Chris Crisman’s abstract take on the Pennsylvania Ballet

Award-winning photographer Chris Crisman is always searching for new ways to challenge himself and his team when it comes to thinking about how to transform a reality, to craft the kinds of fantastical spaces and places where anything is possible. He ultimately wants to create the kind of work that can help people see things not as they are but as they can be. Chris believes, the more thought-provoking, the better.

One way Chris achieves his vision is by using color as a focal point in his work. As a result, he tries not to use more than two colors in an image. It shows in his body of work for Cotton USA, and his projects Philadelphia Stories, and Women’s Work.

It was no surprise then, to hear The Pennsylvania Ballet wanted to work with Chris for their 2018/2019 season campaign. Angel Corella, Artistic Director of the Pennsylvania Ballet, wanted a “risky campaign; one that made a bold statement through the use of color, shapes, and metaphor.” To say that Chris’s latest work for the Pennsylvania Ballet takes his fondness of color to the next level is an understatement. The result is a unique, contemporary, and abstract take on Ballet.

Chris talks about the Pennsylvania Ballet campaign:

You have told us in the past that you “strive to create a culture where ideation is democratic.” The Pennsylvania Ballet is a dream-team of gifted dancers, and dancer/artistic director. A collaboration of minds was paramount for this project. Can you tell us a bit about it?

“I knew there was going to be significant styling and post-production, given the metaphorical concept of this campaign. Together, we de-constructed each of the six ballets we were seeking to represent. We then turned around and re-constructed them focusing on one moment in time of each dance. We had a lot of work in front of us. Key to the collaboration was Lily Hetzler. She is a stylist with whom I had recently worked. Lily has a background in fashion having worked with Dolce & Gabbana, GQ, and Vogue to name a few. She is multi-faceted and takes a hands-on approach to her work. Lily was the perfect person to partner with to do both wardrobe and set design on this project.”

Each of the six images of the 2018/2019 campaign holds so many complexities and converging thoughts, can you tell us about some of your favorite pictures and what they represent?

Giselle – Dancer: Oksana Maslova

Giselle is a story of romance, heartbreak, and redemption, and is a ballet that is among the oldest and most re-enacted works.

“We wanted the viewer to see this image and get small clues of the plot of the story. When you look at the dancer dressed in white, wearing a veil and standing in a ring, you think marriage. She is alone. The background is blue. Does this mean she is sad? At further inspection, the ring is at an angle revealing a crescent moon. Does the blue mean nighttime, the end (death) rather than sadness, or all of the above? She is teetering on the edge of the inside of the ring. Does this mean there are questions about the marriage, the romance?”

Petite Mort – Dancers: Mayara Pineiro and Arian Molina Soca

Petite Mort & World Premieres
This performance is a repertoire of several contemporary dances, with some, like Petite Mort being performed since 1991, and others represent the world premiere performance.

“We needed to illustrate common themes coming from each of the dances and tie them all together. The image shows two heroes from Petite Mort, intertwined in the center with 12 columns, representing the dancers, encircling the couple. There are several themes encapsulated in this image. You can see sex and death interplay, organic positioning, human symmetry, tombstones.”

Romeo & Juliet – Dancers: Sterling Baca and Lillian DiPiazza

How has the reception been for this campaign?
“There has been tremendous feedback on social media, especially on Instagram. The dancer’s themselves have posted during the shoot and of the finished campaign. The image of Romeo and Juliet, representing the first performance of the season, has seen the most engagement so far.”

“The most telling though comes from our smallest in-house ballet fan, my daughter. She loved the campaign so much that my wife and I framed four of the images and hung them in our daughter’s room for inspiration.

To see more of how Chris blends the natural with the fantastical and sees things not as they are, but as they can be – follow him on Instagram @crismanphoto

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