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When You Turn the Dance Floor Sideways

When you turn the floor sideways, the art of the dance, always a beautiful expression of the human spirit, gets even more beautiful. Gracefully leaping, literally off the sides of buildings or walls found in nature, the BANDALOOP performers, tethered only by a single line, are free to express their wonderful physicality in unique ways, and you simply can’t look away.

When Nikon joined the mirrorless march some time ago, and debuted the Z 7, I knew it would be an adjustment, but I also felt possibilities loomed. The Z is durable, and has the usual knock-it-around-the-block-and-it-still-works feel of a traditional Nikon, but it is also light, fast, and responsive. Great res, great color rendition. AF tracks like radar. So, it was the best camera to……take with me over the wall of a building in Oakland and hang out with BANDALOOP.

BANDALOOP celebrates dance in a way that simply changes your perspective on what is possible for the dancer to achieve. I have worked with many companies over time, but none who so radically change the dynamic of dance performance in such vivid ways. That presents the photographer with a wonderful problem. How do you photograph this in a way that matches the vibrancy and audacity of what you are witnessing? Long lens is possible, to be sure. Long glass, plant a tripod, and have at it. But then you are rooted to the ground, and perhaps, disconnected from the emotional feel of what you are shooting. What I hoped for was to hover the camera, somehow, in their space. I wanted to work wide, and get in close, and hopefully have the camera be wrapped up in their art, feel their strength, and literally have them wander in space, right over me.

Which is possible from a crane, and also possible if you rappel down the wall with them, in my case, nowhere near as gracefully as the dancers:-)

The Z 7 was my go to camera for this, along with the S series 14-30mm f/4 lens. Drama, sharpness, and the ability to radicalize perspective all in one package. When the dancers would fly past me, expressing startling choreography in the air, I was able to rack the lens, change the view, and occasionally, duck. Or feel like I needed to.

Lighting is an issue. You are, a great deal of the time, pointing your camera into the giant highlight of the sky, so we had to bring light, a lot of it, and, to stop the dancers thoroughly and completely, that flash light had to be fast. This job was my first experience in the field with the Profoto Pro-10 pack and head. What a monster of a light! Fast and powerful was necessary. But, it also had to be beautiful. The light couldn’t be arena light, like at a basketball game. Hard, and far away. It had to be big, because I didn’t know beforehand where the dancer would go in the air. And it had to be soft and lovely, to complement the beauty I was witnessing. Choice for most of the day was a Profoto deep white umbrella, fitted with a diffuser front. On other occasions, when a harder edge was called for, I went with an ungridded 1×3 strip soft box. We also managed to directionalize the wind a bit, courtesy of a big studio fan, handled by the intrepid Andrew Tomasino.

So many people to thank for this. First of all, Nikon, for allowing me to pursue a notion. And of course, BANDALOOP, who greeted the collaboration warmly. Lynn DelMastro produced this impeccably as always, and was matched in her excellence by BANDALOOP Exec Director Thomas Cavanagh and Artistic Director Melecio Estrella. The crew was terrific, with Rebel Sun providing the go to grip, and Samy’s San Fran working out the lighting rentals. Yoram Savion and James Adamson created wonderful BTS stills and video, which is up and running on our YouTube Channel. Video is just below. Tip of the hat to fellow Nikon Ambassador Chris Hershman, who edited wonderfully.

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Krystal Harfert produced from the BANDALOOP side, and peerless riggers Mike Rogers, Derrick Lindsay and Jeremy Yee slung me and the dancers into space without missing a beat. Sara Estrella clad the dancers beautifully, and Dream Peeples did the makeup.

And the dancers! Rose Huey and Jessica Swanson were mesmerizing in the air, graceful and lovely, making it look easy, belying the tremendous strength it takes to do this.

Dreamed of working with BANDALOOP for many years. Hope it will come around again. Keep tuned in over the next week as more pix from the take will run on our Instagram feed, Twitter, FB etc.

More tk….

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