Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Picture if you will a young girl, perhaps fourteen years of age, who has been trained in dance since she was four years old. A girl who sees her career as a dancer. For ten years this vocation has been the only one to bind her body and soul, the only one to govern her diet and discipline her body. A career whose achievement makes all the pain, the lack of contact with friends, the interminable appearances at competitions, the attempts to make sense of her judges’ comments, and the sacrifice of her parents and family, worthwhile. A soul dedicated to dance. If I may take a quote from The Art of Movement: “You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that fleeting moment when you feel alive” (attributed to choreographer Merce Cunningham: Introduction).
This book contains exquisite images of dancers at the very peak of their abilities. The title is appropriate to the content which consists of dancers effortlessly flowing across the pages, each held in frozen stillness by the magic of the digital camera, “a liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass”. I am reminded of the trust that each dancer places in the other, Shakespeare exhorting us to “mark how one string, sweet husband to another/strikes each in each by mutual ordering” (sonnets 5 and 8 respectively). Surely these expressions strike at the very meaning of the photograph and the dance. They encapsulate the photographic genius of Ken Browar and Deborah Ory and they capture with fragile correctness how beautiful dance can be. They capture what Daniel Ulbricht of the New York City Ballet describes as “The assured dancers” who “dance for themselves and the audience, [not] out of fear, [but]…to share…”
I am an unashamed fan of this book. The photographers are two of the most highly skilled I have witnessed in this form of the arts. No man or woman reaches this level of skill if he or she does not know deep inside how the subject achieves what she does or how she feels about the difficult task she has set herself. Deborah Ory is an ex-dancer who has trained as a photographer. She knows the cry of the dance, she has heard the calling. Her partner, Ken Browar is a photographer of great skill who has lived with dancers as a young boy in Paris and has made his mark in fashion photography. Together they form the perfect team. Daniil Simkin, Principal of the American Ballet Theatre, certainly thinks so. He could not wait to be filmed by Broward and Orr and explains a truth that he finds in their work: “In photography many elements have to align or be aligned in one particular moment of truth to result in a piece of art, which comes about when the photographer captures that one moment that can live forever” (Foreword – The Art of Movement).
Browar and Ory know what they’re about, if these critics are to be believed. They have “captured dazzling strength, fierce focus, and abundant joy in these arresting images of extraordinary artists” claims Kara Medoff Barnett from her place of prominence on the book’s dust jacket. Alvin Alley dancer, Rachel McLaren, joins her and advises young dancers ‘get in as many dance classes as possible, make your own dances, and have dance parties in the rain whenever possible’.
Truly dedicated dancers put their art before everything else. Criticism is often blunted by a pithy remark: “When I was a child and got made fun of for taking ballet, I’d often say I was in a ballet class with 50 pretty girls in leotards. Versus hairy ugly guys at soccer…The argument was quickly over” (Joaquin De Luz, Principal New York City Ballet). The book does itself a great favour when it speaks for itself. Watch the exquisite curvature of Jacqueline Green’s body, the unforgettable athleticism of Yannick LeBrun, the sheer magic of Ashley Bouder who dances without an ACL joint (something that is physically impossible but which she does anyway) – listen to the book calling to you. Boston Ballet’s Ashley Ellis whispers “Dance isn’t just movement, it is expression.”
In all aspects The Art of Movement is a magnificent book. But why was it written? It is true that a dancing craze has broken out in the Western world and a book such as this would certainly be a commercial success. I choose to think that commercial gain was not at the heart of the decision to create this book of amazing images. I prefer to think that so much love, and so many tears have gone into the book that it is best described by that old cliché, a labour of love. To share what is profoundly beautiful is the noblest reason of all.
By Ken Browar and Deborah Ory
NYC Dance Project
Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers
200 full colour and black & white photographs