Monday, August 22, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons... My Adventures with the Paul Taylor Dance Company

I spent the weekend at Lincoln Center, photographing some of the greatest dancers in the world. It caused quite a commotion.

Two young ladies with painted eyes tentatively approached dancer Eran Bugge during one of our rare two-minute breaks.

"Excuse me, what company do you dance for?"

"Paul Taylor."

"Really? Paul Taylor? OH MY GOD! Really??? Agggghhhhh!! Really?? PAUL TAYLOR?!"

It was that kind of weekend. I was cool by association.

Photograph by Samantha Siegel

Over the course of eighteen hours, I photographed ten dancers in seventeen different locations. I had a total of one sandwich, six venti mocha lattes and twelve minutes of break. Every shot was a spontaneous decision. There were three photographers and one videographer recording the action. At any moment, there were at least ten people waiting for me to decide what to do.

Photograph by Sean Patrick Mahoney

Photograph by Francisco Graciano

Photograph by Francisco Graciano

Photograph by Samantha Siegel

I was running out of ideas. How many different ways can I photograph dancers in Lincoln Center? We had two shots left. Dusk was quickly approaching. Magic hour! I had been waiting for a beautiful sunset all day.

The skies suddenly darkened and rain poured down in buckets. No sunset. Everyone scurried to safety, the shoot interrupted at a critical moment. Two beautiful dancers were waiting in costume, with the final vestiges of light quickly fading away.

I remembered the expression, When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

I looked at Parisa Khobdeh, who is one of the most creative and gutsy dancers I've ever worked with. I asked the question, though I already knew the answer.

"Will you dance in the rain?"

She didn't hesitate. "Let's go."

We all ran into the downpour. I found a light source and asked her to stand in the spotlight.

"Now throw yourself back and kick your leg up to the sky. Again. Again. Again. Again!"

I heard voices around me-

"She's going to be freezing."

"Have a towel ready as soon as we stop. And something hot to drink."

"She keeps falling down."

"Her leg is cramping."

"PARISA, ARE YOU OKAY?" someone screamed.

She didn't hear it. Or she didn't care. She stopped for a brief second, and then threw her body back again. And again. And again.

Parisa catching her breath

When we finally stopped, Parisa was the last one out of the rain. She was drenched. And exhausted. And beaming.

We were all safely tucked away under the City Opera overhang. Everyone was feeling relieved, but I wanted more. It was still pouring. Masses of people were arriving for a Friday night at the theater. The famous Lincoln Center fountain was illuminated and exploding.

I turned to Francisco Graciano. "Do you have bright tights? Time to get wet."

Francisco getting ready to jump

I've promised the folks at PTDC that I won't release any photos before they have a chance to see them first, so I can't share the final images we created that magical evening.

But I can say this- last Thursday I posted a blog about this upcoming shoot. I set my expectations very high, and I was worried I wouldn't meet them. I wrote, "It is my responsibility alone to create photographs worthy of the company's immense talent and reputation."

I'm not worried anymore.