DeNada Dance Theatre : Ham and Passion

The past few months have seen an increase in shoots for dance companies. Being from a dance background myself I love working with dancers and trying to capture the feelings and movements. I also try and understand the feeling of the piece I am shooting and try and boost the emotion with lighting and subtle editing.

I was asked by Spin Arts Management (A wonderful company in their own right helping and supporting artists) if I would like to work with choreographer and Artistic Director Carlos Pons Guerra to shoot some publicity shots for their forthcoming show Ham & Passion, with the purpose of also designing the posters and flyers for the show.

Ham and Passion: a Triple Bill of Dance by Carlos Pons Guerra,is an evening of seductive, provocative and emphatically Spanish contemporary dance theatre that will subvert the senses. This gender-bending night explores the history of homosexuality in 20th century Spain, as well as commenting on current notions of gender and sexual identity. Kitschy, filmic and darkly comical, DeNada Dance Theatre’s first triple bill promises to be an evening of luscious, thought-provoking entertainment- a feast of meaty and greasy dance soaked in a salsa of passion.

I had heard from Spin that the show included a “male virgin Mary” a leg of Spanish ham and an incredibly “fit guy in a lacy gimp mask”… It certainly sounded unusual. Right up my street as far as imagery goes. I set up a Skype meeting with Carlos and we discussed some themes and shot ideas. Carlos really wanted to keep RED within the theme and was into Spanish film posters of which he sent several over to me. We discussed using the shape of the ham in the background and other ways of keeping red within the theme using text and roses, blood, fans etc. We decided to shoot several different looks and dance movements with solos and couples and then use them to perhaps make a montage. At this point it was certainly a different concept than the final piece.


Shooting the Virgin

The shoot was undertaken at the amazing dance theatre of Leeds university sports campus where we able to use both the black and white curtained backdrops for the shoot. We also had theatre lights. I didn’t want to use these too much as I did not want the images to feel like they were taken in a theatre situation, preferring to use my own single Alien Bee light, Elinchrom 1m deep softbox and two additional Canon speedlights to provide some hair light if needed. I wanted the shots to have a painterly feel to them with a soft light. I wanted them to have a slight ‘religious painting’ feel to them like the work of the Italian masters such as Caravaggio or Michelangelo. Many of these paintings have darkened backgrounds and use the light to make the skin and colour of the subjects to shine out against the blackness. The huge softbox and the black backdrop and floor would really give this impression and if certain elements of the dancers then faded into shadow it would not be a problem as this would all add to the effect. Or so I was hoping.

Carlos was amazing at directing the dancers to perform at their highest ability and allowing me to try and capture the movements at their fullness. As I could only shoot at a highest rate of 160th of a second and allowing the flash to freeze the movement it was not an easy task to try and capture but we managed it. The shots of “Mary” particularly shone out with the colouring of the blue and white against the black backdrop. The ham in hands gave a strange and oddness which I loved to the shot.  In post edit I tidied up the floor and extended the backdrop to give a square element to the shot as well as tidying up some frayed edges of his/her robe.


Kaleidoscope montage

The initial designs focused on one main image and they looked ok… however, it soon became apparent that the poster needed to utilise more of the images to evoke the feeling I wanted. I wanted people to look at the poster and be drawn in, see more than they initially thought they had seen. I wanted it to feel wonderful and religious but also dark and bright, and slightly funny. Exactly like the performance piece itself. I started with a circular frame using the image of the drag queen in the red gown in a split position. I crossed the legs over each other to create a circle. I then intersected these with the “lace gimp” in split leap in between them. This gave a perfect frame to then apply other graphics. I wanted the main central image to be the torso of the “lace gimp” with the arm encircling him and the red glove. A couple of individual shots also appear. The lift shot of the couple and the back image of the male with the ham above his head.  I left central horizontal space for the lettering title to be placed and then made sure the background was HUGE so I could also fit additional text and logos as required.

All in all I really enjoyed the shoot. The dancers were absolutely beautiful and the imagery was a dream to work with. Every performer gave something different in emotion and it was a joy to try and capture everything they gave me.

I really look forward to working with DeNada again.

Here’s what Carlos said about working with me.

“Working with Joe has been a great collaborative experience. Shooting with him was very easy as he knows light, cameras and dance very well, which really allowed me to direct the dancers and be as creative as I wanted. He was also very excited about the stuff we were doing, and showed a lot of interest and gave us input. The photo shoot had great results and many stunning photos came out of it. When we started working on the poster design, I gave Joe the images and concepts that inspired me and he understood them perfectly. As he started working on the design, and after getting a feel for the photos he had taken, he came up with a design that referenced my sources of inspiration, but better still, took them somewhere new, so the result was very interesting, original, and although he hadn’t seen the show we were designing the poster for, it was extremely representative of my work. The poster is detailed, unique and original- since printing we have had great feedback and attention from the public and the tour venues. It was a great collaboration and I hope to work with Joe again soon.”

Ham & Passion : A triple bill of dance by Carlos Pons Guerra is on tour from August until February 2016 at the following  theatres.

Leeds : 2nd Oct // stage@leeds // 0113 343 8730 //

London : 14th – 15th Oct // Blue Elephant Theatre // 020 7701 0100 //

Walsall : 7th Nov // The Performance Hub //

Harrogate : 5th Feb 2016// Harrogate Theatre // 01423 502 116 //

Birmingham : 25th Feb 2016 // mac birmingham // 0121 446 3232 //

Bradford : 26th Feb 2016 // Theatre in the Mill // 01274 233200 //

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