My friend Rachel and I randomly decided to go to Grand Central this Saturday afternoon to chat and do homework. When we arrived, we were informed that we had to sit in the front section of the restaurant, as an event would be happening later that evening. The typically crowded back section of the restaurant had been cleared of all tables and chairs, and photographs lined the walls. We settled in to work, and witnessed a steady stream of artsy families and hip couples enter the space. Soon the room had transformed into a bona fide art opening, complete with free food, jazz music and a roaring din of voices. A middle-aged, orange-haired woman explained that her daughter, a ballet dancer, was featured in some of the photographs. The woman was a French professor at Denver College, and had flown in for the exhibit’s opening. Rachel and I were suddenly intrigued. We took a break from studying to make our way through the throngs of people to examine the exhibit. We learned that this was part one of “The Saint Paul Ballet Project—Photo Exhibition,” by Minneapolis-based documentary photographer Caroline Yang. Yang had followed a ballet company for a year—taking striking photos of the ballerinas. The most arresting photos captured the motion and fluidity of dance by blurring the background or the bodies of the ballerinas. Yang also captured the intimate moments of a ballerina’s life in a candid way. Yang clearly understood the company and knew how to photograph their essence. She captured the beauty, strength, humanity and grace of the ballet.
The most exciting part of the opening occurred when seven dancers walked into the midst of the exhibition and slowly carved out a performance space for themselves. Everyone was silent as they began to leap, swirl, duck and dive in fluid and jolted motions. Once the music began, their movement turned into a nuanced and complex 10-minute routine. The music was understated and was secondary to the dance. It was certainly not typical ballet, and seemed to border on interpretative dance. It was sensational: powerful, emotional and thoroughly vulnerable. To me, it told a story of trust and support. The dancers caught, lifted and supported each other physically and emotionally throughout the performance. It was beautiful to witness. When they finished, the crowd erupted into thunderous applause.
The Saint Paul Ballet Project runs from October 4- January 17 at Grand Central.