Wednesday, 16 November 2016

“No clothes, no arrests, no regrets” Jordan Matter's Book Launch of Dancers After Dark

Jordan Matter and David Murley, 12 Nov 2016
(c) 2016 David Murley: all rights reserved
Reproduction licensed by Mr Murley

David Murley

On Friday the 11th November 2016, I had the opportunity to attend the European Book Launch of Dancers After Dark by international dance photographer, Jordan Matter. The event took place at Danceworks studios in London near Bond Street in Mayfair. Photographing dancers for the last seven years, Matter’s most recent project (Dancers After Dark) took three years to complete. The photographic journey took Matter around the USA and Europe, including the UK. The finished product, in my opinion, is exquisite – full of beautiful healthy and ethnically diverse dancer’s bodies. The determination and dedication it took Matter and the dancers he collaborated with during the shoots, on location around the world, to achieve the final image is equally intriguing.

(c) 2016 David Murley: all rights reserved
“No clothes, no arrests, no regrets” was projected onto a screen in one of Danceworks studios before the launch took place. Indeed, the current book by Matter is of dancers in the nude in an array of public places around the USA and Europe. However, the naked shots are some of the most alluring, artistic, captivating and striking images I have personally seen. Having a brief glimpse of the behind the scenes really helped to appreciate and sketch out the stories behind the images. This compounded more depth to the final black and white, or colour, still I looked upon. During the shooting process, Matter himself said he would began by working with the dancer’s strength, e.g. a balance or a jump, and that is how the collaborative team work of the image between Matter and the dancers would begin to take shape.

Het Nationale Ballet dancer, Michaela DePrince, graces the cover of Matter’s newest work. In a short film the attendees of the launch watched, we were able to obtain insight into what happened behind the scenes. Before the actual nude picture taking would occur, practising the intended poses fully clothed wherever the dancers could would take place. From there, Matter and the dancer(s) would then scout for locations in the city they were in. Stumbling upon that serendipitous location could sometimes take up to four hours. In this particular instance, DePrince describes the immense intensity building up in her chest and heart before she had to disrobe for the camera and the passing New Yorker public. At first, it seemed unfortunate Matter didn’t choose a secluded spot in a private unknown corner of Manhattan. Instead, Matter opted for, and suggested, DePrince bare all to New York City’s 7th Avenue strutting across the pedestrian crossing en pointe. Heart racing, DePrince leapt into the shoot with style and elegance shedding her flowing wrap around in one fell and seamless movement. That in itself was a piece of innate choreography executed by DePrince – from the behind the scenes footage. One of Matter’s finished images of DePrince adorns the cover of the completed edition. DePrince said in an interview in the short film at the launch, that part of the nerves and gut-wrenching intensity she was experiencing paralleled to many of the past times she has contended with being a black ballerina. “It’s not easy”, said DePrince. However, after DePrince did the naked shoot on the streets of New York City, she stated it was a chance for her to show it is ok to go out there and be proud of yourself and your body and that you are beautiful.

During the three years Matter was compiling the images from the various photographic shoots in the USA and Europe for Dancers After Dark, he decided to document how many times he came close to arrest. It was 43. There were times Matter said he would engage in long chats with the Police and was often dealing with areas that were heavily guarded with security and surveillance. In the short behind the scenes documentary viewed at the launch, security and Police presence was evident, e.g. when shooting with Houston Ballet dancer Harper Watters and two other dancers around Rockefeller Center and Grand Central Station in New York City. Interestingly, Matter mentioned the locations when arrests were the closest, and they were in the assumingly more liberal cities, e.g. Amsterdam and Paris and not in Texas! – where one might expect. Matter did say quickly (with regard to being in the Southern United States), “If you can get a courtesy card, get one!”

Often, the dancers involved in couple or group shots had never met one another before the shoot. One young male dancer in particular from famed American dance company, Alvin Ailey, posed naked with a young female dancer in front of Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral. In the short film, he was explaining how he was going through the intended poses fully clothed with the young female dancer not exactly realising he was about to have to embrace her completely nude in close proximity. However, the dancers unanimously, on film and at the launch that evening, said the nudity really wasn’t the issue when in came down to the crunch. What was important was getting the shot right, holding it as long as possible, or sometimes not falling off the top of a telephone box and face planting on the concrete below. Matter made sure things ran smoothly as possible too with portable lighting. Other hurdles arose, like boyfriends (heterosexual and homosexual) having difficulty with their significant other posing nude. Matter even witnessed a break-up of one couple real time during this photographic expedition. There were also some recounts of drunk passersby. However, the inebriated observers soon lost interest when they realised what they were looking at was simply another human body that just happened to be completely naked – in some cases clad ankle below in only pointe shoes.

Jordan Matter's European Book Launch
(c) 2016 David Murley: all rights reserved
The energy in the studio that evening at Matter’s European Book Launch couldn’t have been more uplifting and positive. Much of the upbeat vibe comes from Matter himself. He radiates acceptance, endearment, empathy, passion and sheer undeniable positivism. It almost makes anyone in his presence, dancer, or not, want to leap in front of the camera and pose for Matter – not to be immortalised in one of his celebrated final images, but quite frankly just to have the opportunity to collaborate and spend some time around a genuine and appreciative individual. Without a doubt, it was an absolute pleasure to meet Matter. I was even lucky enough to snag the last two copies of each available edition that night, Dancers Among Us and Dancers After Dark. Matter, without hesitation, posed with me for a photo too, as he did with many of those present at the launch that evening. Matter exemplified unhurried generosity with his time that evening – just as all the dancers who volunteered their efforts, talent and time when collaborating with him on his photographic projects.

Matter chooses to work with dancers because of their dedication. He associates fearlessness with dancers. Matter said at the event on the 11th November at Danceworks London, that his admiration for dancers stems from their pursuit to dance with no guarantee of monetary gain. They dance purely because they need to.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Lesley Osman, General Manger of Danceworks London, for reaching out to Jordan Matter and getting him to the UK and Europe. Without Osman’s motivation to contact Matter, many of us might have missed out on a truly special evening at Danceworks that night, and the images Matter and his team of dedicated dancers worked together to produce this side of the Atlantic.

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