1 July 2016 at 10.58am | 3 Comments
Russian-born Andrej Uspenski joined The Royal Ballet as a dancer in 2002 and danced with the Company for more than ten years before an injury ended his stage career.
In the last few years, however, Uspenski has transitioned into a career as a photographer and has spent the last year as the official photographer for The Royal Ballet. To date he has published three books documenting life behind the scenes with the Company, as well as an array of online photography shared via both his own Dancer’s Diary Instagram account, and the Royal Opera House’s official channels.
At the end of this Season, he leaves the ROH. We caught up with him to find out what life is like as a photographer with one of the world’s top ballet companies:
How did you join The Royal Ballet?
I auditioned. It was always one of my dreams to work for a big company. In those days, you had to contact the theatres by writing a letter. You couldn’t just google it and find all the information.
After three years with the Royal Danish Ballet, I felt I needed to move forward as an artist. I was always drawn to The Royal Ballet — I loved the repertory and wanted to be part of it.
When did you switch to photography?
It was triggered by an injury. I had a stress fracture and with those you just have to sit. So I started taking pictures of my friends in daily class and rehearsal. I really enjoyed capturing the personalities of the dancers and documenting their everyday routine.
What do you want to capture in your photographs and for audiences to take from them?
Personality. I don’t like poses. No matter who it is I’m photographing — I want to adjust to the subject, instead of asking them to do something. It sounds strange, but when I see somebody dancing, I know who they are — dancers are naked on stage. It’s an inside knowledge from years of dancing myself.
I take inspiration from my subjects and the setting too. Different theatres have their own personality. Many of the spaces inside the Royal Opera House are quite new for example, but backstage areas at the Paris Opera are very old. Both have a history, but are unique.
What’s the key to photographing dance?
Patience. You could spend a month in the studio taking pictures and then you take one picture and it’s a winner. It’s sort of like dancing – you prepare for six weeks for a role and then it’s over after an hour on stage.
As long as you have passion, you'll be good. If you really want to do something in life, you will do your best to get it.
What has been your highlight of photographing the Company this Season?
Working with new, up-and-coming dancers — seeing somebody being born onstage always fascinates me.
A couple of particular highlights this Season have been watching Matthew Ball and Yasmine Naghdi’s debuts in Romeo and Juliet, and seeing Reece Clarke develop. Of course working with more established dancers is a fantastic privilege too and it's been amazing to photograph Natalia Osipova showing off her amazing acting skills in Strapless and the amazing self-assured performances of Steven McRae throughout the Season. Steven in particular makes me jealous as a former dancer – the way he tunes his body is fascinating and I wish I was able to do that!
Your Instagram account has a large following. What influence do you think social media has had on dance photography?
It’s had a great influence but, increasingly, photographs taken for social media are more about self-promotion. That’s good in a way in that it empowers the individual, but photographs do feel less like art. Then of course there’s the volume – with everyone taking selfies, every phone has thousands of images in them. It’s fantastic that there’s such an appetite for content, however, and I’m looking forward to continuing sharing dance photography via my account.
How will you remember your time with The Royal Ballet?
I’ve never seen so many talented people in one place! It’s amazing how much effort and talent goes into getting shows on stage and how everyone works together to further the ROH’s art forms. I’ll miss the Royal Opera House – it’s a remarkable place.