Moving pictures

Renowned dance photographer Gadi Dagon gives his own take on Mikhail Baryshnikov’s camera work.

Mikhail Baryshnikov 370 (photo credit: Mikhail Baryshnikov)
Mikhail Baryshnikov 370
(photo credit: Mikhail Baryshnikov)
Those of us with less wherewithal, and less celebrity status, could be forgiven for raising an eyebrow or two when getting word of some world-famous artist trying his or her hand at another discipline.
Just because, for instance, Rembrandt was a genius painter and printmaker it does not necessarily follow that he was also a talented sculptor or potter.
That school of thought does not, however, apply to Mikhail Baryshnikov. Not only is the 64-year-old Latvian considered to be one of the greatest ballet dancers in history, his endeavors as a photographer have also drawn across-the-board praise from professional snappers and the general public alike.
Today, an exhibition of Baryshnikov’s camera work opens at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Jaffa and, over the next four days, the public will be able to view the prints in a special tent set up in the plaza in front of the center.
The Dance My Way show will be followed by an auction of the prints, with the proceeds going to support dance endeavor at the Suzanne Dellal Center.
Baryshnikov, who will attend the opening today, was not available for interview prior to the event but said: “I am delighted that the Suzanne Dellal Center asked me to participate in this auction, which will help the vigorous dance community in Israel. The thought that my pictures can help makes me very happy.”
Over the years, the dancer has snapped many of his celebrated professional colleagues, including the likes of Merce Cunningham, Benjamin Millepied and Ohad Naharin, as well as dancers from other areas, including hip-hop and flamenco.
Gadi Dagon knows more than most about snapping ballet action. The 55-year-old Australian-born photographer has been earning his keep in the field for over three decades, two of which have been spent as the house photographer for Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva Ballet Company.
Dagon says he is very impressed with Baryshnikov’s efforts.
“This is not some Joe Bloggs with a cheap camera or an iPhone, and not many people can emulate him,” he notes. “This is someone who is a world-famous dancer, an actor, a media personality and a photographer. He is totally involved in all the areas he works in.”
Dagon knows Baryshnikov well, and had an opportunity to work alongside the great man on Dagon’s home patch.
“We once took photographs, together, of a session with Batsheva,” says the Israeli. “That was quite an experience.”
Even so, naturally Dagon and Baryshnikov address the business of documenting dance from opposite sides of the performing arts divide.
“Yes, he takes pictures from the point of view of someone who has been on the stage, and photography offers him another way to stay in the field, and that is fully acceptable. I have never been a dancer.”
That has its advantages.
“I don’t think Baryshnikov can ever get away from analyzing what the dancers he is photographing are doing on the stage,” notes Dagon. “He is so aware of every little nuance of dance that he can’t get away from examining the technical side of dance while he is taking the photographs. I don’t have that baggage when I take my photos.”
Dagon has other past pursuits that inform his dancerelated work, even though he sees parallels.
“I started out as a sports photographer, and movement greatly interests me. I am a sort of frustrated athlete, dancer, director. So I find a way to experience these things, and to photograph them.”
While Baryshnikov approaches dance photography with his own agenda, Dagon says he has to take other factors into consideration.
“I look at the artistic side of the photographs I take of dancers, but I also have to document the action for PR and other purposes. Baryshnikov does not have any obligations to anyone other than his own objectives.”
Interestingly, Baryshnikov’s shots do not freeze the action, so we can get a good look at the way the dancers use their body, or achieve some artistic shape. The figures are generally blurred and convey a keen sense of movement, and the spirit of the dance form they create.
The end product has a mesmerizing quality to it, and you get the sense that the photographer knows the field well, and is intimately involved in it.
“I think Baryshnikov is serious about everything he does,” offers Dagon. “He has had a long career in dance and, in contrast to me, he knows all the physical sensations of the art form, he knows the pain and the ecstasy of what it means to dance ballet. I experience dance from a different perspective, through a different kind of added value. My past in sports, and in dance, gives me an understanding of movement, and the philosophy of movement, but I don’t have that hands-on feeling for dance that Baryshnikov has.”
Dagon is confident the public will like what it sees at the Dance My Way exhibition.
“I really like what Baryshnikov does with the camera.
He portrays the beauty of dance and there is a lot to enjoy in his work. In these times when everyone is a photographer, with their cell phones or whatever camera they have, there is great importance to imagery, and Baryshnikov captures that in the best possible way.”
The Dance My Way exhibition will be open to the public today and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more info visit