By Deirdre Reed
(Title credits to Maisha)

Degas was once described as the "Impressionist Laureate of the ballet". And while he did make beautiful and skillful pieces, they were rather one-dimensional in their portrayal of dancers. The result of the popularity of these pieces was the pushing forward of the 'delicate and whimsical' ballerina stereotype we are all very aware of today. So while he did produce some wonderful art, the word laureate is a bit generous. His art only picks at the surface of what it is to be a dancer, and distinction is only due to those who dig as far as they can for the real truth.

It is only now in the present day that the stigma of accurately portraying dancers in art has started to go away . But for so long Degas had monopolized that field and it is hard to let go of what he has ingrained in both the art world and in society. When people think ballet, they think Degas. The think of the pretty and soft girls in flouncy, pastel-colored tutus. They think of the dream-like quality of his works. But there are things that are missing, things that aren't shown in his art, but are seeing more emphasis now. Things like dedication, strength, passion, sweat, discipline, energy and power. The real dance world, the world that I know so well and admire so much, is exploding with these things. And thanks to the fiery paintings of Fletcher Sibthorp, the dramatic photographs of Gene Schiavone and Henry Leutwyler, and the social media phenomenon 'The Ballerina Project', the detached but beautiful art of Degas is meeting reality.


external image degas.jpg"At the ballet Degas found a world that excited both his taste for classical beauty and his eye for modern realism"
Degas was fascinated by the human body and the way it could move and by the lower echelon of the social ladder, and in ballet he found a world of movement and of young girls whose training depended on the men that sponsored them. He loved the physicality of the art, and the perfection that was so necessary to it. But he came into the ballet world as an outsider- he watched endless rehearsals and shows, but he never truly felt them or lived them. His paintings show the point of view of an audience member; he often used random vantage points to show his status of the casual viewer. His subjects exude the drama and fantasy one experiences from going to the ballet and seeing a performance live. But they lack all of the emotion from behind the scenes and of the tremendous work that is required to put on a show that will never be perfect in the dancer's eyes. He portrays the art of dancing as effortless, his ballerinas "fluttering like fairies" in their whimsical fantasy land/stage. While to an audience member ballet is supposed to look effortless, it, in reality, obviously isn't, and it is the job of the artist to reveal the truth. Instead, Degas created a pastel-princess image of ballerinas that takes away from the strength and passion behind what they do. In his failure to get to the hearts of the dancers, he missed what makes ballet special- and it isn't the pretty costumes.
In this particular painting, Degas shows two dancers using an exclusively pastel color scheme(ballet costumes don't have to be in pastels-just watch any contemporary piece ever.) The viewer appears to be seeing the dancers as an audience member would, from an elevated angle. Their bodies and the brushstrokes are expressive, but their faces and the meaning of their movement is rather ambiguous. There doesn't seem to be and emotional involvement. And no amount of beauty can make up for missing this very important aspect of dance.

external image 2013321755017511.jpg"She was waiting in the wings in the main studio at the Royal Ballet School, one of her last rehearsals before the final graduation performance. Moving my camera away from the action on central stage, the poise and natural elegance of her pose struck me. Only a dancer can take rest in a position like this, I thought."
Now taking a complete 180, this piece by Fletcher Sibthorp is oozing with energy and passion. The viewer can almost tell what moves the subject did to get where are in the painting and what moves they would do after, even though it is a static painting. He found inspiration from dancers that had a real presence on the stage, and from quiet strength- the kind that is normally glowing in dancers. The vibrant colors used, the dedication and concentration behind the expressions, and the intensity of the piece as a whole convey Sibthorp's understanding of dance (flamenco, in this case). His brush takes note of each turned out foot, each undulating arm, every defined muscle. He felt dance in a way that Degas never did-he was a dancer himself at one point. And from his experience he was able to access all of the principles of dance that outsiders would miss. His works are very underrated in their achievement of portraying dancers in a new but more realistic and flattering light.

diana vishneva-gene schiavone.jpg"To me, a good image is one in which you can hear the music."
As the official photographer of American Ballet Theatre, Gene Schiavone's goal is to save a moment time that isn't as evident during a performance, to show a new perspective to a string of movements by capturing one single instant. The thing that makes him special is his relationship with the dancers. He was drawn into the business after meeting a group of the principal dancers, and part of the reason he takes such brilliant photos of the dancers is because of his understanding of them on a personal level. He was able to get to the heart of dance and what makes it special by living and traveling among the dancers.
This photo of Diana Vishneva was taken from a perfect angle that would only be known to someone very immersed in the ballet. He completely captures the incredible emotion behind the action, and the skill, technique and agility that is required for something as intense and challenging as ballet. It shows a mixture of strength and elegance, a dancer's true identity.
external image 22_nyc-ballet.jpg"It's a magic moment...revealing something from out of my subjects that isn't obvious--finding the beauty within."
Henry Leutwyler takes his mostly candid photographs by blending in behind the scenes of New York City Ballet and discovering what really goes on-- nothing staged or fabricated. He calls this photo "Reality and Dreams", because the glamorous foot in the pointe shoe represents what every young girl dreams of and what they believe being a ballerina is like. The blistered foot that is covered in Band-Aids, however, shows the reality of how much effort and hard work goes into being a dancer. His photo shows that dance isn't all tutus and tiaras, but full of blood, sweat and tears. And this work is so relevant because he took it backstage as a dancer was in the process of taking off her pointe shoes after her show, catching her in a habitual act. She was graceful and elegant on the stage, but her life didn't remain that way off the stage. He doesn't hold back in his portrayal of the truth; he has built no shiny fa├žade. As a dancer I can say that this simple photo perfectly sums up what it is to be a dancer.

external image 955f378a4703060b4716eac68d4b69b5.jpg
'The Ballerina Project' was started by the artist Dane Shitagi and is the most effective of the four modern-day projects shown because of its virality on social media. It shows dancers anywhere but on the stage, and draws attention to their elegance that is evident even in daily life. They can be seen in taxis, hanging precariously off of railings, or, as in this photo of Zarina Stahnke, as a graceful beauty blending effortlessly into nature. The photo series is simple and bare; it targets the strength and poise of ballerinas and proves that these attributes aren't only true onstage. It is not the stage that makes the dancer, but the individual inside.

WORKS CITED:
__http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/dgsp/hd_dgsp.htm__
__http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2004/oct/30/1__
__http://www.ballet.co.uk/magazines/yr_05/jun05/interview_sibthorp.htm__
__http://geneschiavone.com/about/__
__http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-blackmore-Dobbyn/gene-schiavone-ballet-photography_b_3664270.html__
__http://www.henryleutwyler.com/bio__
__http://nymag.com/thecut/2012/11/henry-leutwyler-new-york-city-ballet.html__
http://ballerinaproject.com/about/
__http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2576996/Grace-pressure-Stunning-photography-project-shows-ballet-dancers-stage.html__