Concert dance is a fantasy. And so too are Mark Andrew’s photographs of the art.
As seen in the foyer at the National Museum of Dance, his photos capture billowing smoke spiraling from dancing toes and fingers. In others, dancers appear as mirror images with a twist. Enter the Hall of Fame and the mystery multiplies with stills of Lloyd Knight, in which half of his sculpted physique fades into the shadows.
Andrew is the museum’s resident photographer. And as such, he has access to some of New York City’s top dancers. He aims the camera at itinerate dancer Desmond Richardson, Jamie Rae Walker and Julie Tice of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Knight and Jacqueline Bulnes of the Martha Graham Dance Company. And recently, his lens grabbed the long and lean figure of Peter Martins, ballet master in chief of New York City Ballet.
He photographs them doing what they do best — moving. And then he adds a layer of mystique to his dramatic portraits — curls of smoke, double visions and a flash of light illuminating the dancers’ well-defined muscles.
These are the themes that run through Andrew’s work currently on display. The entry’s “Smoke and Mirrors” pays homage to the illusion of dance. In “Steel: The Physique of a Dancer,” in the adjacent hall, Andrew focuses solely on Knight and Richardson with striking effect. And all of these works are packaged — mounted and framed — in ways that heighten their impact. For example, the “Steel” photos are mounted on rusty steel plates.
“I was thinking physique of steel and then I took it literally,” said Andrew in his Lake Avenue studio in Saratoga Springs. “I’m always trying to integrate the image with the presentation. That is really big for me. Ultimately, the whole piece is a work of art.”
By contrast, Andrew is going for whimsy in “Smoke & Mirrors.”
“They are just fun,” said Andrew, who framed these images as if they are floating. “Smoke and mirrors connotes lack of substance and deceit. And so in my mind I was playing with the idea of self-deceit. Graphically, it was about fun.”
Andrew is a former real estate syndicator. Three years ago, frustrated with the real estate market, which he felt was out of line, he closed his office. He turned all his attention to his hobby — photography.
He toyed with portraiture and capturing the action at Saratoga Race Course. But dance seized his imagination after Beth Hartle, then director of the museum, introduced him to some local dancers.
“I was experimenting, but once I started to photograph dancers that was it for me,” said Andrew. “There are so many elements. I like how dancers use their whole body to express themselves. Then the whole fantasy element. It provides a lot of different themes.”
His first show at the museum was “Eleanor Rigby Resurrected.” The 2006 exhibition featured the dancers posing as characters from rock songs — Eleanor Rigby, Johnny B. Goode, Mustang Sally, Layla and Roxanne, etc. As he points to each of the photos, he said, “I like working in series a lot because it expands my artistic world. It makes it more multi-dimensional.”
Andrew used to look for new subjects in the flurry of classes offered at the Broadway Dance Center in New York City. But now, dancers seek out Andrew. Those who pose are rewarded with an image, artfully mounted and framed.
“I try to be really generous to the dancers. I want their experience to be amazing with me and walk away with something they love. It seems to generate more referrals.”
Andrew’s photos of dancers are not the only thing on view at the museum. One of the main exhibition halls houses the Hall of Fame, which honors luminaries in dance, both choreographers and dancers. George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Fred Astaire are among the notables celebrated with a portrait and short biography.
The other large hall is currently offering “On Broadway: The Evolution of Dance on the Broadway Stage.” The display surveys the history of the Great White Way from the Ziegfeld Follies to the current crop of shows including the jukebox musical.
Visitors can also follow the sidewalk behind the museum to watch the young ballet and modern dancers of the New York State Summer School of the Arts. Ballet dancers, led by New York City Ballet principals Daniel Ulbricht and Jenifer Ringer, leap and spin in the studios throughout July. In August, the modern students, as directed by former Paul Taylor muse Carolyn Adams, perfect their falls and contractions.
So dance lovers of all styles, living and legendary, will get a fix at the museum.
Reach Gazette reporter Wendy Liberatore at 395-3199 or at [email protected]