BALLET PHOTOGRAPHY AND ANTHONY GORDON

In the 1930’s of the 20th century, dance photography was widespread. It investigated  beauty, the dynamics of movement, gestures, and poses. Dance photography researches and documents the full potentiality of the body.  It evokes the strain and the emotional strength indispensable to the dancer to expand the limits of his or her movements. 

For many decades the technology of photography remained inimical to dance. Even with the introduction of electric lighting, portable cameras and sensitive film, it was necessary for dancers to pose, immobile, for several seconds during each shot. Individual photographers might produce remarkable images from these conditions, Baron Adolph de Meyer’s photographs of Vaslav Nijinsky captured the weight, the plasticity, the physical effect of the dancer’s body to a wonderful degree

“The still photograph does not reproduce, document, or reveal dance to us but can represent our perceptions, values, and experiences. The meeting of dance and still photography reveals that photographic invention, construction and imagination are as significant and legitimate as authenticity and revelation.To capture the experience and perceptions of movement, the photographer must reinvent dance for the camera”. ( Matthew Reason, Dance Research Journal, 2004)

The remarkable photographic art of Gordon Anthony is regrettably little known or recognized. The British photographer documented the full flowering of British national ballet in the 1930’s and 40’s and turned the spotlight on a form of art that had been overshadowed by the fascination for Diaghilev’s Russian Ballets that toured Europe in the 1910’s and 20’s.

NINETTE DE VALOIS AND THE BRITISH BALLET – A PHOTOGRAHER IS BORN

Gordon Anthony’s ambition to become a dancer was frustrated at a young age. But at the age of fourteen he was given his first camera and soon turned his creative attention to photography. In 1926, Gordon Anthony’s sister and former ballerina of the Russian ballets, Ninette de Valois, opened her Academy of Choreographic Art, which became a vital focus of creative activity for British ballet and a point of departure for the founding of the Vic-Wells Company, the nucleus of the British Royal Ballet. It was here that Anthony had an insider’s veiw of the evolution of the British Ballet and engaged in his first experiences of dance photography.

His modernist style characterized by the dramatic use of light and shadow, was published in The Dancing Times under the pseudonym of Pierrot.

By the late 1930s, Anthony Gordon became one of the leading chroniclers of British ballet, evolving a dramatically expressionist, chiaroscuro style that captured the theatricality of his subjects.His works were regularly published on the illustrated pages of the The Tatler, The Bystander, and The Sketch, the most followed weekly society magazines and in various books presenting his collections of images of dancers. 

Anthony Gordon catalyzed with his compositional flair our curiosity of the body and its movement. It is impossible to remain untouched and unmoved by the sheer beauty of form and flex of the human body – and the emotions it is capable to vividly express – that the photographer superbly freezes in time in powerful and communicative black and white images. 

“Implicit in all dance photography is the tension between movement and the static image and in Anthony’s best ballet pictures this tension is superbly controlled. There in nothing artificial in his photographs of Margot Fonteyn and Pamela May in Horoscope…the interpretative quality of these pictures depended on Anthony’s knowledge of dance and his grasp of its expressive potential; the art of his photographs lay in his ability to marry this awareness to an original and highly personal style based on shadow projections”. (David Chandler in Shadowland, Gordon Anthony Photographs 1926-1952).”

THE SHADOWHUNTER

The masterly use of emblematic signifiers of movements (flowing hair, clothes, studio props) combined with the skillful and artistic management of lights and dramatic shadows that dominate his photographs, create alluring images that have maintained untarnished throughout the decades the sparks emanating from the dancers.

“In another photograph of Luboc Tchernicheva, the simmering orientalism of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Shéhérazade is brought to Life by the undulating shadows that rise like heat behind the dancer. Anthony recalls that this photographic session held some of the atmosphere of Thchernicheva’s passionate stage performance, as she insisted that music be played while she lounged seductively for his camera” (David Chandler in Shadowland, Gordon Anthony Photographs 1926-1952).”

The 1930’s and 40’s revitalization of British ballet equalled the immense popularity of Hollywood films. Anthony Gordon’s portraits of dancers shared with great dignity the pages of the popular magazines that contained the images of screen celebrities such as Greta Garbo and Marlène Dietrich. Nothing of the mythical aura of Hollywood iconic images was missing from Gordon’s dance portraits. 

British dancers like Margot Fontayn were given the glamorous attention that had been previously concentrated to Russian Ballerinas such as Anna Pavlova and Ida Rubinstein.

THE DE BASIL BALLET

Anthony Gordon photographed the étoiles and protagonists of the most relevant British ballet companies of the modern age most of whom were former premiére danseuses of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes or the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

Rolf de Maré’s Ballets Suedois and the DE BASIL Ballet company were the true European successors of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The DE BASIL company was founded by Colonel W. de Basil in 1932 for Monte Carlo, under the direction of René Blum, theatrical impresario, choreographer and brother of the more famous French Premier, Léon Blum.  It is recognized as the company who revitalized the world interest in ballet on an unprecedented scale owning one of the biggest repertoires of ballets ever possessed by a single company. 

Among the stars that participated in its works, the renown russian-american dancer and choreographer, Leonid Massine and Lubov Tchernicheva, former ballerina of the Ballets Russes, returned to the scenes on request of Colonel de Basil.

RENÉ BLUM’S COMPANY

The talented and successful French empresario broke up the fraught business association with Colonel de Basil in 1936 to form his own ballet company,the Ballets de Monte Carlo touring widely to South Africa, Australia and America with dancers such as  Anatol Vilzak, Natalie Leslie and Jeannette Lauret.

NATALIE LESLIE IN LE SPECTRE DE LA ROSE – RENÉ BLUM’S COMPANY , Anthony Gordon

THE BALLETS JOOSS

This group of dancers from Essen with headquarters in Dartington Hall ( Devon) began touring Europe and the United States since 1932. His founder, the german dancer and teacher, Kurt Jooss, was the only choreographer without any bonds with the Russian ballet tradition. HIs dance dramas were a successful and appealing combination of Expressionistic modern-dance movements with fundamental classic ballet techniques. 

The company’s most appreciated works were The Big City, The Green Table, and The Mirror.

THE BIG CITY – THE BALLET JOOSS – Anthony Gordon ph.

THE VIC-WELLS BALLET

Founded in 1931 under the direction of Anthony Gordon’s sister Ninette de Valois, and the capable management of Lilian Baylis, the most remarkable figure in the entire theatrical scene,  who revived acclaimed ballets such as Giselle and The Swan Lake .

What began as small ballet productions became the beginning of the Royal Ballet, nurturing future étoiles such as Margot Fonteyn, Pearl Argyle, Frederick Ashton and Robert Helpman. 

Amongst the notable works of the company are Le Baiser de la Fée, Les Rendezvous, Nocturne and A Wedding Bouquet.

Flipping through the stunning images of the book “Ballet – Camera Studies by Anthony Gordon” is a fascinating visual throwback to the key decades of european modern ballet. Anthony Gordon’s appealing aesthetic succeeded in communicating the essential nature of performance and in translating the movement of bodies through time and space.

“As a photographer he stood on the expressionist side of the modernist movement, noted for his use of light and shadow, for his improvisation and meticulous efforts to convey in still pictures the essence of a production, of a dancer’s part and of dance movement. His work reflects his knowledge of dance, but also his frustrated dance ambitions.’The Independent ‘Gordon Anthony Obituary’, 27th July 1989 – Peter Brinson”

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

BALLET – Camera Studios by Gordon Anthony

Preface by Arnold Haskell

Gordon Anthony’s book is a unique and rare visual survey of the most important contemporary ballet companies that toured Europe and America in the 1930’s and 1940s and that market the evolution of British Ballet: the de Basil Ballet, the Ballet Jooss, René Blum’s Company, and the Vic-Wells Ballet. 

The 96 tipped in white and black photographs ( 22 x 27 cm) of the dancers that changed the history of dance in the 1930’s and 1940s are an extraordinary testimony also of the costume design, hairstyles, make-up and photography styles of the era. The book includes short introductions to each company and bios of each dancer.

It should own a special place on the bookshelves of photographers, costume and fashion designers, researchers, and balletomanes.

PRICE € 165,00 + SHIPPING

PUBLISHING DATE: 1937 – 1ST EDITION

AUTHOR: ANTHONY GORDON

PUBLISHER: SCHIFFER PUBLISHING LTD

CONDITION: WORN COVER, LOOSE BINDING, PERFECT PHOTOGRAPHS AND PAGES,

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