odette costumePacific Northwest Ballet

ELEVEN,' a Photo Book

by Azlan Ezaddin

September, 2003

Dates, time, venues and names withheld to protect the identities of innocent ballet dancers involved.

In what seemed like a clandestine rendezvous between master spies (or is it ballet masters), a package exchanged hands on stage behind a closed curtain, with strict instructions that it was not to be opened until a safe distance was reached. The warning was taken to heart and, despite a strong curiousity, the secret of the contents was guarded with life and limb until it was well past the state border.

Such was the pricelessness of ELEVEN that safety precautions of this magnitude were required.

Eleven represents the number of principal dancers at Pacific Northwest Ballet, and hence "Eleven" is the name of the photo book featuring these dancers: Patricia Barker, Paul Gibson, Carrie Imler, ARIANA Lallone, Christophe Maraval, Stanko Milov, Louise Nadeau, Kaori Nakamura, Jeffrey Stanton, Olivier Wevers and Le Yin.

That "Eleven" is a first-time publishing effort, led by Ariana Lallone and OLIVIER Wevers, is remarkable in that its highly professional layout gives no clue to that fact. Chic black-and-whites -- reminiscent of film noir -- sparingly interspersed with single names in bold display red against a white backdrop, imbue the 72-page work of art with a high elegance. It does not look like the work of first-time publishers. By far.

The dancers show off their bodies, parts of their bodies, their faces and their hair in a variety of stylized poses, both still and in motion -- mostly in designer wear by Mario's but occassionally in studiowear. The image that most typifies the synthesis of fashion and physical artistry is one of [STANKO] Milov in mid-leap, arms outstretched and body bent over flying legs, in a dark-colored suit with chest exposed; a leaping human bat, swooping in on prey with more than a touch of classy sex appeal.

The sex appeal is, of course, not limited to one image. It reigns throughout. From [PATRICIA] Barker with a shoulder exposed in a quartered top to [JEFFREY] Stanton in unzipped summer pants. From [CARRIE] Imler in a strapless dress glancing back to[LE] Yin in nothing but dark, fatigue-like pants. And then there is the image of [KAORI] Nakamura with hands clasped, lips parting coyly and smouldering eyes piercing directly into the camera.

Mario's fashions range from the boldly classy ([LOUISE] Nadeau in a light-toned full-length one-piece) to the energetically hip ([PAUL] Gibson in convertible slacks coming apart). The style, especially in black and white, evokes the glitter of the 20s but there is also a strong contemporary feel of serendipity --that is such the cool thing these days -- in designed mis-match.

The greatest credit must go to photographer MARC von Borstel who has caught the essence of the dancers through fashion photography in a way that many dance photographers can't. Some try to capture the dance. Others photograph the dancers themselves, usually in posed positions. Von Borstel gives us an intimate glimpse of the dancers, sometimes giving us their faces and sometimes just a torso or a leg but there is always a sharpness of focus that penetrates the veneer, as if giving us a privileged voyeuristic look.

And for the most part, von Borstel's images have a sense of what might have come before and what is about to come with a continuity of action -- and hence the movement of dance -- implied, even if the subject is not about dance itself. Intimacy and vibrancy, dancer and dance are caught in harmony and rhythm by this young photographer. Witness a leaping [CHRISTOPHE] Maraval, feet pointed, torso exposed and eyes glancing downward. Quiet confidence and loud expression are merged in one.

There is hardly any text. The images are not captioned. With the dancers barely recognizable in non-ballet poses and fashion makeup, readers are drawn in to scrutinize the faces or the bodies to discern identities. With only white space around each image, the intimacy of the moment becomes more acute, without the words to interrupt, as if a bold silent moment shared between reader and dancer.

The only text that is prevalent are the first NAMES of the dancers in bold red sans-serif characters that not only accentuate the intimacy (by bringing the informal name so close to the reader) but also reinforce the vibrancy in stark contrast to the black-and-white images.

"Eleven" is indeed a priceless work of art, made more so by the limited printing. What makes it precious however is that this was an effort of love -- and mature responsibility -- by eleven gifted dancers of Pacific Northwest Ballet, to support and fund a company they obviously care about.

For ordering information, visit the PNB ELEVEN page.

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