Katerina Pantelides (Londondance.com)
A Flash Of Light (V&A Museum)
Contemporary dance predominantly exists in the moment of the performance, making it difficult to exhibit in a museum environment. It's costumes, unlike those of ballet and other classical dance forms, tend to appear drab, while it's sets, often vast, abstract and dependant on complex lighting are almost impossible to display. As the sole artefacts that can capture the essence of contemporary movement, photographs are precious.
Curated by Jane Pritchard, A Flash of Light: The Dance Photography of Chris Nash at the Victoria and Albert Museum charts the relationship of contemporary dance and photography through the work of pioneering London-based dance photographer Chris Nash. In a speech at the exhibition preview, John Ashford (former director of The Place Theatre) noted that before Nash contemporary dance was photographed like ballet – monochrome and graceful, with just enough flesh on show to gain those vital column inches. There was a wide disconnect between this bland representation and increasingly radical performance on stage. Working closely with the dance makers themselves and sharing their stark, eclectic vision, Nash changed all of this.
Rather than mounting a chronological survey of Nash’s work, the exhibition adopts a thematic approach, presenting the photographs in terms of documentation of performance, collaboration with eminent dance practitioners including Javier De Frutos, Rambert Dance Company and the Cholmondeleys and Featherstonehaughs, and personal interpretation of dance. The exhibition layout is both inspired and meticulous: works dating from as early as 1980 are positioned alongside recent output – a clever display strategy, which encourages spectators to overlook dated haircuts and costumes and focus instead on Nash’s ability to convey the baroque dynamism of contemporary movement.
As well as showcasing the sheer visual appeal of dance photography, the exhibition gives visitors insight into its practice. Captions with anecdotes from Nash and participating dancers and choreographers accompany each image, and in a recent video of the photographer at work it becomes clear that Nash has a specialist’s understanding of both his medium and dance itself. He works quickly, paying attention to details such as how a dancer’s weight should be positioned in relation to the floor in order to cast an appropriate shadow. Perhaps his choreographic approach is partially determined by the fact that photocalls often happen in advance of the complete choreography and he has to work with improvised movement.
Pure and dynamic, the images that Nash loads onto his computer after a shoot are wonderfully raw. While a less bold individual might be tempted to leave them as they are Nash in the video adjusts the colours and layers on textures to evoke the atmosphere of the performance, and perhaps his personal interpretation of the choreography. The result is a consciously crafted hothouse creation, the photographic equivalent of an orchid.
A Flash of Light: The Dance Photography of Chris Nash (The Lowry)
By Harriet Hill-Payne (The Mancunian)
I’m not sure what I was expecting from A Flash of Light: The Dance Photography of Chris Nash – just pointe shoes and the perfect arabesque, perhaps. I couldn’t have been more wrong; these are extraordinary images that are all charged with energy, immediacy and a vibrant vitality. The traditional costume of constraining bodice with billowing skirts in Orfeo, contrast with the spirit of contemporary defiance Nash captures in the dancer. The image lets her intention speak directly to the audience, capturing a split-second of expression the naked eye probably couldn’t register.
In Fishwreck, where the background dancer’s physicality resembles a prawn, the image has a playfulness and humour which again captured a moment of perspective that might go unnoticed within the whole dance.
The descriptions beneath the images explain Nash’s inspirations or initial ideas, which emphasize the sense of collaboration already so evident. His diverse influences, from Alfred Hitchcock to Egon Schiele, combine with Nash’s clear intension to take innovative contemporary photographs. The obvious collaboration between dancer, choreographer and photographer hint at the reason the images are so arresting: they are a testament to the limits of the human body as much as to the artistry of the photographer.
I was amazed by the dancers physical capabilities, and stood in front of Faking It, which depicts a body suspended in mid air, wondering if I had made a crucial career mistake in leaving ballet classes behind me at 7. I did not go so far as attempting to recreate the image there and then myself, as one of my fellow exhibition-goers did, but I’ll admit I was tempted to try.
Keith Watson This is london (Evening Standard)
Stopmotion at the National Theatre
Scanning down the list of dancers featured in this timely set of greatest snaps by peerless dance photographer Chris Nash is to gaze upon a Who’s Who of new British dance over the past two decades. Anyone who is anyone has been given a career leg-up by one of Nash’s finely crafted choreographed studies. Just as groups such as The Cholmondeleys, DV8 and Adventures In Motion Pictures tore up the rule book and created a whole new way of looking at dance in the mid-1980s, so Nash responded in kind with a whole new kind of dance photo. Pitched somewhere between a pop promo and a high fashion art shoot, Nash’s pictures played an integral part in making dance look daring, glamorous and dangerously beautiful. In a word, he made it cool. Stylish without being stylised, Nash’s pop culture-influenced approach was in large part responsible for creating the striking images that helped the likes of Michael Clark, Javier de Frutos and V-Tol cross over from the dance ghetto to &nd audiences in the wide world beyond. It helps that Nash himself is a dance fan, a regular on the London dance scene. Though fashion and pop play an equal part in his portfolio, it’s Nash’s insider insight that informs his dance studies. There’s the twinkle in Matthew Bourne’s eye in Spitfire from 1987 (was he already dreaming of Swan Lake?), the electric chemistry of Lloyd Newson and Nigel Charnock in DV8’s seminal My Sex, Our Dance from 1986. Nash, with the luck created by judgment, was always there when it mattered. And what he’s created is a remarkable body of work.
Judith Mackrell (The Guardian)
Stopmotion at the National Theatre
Chris Nash took his first dance photograph in 1977. It was a year in which surprising numbers of amateur British enthusiasts were putting on legwarmers and heading for their nearest dance studio, and young UK choreographers were gaining heady confidence in their own art form. Since then Nash has become unofficial documentor of the British modern dance scene, and his current retrospective in the Lyttelton Theatre's foyer, StopMotion, is a lively, often beautiful record not only of his own talent but of the past 20 years of dance activity.
His own background in visual arts equipped Nash uniquely for the job. Just as his favoured choreographers have tended to cram their work with cross-cultural references, theatre and fantasy, so Nash has played with a variety of approaches. Most characteristic are the meticulously assembled collages (photos spliced with drawn or printed images), through which he wittily aims to locate the mainspring of a group's aesthetic. An early publicity shot for the Cholmondeleys, for instance, replaced the performers' bodies with dancing, waggling fingers, capturing the wayward energy of the group's approach. A shot for the Featherstonehaughs, titled Immaculate Conception, has the all-male dancers gazing down at their earthly selves from the radiant vantage point of heavenly clouds.
References to renaissance art jostle with haute-surrealism, film noir and Soviet posters throughout this packed exhibition, sometimes picking up on images integral to the dance work, sometimes jumping out of Nash's own imagination. Yet even while many of the photos are gorgeous art objects, he rarely fails to capture some singular quality within each of his subjects.
Nash has been watching dance long enough to snap, when he chooses, the deep visceral action of a dancer mid-move - the twisted swerve of a jump, the louche tilt of a swivelling hip - but even in more posed images the dancers' physical personalities feel exuberantly present. Javier De Frutos's bare butt seems to wiggle, rudely and sweetly, in your face; Paul Liburd's impressively powerful torso retains its uniquely delicate grace; head shots of Michael Clark have him posed like a young Laurence Olivier but with a tart's make-up smeared over eyes and mouth. This exhibition is remarkable for its restless, creative range and entrancing ability to conjure up a crowd of dancing memories, past and present.