The Moscow Ballet- an Interview with Neil Chaput de Saintonge
As a photographer, Neil Chaput de Saintonge has no more favorite subject matter than the art of ballet and the performers who embody it. I sat down with him recently to discuss this love and his experience with shooting the national touring company, The Moscow Ballet, during their performances in our home state of Montana.
How did you first become involved in ballet photography?
It first became of love of mine when I was asked by the director of the Atlanta Ballet to photograph their performances one year. Being able to capture the wonderful dancers and athletes while performing was amazing. After that experience, I became hooked and continued shooting for them for the next eight years while I was living there. Ever since we moved to Montana where we have lived for the past twenty two years, I really have missed shooting professional ballet companies.
How did you become involved with the Moscow Ballet?
Last year, I heard that The Moscow Ballet touring company was planning shows for three Montana cities in November – Butte, Helena and Missoula. Since Russian-style ballet is known all over the world for its beautiful dancers and professional productions, I decided I had to contact them and ask for permission to photograph their performances. The process wasn’t easy and it took a while, but I was finally granted permission and given a backstage pass to photograph in all three cities.
What was the experience like when you went to photograph them?
It was wonderful! When I went to the first performance in Butte, it was very early beforehand and I was a little nervous with not knowing what I would be allowed to shoot or in what areas. I wanted to be respectful of everybody involved. I was first greeted by the stage manager who couldn’t have been more welcoming and nice to me. He made it clear that I had full access to anywhere I wanted to go in the theater, and could speak to and photograph anybody involved with the production. They were performing The Great Russian Nutcracker on tour and held a “warm-up” session from 2-5 p.m. each day prior to the show which started at 7 p.m. Backstage the dancers were also very open and welcoming; they were always very fun to be around and let me shoot them doing stretches or any mundane thing that was going on at the time. Of course, the most fun was shooting them while they were in full costume under lights while performing the show. The sets were beautifully painted and constructed. The whole cast and crew were incredible! Often, they wanted to look at the back of my camera to see the pictures and were very excited to be photographed. Since a majority of these dancers are chosen as some of the best from all over Russia, just being in the United States touring the country is an amazing experience for them. I know they will be touring again through Montana this month, and I hope that I’ll be able to shoot them again when they come through!
Check out The Moscow Ballet website for a complete national tour schedule. Neil Chaput de Saintonge will be having an exhibition of his Moscow Ballet images opening on December 3, 2010 at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography Gallery in Missoula, Montana.