones, though, regarding my early age. Moving on to junior high school, every year I participated in theater performances held as part of the school’s annual art performance.
I began engaged in dancing—Balinese dances, to be exact—in 2007. Actually, I had learned another dancing—the Javanese—during my study in junior high school, but I felt the dancing didn’t suit me pretty well. When I was in college, I had an opportunity to watch a Balinese dance performance held by Sekar Jepun, an independent Bali dancing community based in the university I was studying at. Though carrying ‘only’ pocket camera, coming along with my friends who were photographers had given me a very good luck—I got a seat in the very front row. Watching the performance through the camera, I felt a strange sensation. I don’t know what that was, but I directly imagine myself dancing on the stage as the dancers did.
And so there it goes. I joined the community. Coincidentally, Mrs. Putu, the leader of the community, was my thesis advisor. I enjoy being in the community so much; I was appointed to co-organize the community from 2009 to 2010. During my time in the community, I participated in three performances. Apart from the community’s performance, I was once asked by the committee of the 2010 World Peace Day commemoration (held by International Relations study program of Gadjah Mada University) to perform a Bali dance at the Vredeburg Fort. In 2009, I also performed a solo dance performance; performing a mix of Balinese and contemporary dance.
Having been in the community, I could not forget the feeling I got when watching the dances through the camera. In 2010, actually I planned to document my community’s annual performance, but Mrs. Putu insisted that I participated in the performance as a dancer. This year, eventually I got the chance to once again watch the performance through the lens and capture the beautiful moments and dancers.
Being familiar with the dance and its elements—the movements, the costumes, and even the sound of the gamelan—is really a fortune. I could predict the dancer’s movement by listening to the particular rhythm or tempo of the gamelan. As I’ve known some most popular Balinese dances, I also have known a bit about each dance’s distinctive movement.
The one thing you won’t miss when photographing Balinese dances is the dancer’s attractive eye contact. When a dancer shoots a sharp edging glance—it’s called nyeledet—that’s a decisive moment you just won’t forgive yourself for missing it. I tried to capture such moments, and though the results are still far from being perfect, I have to admit that I am quite satisfied of the photos.
I suppose everyone will agree with the saying “dance is the language of the soul’. When dancing, a communication occurs—among the dancers themselves and between the dancers and the audiences. A dancer speaks not only through the movement of his/her body, but also through his/her posture, gesture, and even facial expression. Even the smallest movement and or expression reveal particular emotions.
Here are some photographs I took from the performance by Sekar Jepun community in October 2011. Besides classic dances, the community also performed a new-creation Legong dance entitled Legong Maria, a Legong dance performed to adore the Virgin Mary.
*Come early. The earlier you come, the bigger the chance to get a good spot for shooting.
*Find leaflets or any other information on the repertoire. Read the information before the performance begins, not after!
*Unless you know in detail what color the spotlights are, it is better to set your camera’s White Balance to auto.
*If possible, attend the rehearsal. It gives you many benefits; you can seek for the best spot for shooting while also getting to know what moments are good to capture.
*If the dance is performed in group, there are two things you can do: focusing on one dancer, or capturing the group when they are making particular formation.
*Dancing is about movement. Clear photos are good, but sometimes a blurred image tells more about the dynamics. (Believe me; it’s quite hard to capture such motion. From the so many shots I took, only two which successfully captured the motion!)
*Set the picture style to normal or standard. You can edit the color tone or even convert the image to B/W later using software.
*Follow the common rules, including staying quiet during the show and turning off your mobile phones (or keeping them in silent mode).
*Don’t talk too much; keep silent and enjoy the show. Talking too much (with your friends, for example) only gives you the risk of losing the moments.
*Don’t use flash. Even if the show allows the photographers to use flash, make sure you minimize it. In my previous experience, using flash when photographing a stage performance will result in flat photos. Besides, flash also distract the spotlight’s unique light shades.
*Don’t annoy other photographer if you don’t want to be annoyed. Another photographer who previously sat behind me kept on moving and shifting until she eventually sat in front of me. Even there, she kept on half-standing and annoy the other photographers (including me). 😦