Monday, January 24, 2011

New Dancers Among Us: Getting Kicked Out of the Plaza Hotel and Buying Lunch for Construction Workers

On Friday I photographed Ellenore Scott, a finalist on So You Think You Can Dance, and Michael McBride, a dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, for Dancers Among Us. I'm very grateful to the Preston Miller Project for introducing me to these amazing dancers. The six-hour shoot was filmed by Caleb Custer of Design Brooklyn for a web video - keep your eyes out in a couple of weeks for the final cut. In the meantime, take a look at these behind the scenes images taken by photographer Geoff Legg, who was also documenting the event.

Our first stop with Michael was in Harlem. I wanted a shot of the famous Apollo Theater. I walked into the lobby with an entourage carrying lots of cameras, so we didn't quite sneak in under the radar. I asked for access to the theater, they offered the lobby (not very photogenic), and they informed me, in no uncertain terms, that I cannot, under any circumstances, film the facade outside.

So we went outside to film the facade. The problem was that I didn't have a shot. The pure morning snow had melted, the light was too contrasty, and there was nothing interesting going on EXCEPT a potential confrontation between some laborers. Lots of screaming in the street. As I watched the altercation, all I could think was, "That's a really cool vest he's wearing. It matches the Apollo sign. And he has a shovel." So I headed over to the group. "Hi, my name's Jordan, I'm a dance photographer, can one of you lend me your vest and a shovel?"

You just never know until you ask. I got a vest, a shovel, and two workers to join the shot (I promised sandwiches for the entire crew). Michael came up with an unbelievable pose, and I laid down on the wet sidewalk to take a few quick shots. "This will only be a couple of minutes," I promised.

Thirty minutes and 100 photos later, I was satisfied that we had a nice selection of images. Plus Michael was getting sick of falling in the snow, and my jeans were frozen to my butt. It was time to buy lunch!

On the way downtown, I decided to improvise a shot on the subway. I only got screamed at once, and that was easily overshadowed by an enthusiastic bystander stuffing a dollar into Michael's pants.

Our next stop was Bryant Park to meet Ellenore for a shot on the ice skating rink. I had settled on this location when, the night before, Ellenore called me while ice skating in Bryant Park at the very moment that I was on the other line, talking about doing a shot ice skating in Bryant Park! It was a sign.

I was pretty certain our time would be limited - maybe a few chances before we got kicked out. So we rehearsed several poses first.

I found a nice spot on top of a mound of snow and felt very optimistic. No idea why I felt that way, since neither of them can really ice skate very well.

They can't skate, but they sure can dance - even on skates. Amazing. And much to my surprise, we had lots of time to shoot. They had no intention of kicking us out.

That is, until I jumped over the wall to shoot from a different perspective.

But not before we got our shot!

Next, we headed uptown to shoot in the Plaza Hotel. Having learned from the Apollo experience, I asked Caleb to hide his video camera as we walked inside. I promptly forgot my own advice and held my camera for the world (and security guards) to see. The lobby has a beautiful staircase and chandelier, but you won't see any photos of it here. They had us out of there before I could say, "Jump." I have to remember to thank them because the exterior is much cooler looking anyway.

The photography gods were definitely with us. It started snowing! The pure morning snow I missed was replaced by pure evening snow. I grabbed four Spanish tourists and asked them to snuggle together. Ellenore survived hypothermia of the....., and we headed off to our next location.

I have to save some surprises so you'll watch the video. Stay tuned!