Ballet dancers have an uncanny ability to give gravity the finger while effortlessly doing things with their limbs that normal folks will literally *never* be able to manage. Oftentimes their maneuvers are too quick to catch with the naked eye, but Jesus Chapa-Malacara has managed a sweet way to show every step from start to finish.
He’s a former dancer turned Brooklyn-based photographer who dabbled in children’s portraiture before before slipping into a bit of a creative slump, searching for something new to focus his viewfinder on. “Initially I thought, ‘Not dance. The arabesque has been captured a gazillion times and there's nothing new to explore there.’” Turning his lens back towards ballet, however, enabled him to offer a fresh take on both of his passions.
“When you're a dancer, you spend a lot of time thinking about the perfect lines you can create, but more about the movement in between. For most photography, this is useless because it's about the snap,” he says. Including the entire narrative involved perfecting a technique that combines both long- and short-exposure with some clever, site-specific lighting tricks—a kind of modern take on Muybridge.
Simply finding a space to set things up was a challenge. It had to be completely pitch dark and really, really big to allow for some major moves in an area unsullied by any kind of light pollution. And then there were certain contractual obligations to consider; some of his dancer pals who agreed to model were forbidden to dance on concrete, so it had to be friendly on the feet. He found his site in the Theater for the New City, an old haunt that allowed him access to experiment and explore on a free morning.
The magic happens on a single frame from a digital camera, as the shutter stays open for the entirety of each individual image. Continuous light illuminates the action, then a strobe is manually set off when it’s time to capture a moment in time. Apart from a bit of contrast work and clean up the series is completely Photoshop-free, and the results appear pretty much as they do on the device—visual swathes of beautiful bodies performing in ways most people can only dream of. They even offer the pros a different perspective. “One of the things the dancers have said over and over is that they wish they'd had something like this as dance students,” Chapa-Malacara says.
He’s currently working to pull together funds on Kickstarter to try out more Esprit de Corps pics and put together a book; contribute to the final hours here, or scroll down and imagine what life would be like if you were this uncannily graceful.