A moment of silence, please, for this splendid photograph, a capture of choreographer Michel Fokine’s “The Firebird,” a ballet created to Igor Stravinsky’s stirring score for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Dancing in their originating roles are Tamara Karsavina and Adolph Bolm. Yes, it’s a sensational, dance historic moment. But this frozen sculptural moment, seen through the eye of the artist behind the image, Emil Otto Hoppé , is reaching for something more.
Hoppé (British, born Germany, 1978–1972), of course, was the exclusive photographer for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes seasons in London from 1911 to 1923.
Everything about the photo is so unusual. Two dancing figures occupy the image’s lower third. Above them looms a block of velvety black space. Here Ivan Tsarevich catches and holds in his grasp, the wild Firebird. And yet …
How rare to photograph ballet dancers of that era on the floor, much less a prima ballerina of the stature of Karsavina in 1911…? in a horizontal position? And then the brilliant stroke of layering atop the two figures a massive block of black space. It strikes this viewer as a defining moment in both dance and photography to restage for the camera a singular spacial moment that must have been fleeting on stage, and then arrange it so unnaturally, and for posterity, in the photographer’s rectangle. It’s like an early movie.
The low space is so significant. Everything about classical ballet until Diaghilev launched his brilliant experimentation (at its apex was Nijinsky’s primitive “The Rite of Spring”) was about lifting the body skyward, defying gravity, elevating the dancer and, one step removed, the audience. The shared exultation is most emphatic when the ballerina rises to her points. (The earth is where you and I operate). A dancer reached for the sky. For ‘high’ art to take place so low down, was the start of a new era.
Luckily for us, we are friends with Graham Howe, the curator who leads a team of exhibition professionals at Curatorial Advisory who set up (mostly, but not exclusively) photography exhibits for museums and other institutions. Curatorial, who are hosting two shows, E.O Hoppé and the Ballets Russes concurrent to E.O. Hoppé Nudes have a new arts space in London — in South Kensington’s Cromwell Place. And, whoa, that is directly across the road from 7 Cromwell Place, where Hoppé maintained a studio. Londoners, scurry over.
E.O Hoppé and the Ballets Russes & E.O. Hoppé Nudes | Curatorial Advisory, Cromwell Place, London | Dec 1–12
Thank you, Andrew, I will make this correction. Debra
This photo was taken in 1912, not 1911. The Firebird was not performed anywhere in 1911. Hoppe took the photo in June 1912, to record the ballet’s first performancve in London.