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GÉRARD UFÉRAS: IN THE COMPANY OF STARS

 

Gérard Uféras: In the Company of Stars

 

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 12 JULY 2007— Gérard Uféras, the French photographer who spent more than a year behind the scenes with the dancers of the Paris Opéra Ballet, has recently published In the Company of Stars, an unusual and strangely beautiful book. Scheduled for release in the United States in Steptember, images from the book are currently on view until 21 July 2007 at the Gallery at Hermes in New York .

 Scarcely ever in tutus and stripped of all artifice, members of the prestigious company are portrayed going about their everyday life at the Palais Garnier. Over a hundred photographs show the dancers backstage in the wings, in the elevators or simply warming up in the rehearsal rooms before a performance. Rarely is a dancer seen full-face or even in arabesque, for what interested the photographer was to capture the concentration that precedes an entrance on stage or to seize for ever the movement of a hand, an arm, or a shoulder to show something beyond the purely visual. A fascinating world where audiences never go has been opened up.


Gérard Uféras: In the Company of Stars

"I'd worked with opera singers around the world", Uféras told me in Paris recently, "but not with dancers. I'm not a dance photographer and never thought I'd get so caught up in the world of ballet. It was only when a three-day commission from a magazine for a feature on the French company proved so enjoyable that I decided to continue with a project of my own."

"The dancers I met were so enthusiastic, dedicated, and indescribably special, each and every one of them. They had so much to say and were incredibly open to new ideas and outsiders accepting, for example, my presence at rehearsals and class. The children in the school were most welcoming, and I even joined in on a tour to Japan where I simply absorbed the atmosphere."

"I never chose my subject and no photograph was engineered. I didn't even know who they were, and on one photograph I am not even sure whether the young lady in the background was actually a member of the company. Moreover, the title of my book in French is, Un pas vers les Etoiles, a step towards the stars, as most of my photographs are of whoever was around at the time, regardless of rank."


Gérard Uféras: In the Company of Stars

However, among some of the exceptional photographs, there is one of étoile Agnès Letestu in practice clothes, intense and serious, rehearsing Serenade with Laurent Hilaire, in contrast to another of Laetitia Pujol, all light and lightness in a swirling long white dress, from Wuthering Heights. And then, turning the page, one comes across a pair of discarded pointe shoes. The caption says they belonged to Laura Hecquet, a young dancer who had recently joined the company, but Uféras told me that he had just come across them during Rudolf Nureyev's Sleeping Beauty.

"I developed a fascination for dancers' hands", he said, "hence certain photographs where I took the liberty of chopping off my subject's head. The image thus becomes more powerful and moving. Un-manicured and unvarnished, their hands are so eloquent and express so much."

Some of the photographs tell more about the subject than initially meets the eye, as, for example, one of Emilie Cozette.* Uféras' image shows that of a lovely girl, poised, serene, and assured. But the steely determination is there behind the charm. The photographer has captured the ballerina's total commitment.

"But I wasn't concerned with finding the greatest interpreters or the most photogenic", Uféras continued, "and if there happens to be a predominance of women, it wasn't a conscious choice. I photographed what I saw; young people inhabited by their passion, and I hope the images bear witness to the hours of work and sweat spent rehearsing and preparing ballets. It is a tribute to their work."


Gérard Uféras: In the Company of Stars

Indeed, Gérard Uféras' book is far from the usual sort of coffee-table glossy, for he has succeeded in showing the humility, humanity, and grace of members of the French company. That the text is irrelevant or that some photographs might at first glance seem of lesser interest than others is of little importance, for he has captured the world of labour and toil, the magic and poetry that lies behind the polished performance that the public sees, which is the miracle of the theatre.

*The photograph was taken the day before the annual competition when Emilie was promoted to the rank of première danseuse prior to her nomination to étoile in May, this year.

 

In the Company of Stars: The Paris Opera Ballet  
By Gérard Uféras
Hardcover: 160 pages
Flammarion (September 2007)
ISBN-10: 2080300008
ISBN-13: 978-2080300003
$ 50.00 US
€38,00 

Un pas vers les étoiles
de Gérard Uféras (Auteur), Brigitte Lefèvre (Préface)

Relié: 160 pages
Editeur : Flammarion (novembre 2006)
Collection : Arts et Culture
Langue : Français
ISBN-10: 2080113992
ISBN-13: 978-2080113993
€38,00 

In the Company of Stars: Gérard Uféras
until 21 July 2007
Gallery at Hermes
691 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10021
Tel: (1) 212 835 64 69

All images copyright © 2007 Gérard Uféras. Used with permission.

 Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com .



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