The Arthropologist

That's life! Photographer captures dancers in everyday settings doing extraordinary things

That's life! Photographer captures dancers in everyday settings doing extraordinary things

News_Nancy_Dancers Among Us_March 2012_Karina Gonzalez_Houston Ballet
Commuting: Houston Ballet soloist Karina Gonzalez kills time reading one of her many cover stories while waiting for the train. Photo by Jordan Matter
News_Nancy_Dancers Among Us_March 2012_Jordan Reed_Houston Ballet_Galleria_ice skating
The Blessing: Houston Ballet dancer Jordan Reed blesses the Galleria Skating rink. Photo by Jordan Matter
News_Nancy_Dancers Among Us_March 2012_Connor Walsh_Houston Ballet
Texas Gun Show: Houston Ballet principal Connor Walsh plays with toys. Photo by Jordan Matter
News_Nancy_Dancers Among Us_March 2012_Kiki Lucas
Final Touches: Houston Met dancer and resident choreographer Kiki Lucas gets ready for a night out. Photo by Jordan Matter
News_Nancy_Dancers Among Us_Michael McBride
Shoveling Finesse: Michael McBride of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in town this week at SPA  Photo by Jordan Matter
News_Nancy_Dancers Among Us_March 2012_Karina Gonzalez_Houston Ballet
News_Nancy_Dancers Among Us_March 2012_Jordan Reed_Houston Ballet_Galleria_ice skating
News_Nancy_Dancers Among Us_March 2012_Connor Walsh_Houston Ballet
News_Nancy_Dancers Among Us_March 2012_Kiki Lucas
News_Nancy_Dancers Among Us_Michael McBride

In an episode of Jerry Seinfeld, Jerry unapologetically tells Elaine that he's never been to the ballet. Really? I wonder what kind of uproar would have been caused had he mentioned that he had never been to the theater, or a museum? But, the ballet, ho hum. That's fine, I guess. Carry on. 

How do we get dance more attached to the world? 

Enter Dancers Among Us, Jordan Matter's project to do just that. Matter photographs dancers in urban and rural settings, embedded in the very fabric of daily life. What's extraordinary is that the dancers are doing extraordinary things while among us. The project will culminate in a book from Workman Publishing in 2013.

 I suggested the area around Wortham for Gonzalez. After scoping out the famous Wortham escalators and the muddy Bayou below, Matter pronounced, "This place is dead. Where's the story?" Gonzalez added cautiously, "I don't swim."

Thus far, he has photographed members of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Mark Morris Dance Group, American Ballet Theatre, Paul Taylor Dance Company and Aspen Sante Fe Ballet, along with Broadway legend Bebe Neuwith, to name a few among many.  

Dancers are found charging through Times Square, back bending on Madison Ave., whirling on a merry-go-round in San Francisco or reaching for sea gulls on a Sarasota, Fla., beach. It's the visual truth too, he uses no digital manipulation.

I came across the project on Facebook and Twitter, and mentioned it in a column about connecting art to the world around us. A few tweets, one phone conversation and several emails to local dancers later, and Matter was on a plane here.

"Let's meet at the Galleria," Matter suggested. Other than taking my sons to see Santa two decades ago, the Galleria is a place I mostly avoid. 

Enter Matter, moving like a speeding train into the food court to meet me and Houston Ballet dancers Jordan Reed and Karina Gonzalez. Within minutes, Matter spots the shot for Reed, poised over the bustling skating rink under a gigantic Rodeo sign. "What's this Rodeo thing?" he asked. The renegade photographer has a knack for sizing up a city in a nano second.

In her cinched-waisted, ruby red lace dress, Reed looks like a Galleria goddess, beckoning shoppers and skaters alike. In the space of 20 minutes, Matter transformed this formerly dull landmark into a magical place. 

I suggested the area around Wortham for Gonzalez. After scoping out the famous Wortham escalators and the muddy Bayou below, Matter pronounced, "This place is dead. Where's the story?" Gonzalez added cautiously, "I don't swim."

Here's the thing: Matter won't settle for Gonzalez grand jeteing across Smith Street; she needs a reason to be doing so. So onward we trudged (in freezing mid-February temperatures) to find the right spot. As we drifted into the historic Market Square area, Matter muttered. "We are close, I can feel it." 

 "The man is a master improviser. In little over an hour, we found a location, created a pose, got the shot and attracted attention from the police. The process went so fast we had time to get doughnuts afterward, which the muddy dancers inhaled."

He got the shot of Gonzalez gracefully reading a magazine perched some several feet in the air while waiting for a METRO train, seconds before security arrived. 

He bid us farewell, saying. "I have to meet Connor Walsh at the Gun Show." When I asked Walsh  if he returned with any souvenirs, the Houston Ballet principal replied, "Only sore legs, but it was worth it."

Here's the funny part, cameras aren't even allowed at the Gun Show, but somehow Matter smuggled one in.

He caught Houston Met dancer and resident choreographer Kiki Lucas outside a night club. Lucas describes her story, "I was going on a date in my red dress and black boots, putting on red lipstick, with my leg on the wall." Matter paired choreographer, dancer and actor Courtney Jones with Lucas climbing a fence.

"He was committed to the idea of being inspired by his surroundings to capture the photo, which resulted in literally driving around downtown Houston until something caught his eye," says Jones. "It was exciting that it really was his first time seeing these places."

When Matter pulls into town he may have a few ideas on locations, but much happens in the moment. "It always works out," he told us, with swashbuckling confidence. He had planned to shoot Walsh and Houston Ballet Principal Melody Mennite on a mechanical bull, but life intervened. Mennite needed to be with her son. Matter ended up getting a shot with the ballerina and her darling son.

"We had tons of fun, and Isaac ate it up, as well as eating up a giant ice cream cone that was part of the picture," says Mennite. "Jordan was so specific in his vision, and he has such an eye to detail that he's able to translate to the dancer. He also picks up on people's personalities pretty quickly, which makes his shots look unforced."

The cowboy with a camera continued his adventures the next day at NASA with Kelly Myernick inspecting a rocket perched on top of Charles-Louis Yoshiyama's shoulder."I really enjoyed his energy, and seeing his vision become reality was amazing" Yoshiyama says. 

Matter wrapped up his Bayou City visit with Jesus Acosta, Shohei Iwahama, Tristin Ferguson and Jared Doster from NobleMotion Dance among the oil refineries in Pasadena.

"We were rolling around in mud; it was a blast," Andy Noble reports. "The man is a master improviser. In little over an hour, we found a location, created a pose, got the shot and attracted attention from the police. The process went so fast we had time to get doughnuts afterward, which the muddy dancers inhaled."

He came, he shot, he annoyed security guards. Noble adds, "He's our kind of guy."

"How the Frack Did You Do That?" A Dancers Among Us Secret Revealed from Jordan Matter on Vimeo.

Dancers Among Us: On Wall Street from Jordan Matter on Vimeo.