One City, Two Weekends, Two Dance Events, Two Historic Locations

20th July 2011
Long title but it's taken me even longer to get round to blogging this. Last year saw my first foray into performing arts photography as a guest of Surface Area Dance Theatre when they performed "Saros" in the disused Pilgrim Street Fire Station. This lead to further work not only with Surface area but with some other local companies. Roughly a year after that first encounter and I find myself back working with Surface Area documenting their latest piece "Reparation". Actually this was the fourth time we'd worked together with previous pieces "Buried" and "Dust" being documented by myself.
Surface Area are noted for staging their performances in some of the unlikeliest but most striking locations and Reparation was to be no exception as it was planned to take place in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne's Norman Keep.
With just a week to go I'd been busy with a few other commissions and was looking forward to covering a gig on the Saturday evening however a last minute cancellation meant I was at a loose end. I could have taken the evening off and stayed home with a DVD but I was keyed up for a shoot. Spotting another dance event being staged as part of "The Late Shows" I took the opportunity to get down to The Stephenson Works with my camera. As I hadn't been commissioned in any way and was merely using the event as an opportunity to network and to add a bit of variety to my portfolio meant that I had the opportunity to experiment a little. The Stephenson Works was opened in 1823 by George and Robert Stephenson and was the worlds first purpose built locomotive works. The space inside is quite vast and worked well as an open informal dance space where Nicole Vivien Watson, Molly Hodgkinson, Tim Bennett and Beth Loughran could perform their partially improvised piece. Not everything worked but I was able to think about how I could improve on an idea of using long exposures to create ghosting effects.

There were of course plenty of images captured using my tried and tested techniques.

The following Friday I was back to doing what I get paid to do, provide high quality images in often challenging situations. Nicole had asked me to attend the rehearsals and preview performance for reparation which was to be performed by molly and set to live music by Mico and Dave Nuss of New York's No Neck Blues Band using such instruments as a Hurdy Gurdy and Singing Bowl. The Castle Keep was built between 1168 & 1178 and is a stunning location. The challenge for me was not only working live in such a confined space with no time for any re-takes but doing so alongside a videographer.

Fortunately I was able to capture everything I needed during rehearsals to give a real sense of the piece. especially so as the acoustics, whilst enhancing the minimalist music, meant that every single noise my camera made would be amplified, I'd already made my mind up that I wouldn't be shooting during the preview but I was able to enjoy the performance form an audience members perspective for once.

Not only was I documenting the event for Surface Area but The Wire magazine were doing a review of the performance and needed an image. This one made the national press.


Photo comment By Pete Ross: Michael, these look fantastic. Great to meet you at The Steam Elephant last night, and sorry I missed you at the VW event today. Speak soon!! Pete

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