When photographer Gregg Delman saw an image of Misty Copeland while flipping through a magazine, he knew immediately that he wanted to work with her. He cold called her agent, and was able to set up a photo shoot—which soon led to several others.
That was back in 2011, and the result of those sessions, Misty Copeland, will be released this Tuesday, September 27. "In my portraits, I try to arrest the essence of a person, their personality, their talent, and that inexplicable thing that draws me—and a larger audience—to them," Delman wrote in the introduction to his book.
His photographs showcase Copeland's strength, beauty and passion, and show a sexier side to the artist than what we see when she's onstage, in costume. "For the majority of our shoots there was no glam squad or walls of wardrobe," Copeland wrote in her forward to the book. "I did my own hair and makeup, wore my own clothes, and just like that, we'd get to work." The result is an unfiltered look at one of today's most dynamic, game-changing ballerinas.
This Monday at 6 pm, New York's Rizzoli Bookstore will host a conversation with Copeland and Delman to celebrate the book's publication. Find the details here.
You can thank Kanye West, in part, for inspiring New York City Ballet corps member Devin Alberda to pursue his budding passion for photography beyond Facebook profile pics. It was during the Yeezus Tour that West, whom Alberda calls “a real role model of mine," gave a sermon about believing in your vision. “That's when I decided maybe I could do more than I thought with the photos," says Alberda.
Not long after, a photography editor at The New York Times, who had discovered Alberda's impressive Instagram feed, approached him to publish a spread of photos in the paper—a major vote of confidence for the mostly self-taught shutterbug. “It's been really cool to have people believe in the work I do," he says.
Alberda, 29, calls photography a form of “identity expression," a way to engage thoughtfully with the intense, insular and high-pressure world of an elite ballet company. His spread in the Times depicted the focused and playful backstage life of his fellow company members, capturing the quiet moments, secret smiles and personal preparations. But first and foremost, Alberda is a dancer, part of the NYCB family.
He almost wasn't. After growing up in Ohio and training at the School of Cleveland Ballet, Alberda was accepted to The Juilliard School, where he planned to study a variety of dance styles. But the summer before classes began, he was accepted to the School of American Ballet's summer program. He was then invited to stay for the year, which turned into an apprenticeship with the company and a corps position in 2006.
Since then, he has had the opportunity to taste from the broad spectrum of NYCB's repertoire. Prized experiences include George Balanchine's avant-garde Episodes, Wayne McGregor's quick and spiky Outlier and Justin Peck's In Creases.
Alberda has also dabbled in choreography, recently creating a solo called Individuate, inspired by, among other things, the dark sci-fi film Ex Machina. “I've always been interested in how technology might lead us to a different stage of humanity," he says.
That kind of existential questioning and the thrill of poking around in shadowy places informs Alberda's recent photography, which is mostly black-and-white, like an X-ray. “I'm a documentary photographer," he says. “I try to find beautiful images as they happen."
Others beyond the ballet world are taking note: The publicist of Hollywood producer Scott Rudin requested Alberda's photographic services at rehearsals of his upcoming Broadway musical Shuffle Along, which Alberda has found fun and fulfilling.
Despite such opportunities to flex another creative muscle, in some ways it seems photography is a placeholder for the autonomy and exploration Alberda craves as a dancer. “I'd like to find myself dancing roles where I can express myself more readily," he says. “There's something that changes when you get to make decisions as a soloist. I'd like to be given more of those opportunities."
Music inspiration: Alberda loves hip hop. “I'm obsessed with Future this year," he says. “He's kind of a beast."
Photo tools: His Instagram photos are shot on an iPhone 5 or 6, but he recently got a new camera—a Leica MP. “I'm really excited about it," he says.
Favorite author: Science fiction writer Samuel R. Delaney. “He imagines a world that is a little freer of the constraints of identity politics."
Ballerinas are ready subjects for blockbusting movies and bestselling biographies: Now, male dancers, too, are having a moment—one that we hope sparks a trend. In his new photography book, Les Danseurs, Matthew Brookes focuses his lens on men of the Paris Opéra Ballet. In powerfully composed black and white photos, Brookes highlights the strength of male dancers, but also a vulnerability and artistry that’s often overshadowed by luminous images of swans and sleeping beauties. And, in November, The Royal Ballet and Oberon Books will release a photography book depicting the career of one of the ballet world’s most virtuosic male stars, Carlos Acosta.
Boys may face less competition within the ballet world, but they face far more criticism from onlookers ready to stigmatize men in tights. (Check out American Ballet Theatre and Bolshoi Ballet star David Hallberg’s personal essay in Pointe’s last December/January issue). These photography collections are sure to place male dancers in the positive spotlight they deserve!
Although John Andresen is a dancer with the Norwegian National Ballet, his first love has always been photography. “I have been taking pictures longer than I have danced,” he says. “I wanted to go to a high school where I could study photography. My second choice was the state ballet school. I ended up there.”
When asked to do a project that would feature the men of the Royal Swedish Ballet a few years ago, Andresen came up with the idea of a calendar that would show off all the grace and agility of the company’s men. The first calendar featured the men flying through the air—in their underwear, as did the second. They were both huge successes in Sweden.
“My photos are very inspired by the famous Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland,” says Andresen. Perhaps in spirit, but Vigeland’s monumental granite sculptures of human figures are the opposite of Andresen’s action-packed photographs of dancers in flight. The photos are staged in a dance studio, so there’s no worry about the hours of jumping needed to coordinate his carefully composed midair shots.
The 2006 American Ballet Theatre calendar, featuring Angel Corella, is his second with those dancers. But Andresen has no plans to stop. “I would love to do a calendar with The Royal Ballet in London and the Paris Opera—and Béjart Ballet in Lausanne….”