American choreographer and artistic director Jacob Jonas has a lofty mission: To make dance a more recognizable and valued art form in society. His visually stunning, visceral performances, which tell “personal, relatable stories based on real-life experiences”, certainly go a long way towards fulfilling this goal, but Jonas is thinking bigger. Or more precisely, wider, and in our digital, interconnected world that means harnessing the power of social media to reach a global audience that is infinitely larger than the one attending your shows. This is how #CamerasandDancers was born, an Instagram project that brings together photographers, dancers and organizations to create content that poetically merges dance, photography and architecture.
Initiated through “Jacob Jonas The Company”, his Los Angeles based dance company he founded in 2014, #CamerasandDancers is a monthly, location-specific InstaMeet—an event where a group of Instagrammers meet up to take photos and videos together—organized in partnership with cultural institutions, tourist boards, dance companies and social media influencers.
The events are being held around the world hosted by leading institutions such as the Kennedy Center, The New York Public Library, The Royal Ballet, the Miami City Ballet and the J. Paul Getty Museum, where over a period of 3-4 hours, in an act of peer-to-peer endorsement, the attending artists collaborate to create content that is fueled by their individual talent and experiences, and inspired by the location’s architectural character.
Heralded as “a revolutionary movement in contemporary art”, the photographs capture the finesse, lyricism and expressiveness of dance through the distillation of movement into a static dialogue between body and space. Taken against a variety of backdrops, ranging from the rawness of urban locations and the beauty of scenic landscapes, to the polished geometry of architectural edifices and the intimacy of interior spaces, the dancers in each photograph seem to be perfectly attuned to their surroundings, as if dancing there was the most natural thing in the world. The locations inspire the choreography through the predominance of shapes and forms, the imposition or ambivalence of scale, the dynamic between light and shadow, and the sensational qualities, or absence, of texture and color. But on another level the reverse is also true, as the moving bodies inform our spatial perception, instructing us how to “read” the space they are dancing in.
As the dancers move through space, the fluidity of the choreography is captured by the photographic lens sometimes as an act of flying, flipping or hovering, sometimes as a balancing act, a tentative state of equilibrium that looks both natural and unattainable, and other times as an tender embrace. In some photographs, the dancers’ bodies contract, in some they expand, and in doing so they warp the space around them in unexpected way. In each case, the space-cum-stage where the act unfolds becomes both the act’s enabler and its distorted reflection. Moreover, the photographs invite the viewer to visualize the moments before and after, namely to complete the movement that the dancers are in the midst of making, which allows the perception of the space to be further calibrated.
For Jonas, inspiration is a matter of “the right time, right place, and right mindset” and the photographs of #CamerasandDancers verify this. At a recently posted photo taken by Toni Stadler, Jonas himself is captured hovering upside down against the imposing architecture of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The set up creates an interesting dynamic between Jonas and the architecture of the museum, the verticality of his body picking up on the slender columns that pierce through the building, his midstride position playfully interacting with the undulating grid that wraps around the mass, while the building’s towering scale is balanced out by Jonas’ black outfit that sticks out against the whiteness of the façade. It is by all means a stunning image that combines the mediums of dance and photography with the language of architecture, but more than that, it is also an illustration of Pina Bausch’s dictum about dance, that “everything belongs to everything else – the music, the set, the movement and whatever is said”.