Capturing a Season: Telling Smuin’s Story in Images

What goes into producing a new season at Smuin Ballet? After the repertoire has been confirmed and venues are secured, it’s time to create a visual library for the season. Since dance is a very visual medium, Smuin produces original photography to tell the company’s story through each of the season’s programs.

Inspiration images for the season photo shoot. Photo: Leslie Irwin.


Last week, Smuin Ballet hosted its annual season photo shoot at ODC Theater. A full-day affair featuring a rotating cast of 20 dancers, staff, and crew, the shoot culminated several months of preparation. We sat down with Company Manager JoEllen Arntz to get some insight into the creative process.


How much planning goes into a Smuin Ballet photo shoot?

JoEllen: The artistic process begins 2-3 months in advance in order to book a studio, crew, dancers, a photographer, and more! Smuin Ballet’s team coordinates with a design agency to create a cohesive look for the upcoming programs. Then they come to me for costumes!

Dancer Erin Yarborough-Powell sits for hair and make-up before the photo shoot. Photo: Leslie Irwin.

What kind of equipment is required for a photo shoot?

JoEllen: A little bit of everything: we can use anything from a seamless photo backdrop, lighting trees, and sandbags, to a trampoline, padded mat, and even fake snow! This year, I pulled out costumes from 12 different ballets as potential options for the photographer. We ended up using only 3!

What does the day of the photo shoot look like?

JoEllen: The crew arrives early in the morning to set up the lighting and camera equipment, as well as any platform or backdrop needed. I’m there early to steam and iron the costumes! The first group of dancers arrives to have their hair and makeup done about an hour later. The designer chooses which costumes to use, and then the photographer shoots the dancers in many different variations of the same pose. And then they shoot some more! Depending on how many different “looks” are planned for a photo shoot, it can take all day.


Dancers Mengjun Chen and Robert Miller Moore pose for the season photo shoot. Photo: Leslie Irwin.

How does the creative team decide which poses to use?

JoEllen: The dancers and Smuin’s artistic team collaborate with the photographer to create stunning poses and improvised movements that are representative of that season program. Artistic Director Celia Fushille and Ballet Master Amy London coordinate with the dancers to construct intricate visual ideas that are compelling in various mediums. During the shoot, a computer displays recently shot images, so the dancers can review their poses and make adjustments. It’s a very collaborative artistic process with a lot of unique ideas!

Can you share a fun behind-the-scenes story?

JoEllen: The day before the photo shoot, the creative team decided they wanted to use a dress with a lot of flowy fabric. We didn’t have one at the costume warehouse, so Wardrobe Assistant Vincent Avery bought 8 yards of material and made a skirt and top from scratch! It turned out beautifully in the photos. We’ll see if we end up using them.

Want to see the Smuin dancers perform at our next event? Join us for the 2016 Choreography Showcase January 29-30 at ODC Theater.

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