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Ailey Dancers & Famed Photographer Join Forces at the Fox

Posted by Content Manager, May 07, 2014 |
Jacqueline Green

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater kicked off a 23-city tour of North America in February. Among the cities eagerly awaiting an appearance was Atlanta, Georgia, where Ailey’s roots run deep; year after year, a loyal fan base anticipates the Company’s return to the city’s historic Fox Theatre. Though an uncharacteristic snowstorm plunged Atlanta into a state of emergency – causing our opening night performance to be postponed – the dancers stayed hard at work inside the Fox, joining forces with award-winning photographer Richard Calmes for a photo shoot that featured the decorative theatre as the backdrop.

Dancers collaborate with photographers frequently, but this project was especially meaningful for Richard (at left), a longtime Ailey fan specializing in the art of dance photography. “I’ve known and enjoyed Alvin Ailey since the mid-70s,” Richard recalls. He can remember being in attendance several times when former Ailey dancer and Artistic Director Emerita Judith Jamison wowed Atlanta audiences. The opportunity to shoot the Ailey dancers in the same location decades later as a professional photographer was one he couldn’t turn down.

“I had my first date in the Fox Theatre over 50 years ago, so it was a thrill for me to shoot there because of all the memories that I have, plus the architecture, plus the beautiful Alvin Ailey dancers. It was just like a day of heaven.”

It’s hard not to be impressed with the architecture that makes up the fabulous Fox. Iconic Islamic and Egyptian architectural and design elements cover walls throughout the building. Incorporating such a distinctive layout into a photo shoot was a concept that came easily to Richard, who worked in architecture prior to becoming a photographer.

“The unique architecture is a natural draw for me, visually,” he says. “It’s a very ornate building, so I wanted the dancers to be in as neutral, or as singular a color as possible so that they wouldn’t disappear into the detail of the background.”

In addition to ensuring the dancers commanded focus, Richard also wanted to capture them in locations with which Fox visitors are familiar. In one picture, for example, dancers Jacqueline Green and Kirven Douthit-Boyd leap through the air in front of one of the main entrances of the theatre. Since the Fox first opened in 1929, millions of people have entered through that door and walked past the brass ticket stand next to it. It was important to Richard that he capture the dancers in that doorway to highlight its significance.


Left: Jacqueline Green and Kirven Douthit-Boyd. Right: Alicia Graf Mack and Antonio Douthit-Boyd. Copyright Richard Calmes

Richard also repurposed many of the other archways at the theater, including the beautiful stained glass doorways, as well as a sequence of seemingly endless high arches in one of the hallways. “I used the architecture to frame the dancers,” he explains, treating each as a sort of proscenium.

Richard admits that some shots were difficult to take because of the building’s lighting, especially inside the actual auditorium where it is so dark. Capturing the dancers and their backgrounds became a matter of setting the camera to the right exposure, combined with the right setup and use of additional lighting. Once these aspects were correct, getting the shots he needed was a fairly quick process.

So what is it exactly that fascinates Richard the most about photographing dancers?

“I just love the collaborative process of working with dancers, the process of working together to create something beautiful,” he says. When he shoots, he is sure not only to involve the input of the dancer whose picture he is taking, but that of the other dancers that are standing by as well. Richard says he appreciates when those who aren’t in front of the camera at the moment chime in with ideas and thoughts.

Left: Jacqueline Green. Center: Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims. Right: Kirven Douthit-Boyd. Copyright Richard Calmes

Along with embracing this collaborative spirit of photography, Richard loves being able to highlight the “beautiful instruments” that many dancers have. As the father of a daughter who grew up as a dancer, he understands the time and work that goes into developing their impressive physiques.

“I like to use light so that it brings out the muscle definition of the dancers,” he says. “I love the fact that they are athletes and artists together, and I love the graphic aspect of working with them to create shapes and forms.”

View additional pictures from the Fox photo shoot on Richard's website, plus see photos from an additional studio shoot Richard completed with the Ailey company while in Atlanta.


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