From the Introduction to WALDMAN ON DANCEby Clive Barnes (1977)
Photography is the art of the instant. A moment frozen in time. A special transaction between camera and subject. A second of life selected by the photographer to represent his view of an eternity.
And dance is the art of movement through time. The most fugitive and fragile of arts, it disappears like mist on a windowpane. Who was Taglioni? Who, even, was Pavlova? Dancers tend to leave toe prints in shifting sands.
One of the difficulties inherent in capturing the live moment of dance is quite simply in the elusiveness of choreography. An actor with a written script to follow, even an opera singer with a score - all of this we can understand. But the memories of a dancer are supported with no such substructure. So we rely on film and dance notation, often in combination, to document dance, All we really get from film, though, is an indication of various aspects of a production along with some hints about the quality, if not the texture, of a performance. And dance notation, with no esthetic bias of its own, while offering a slant-free preservation of choreographic substance, merely charts the choreography, Using a scientific system of complex symbols, notation records the movement of limbs and torso. It documents the choreography so that choreographer and dancer can reconstruct the physical and spatial elements of a work. But it does not convey the phrasing, tone or texture, which is the essence of the dance.
The mystery of the performance, that chemistry between artist and audience, seems quite lost on movie film or videotape. It disintegrates. It dissipates. It fades. Dance, in a particular sense, more than any other of the theater arts is three-dimensional. Dance moves in space, and its specifically three-dimensional nature makes it almost impossible to capture either on film or television.
I have never discovered quite why this should be so. The difficulties created by the lack of a dimension are obvious. But this could surely be compensated for. After all, the art of drama is three-dimensional, too. And quite a few plays, nowadays, are taped, with little lost. But the difference is that, somehow, actors come out well on film or television. Indeed their memorial plaques are likely to be found on Sony and in color. Actors have a love affair going with a television camera that dancers do not.
Dancers are positively diminished by the moving picture. Perhaps the reason is that everything seems so naughtily easy. A film of a dancer doing spritely ballottés or thirty-two fouettés or balancing for endless moments transmits nothing of the technical difficulty of those movements. Because of the distortion of perspective imposed by the separate artistic demands of film, ethereality, sense of speed and elegance are all lost.
A student looking at Margot Fonteyn's career could, with care, reconstruct a surprising amount of documentary material. At one time or another, probably at least a third of her major roles have been committed to the movie camera, Yet, unfortunately, very little of her emerges from this film documentation. You can see something but never enough. There is, for example, a perfectly adequate film of Fonteyn in Frederick Ashton's ONDINE. I would not be without it. Yet I could never recommend it as a precise evocation of an unexpectedly great performance in an unexpectedly great ballet, now both, regrettably lost.
Dance is fragile not only because it is difficult to preserve, but also because attempts to capture its magic in other media rarely succeed. There are, however, some mementos of dance that do remain pungent to memory, evocative to the senses. I never saw Isadora Duncan dance, but her way of movement has become familiar to me through the drawings of her made by José Clara. Of course these are merely individual images frozen in time, but they somehow work. In many ways they are the most eloquent record we have of the rhapsodic beauty that was Isadora's alone.
A similar wonder is performed on the Romantic ballerinas of the nineteenth century. One can read some of the most graphic descriptions of their dancing by such writers as Théophile Gautier, but it is in the lithographs of, say, Chalon, that their gifts truly come alive and their spirits are truly evoked. The important thing here is that the artist is not simply recording a fact but is able to evoke a moment. This has also been the goal of our great photographers.
Max Waldman's work in dance photography comes to us in the 1970's, although the art of dance photography extends as for back as the nineteenth century. These early pictures are absolutely fascinating. At the very least, they show what the dancer looked like and what he or she wore. But sometimes they even suggest something of the spirit of a work. The photographs of Nijinsky, for example, are extraordinarily revealIng. Many people who never saw Nijinsky, and because of the brevity of his career very few people did, feel they have acquired some impression of the electrifying way he danced from pictures taken of him by photographers like de Meyer.
Originally, all dance photographs - Nijinsky's included - were studio portraits or posed stage shots. Then during the 1930's in Britain, a new trend evolved. It was called "action photography," and the purpose was to catch dancers not posing but moving in actual performance. So while the glamorous portrait photographer of dance, men such as Gordon Anthony in England and Maurice Seymour in the United States, remained, a new breed emerged, those who sat in theaters or attended rehearsals and shot dance as it happened. It is difficult to say who was the first ()I this new breed, but it was probably Merlyn Severn in London who, shortly before World War II, produced a book called BALLET IN ACTION. It was a new development in ballet photography. She was followed after the end of the war, by another two significant British photographers, Baron and Roger Wood. Also, in France, Serge Lido started to produce a series of stage action shots. Lido specialized in the kind of shot that would have a dancer disturbing the Venetian pigeons in St Mork's Square with a temps de poisson.
With these artists a thirty year period was launched, during which time the entire emphasis of dance photography was on performance rather than portraiture. In Europe today, most companies regularly arrange special photocalls, where the photographers can shoot away at a performance to their hearts' content, In the United States, we are poorer and less free to do the same, Union rules make It difficult to arrange special photocalls, while the European arrangement whereby a single photographer, like Anthony Crickmay, will be commissioned to cover a complete company and its repertory would here be economically unsound. Many of our companies appoint special photographers - Martha Swope, for example, for New York City Ballet, or Herbert Migdoll for the Joffrey Ballet - but these photographers are not given much latitude, because they are restricted to shooting during rehearsals and performances. All this is fine, but not always conducive to the best work.
Max Waldman, one of the most uncompromising artists I have ever encountered, found a compromise that worked in an uncompromising way. He has returned the art of dance photography from the stage to the studio, and to this controlled environment he has brought with him the tradition of the "action" photographers - the capturing of movement, not poses. The movements he captures somehow suggest both the preceding movement as well as the ones that would follow. We therefore seem to be presented with a phrase, not just a momentary image.
The incomparable Max is America's great theatrical photographer, and one of the handful of photographers who demonstrate the full range and possibility of the camera. With Max something quite fantastic happens between the subject and the camera. He developed over the years his techniques of portraiture in two major fields the theater and the nude. His eye is as sharp as a Bill Brandt or a Brassai, and his love and knowledge of the theater enabled him to produce photographs of simply imaginative power.
For years Max has been a devoted dance fan. He can be seen at almost every performance of interest. So what was more likely than that he would use his own special technique to celebrate the art of dance.
Perhaps "celebrate" is the key word here. Max is not interested in recording dance - or theater for that matter - but in celebrating it. He is the most astonishing photographer: He has something of the journalistic genius of an Arnold Newman, the special dance insight of a George Platt Lynes, and yet also a sense of the poetry of form that is pure Waldman. I have watched him so many times create permanent images out of a transient reality, but I am still aghast at the knowingness of his lens.
The pictures in this exhibition need no words. They have their own style, their own forcefulness. As I write, a Waldman picture of Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins in Jerome Robbins' AFTERNOON OF A FAUN is in my room. It is a constant evocation to me of the harmonic elements of dance, and a constant reminder of what dance is all about the fleeting images of remembered passion.