Photographs copyright of Anne Deniau (aka Ann Ray)
Anne Deniau’s book Nicholas Le Riche, which is being published this month by Editions Gourcuff Gradenigo, France, has an interesting solution to an old dilemma. When creating a photo-biographic body of work how do you separate the artist from their performance?
The book provides an elegant answer by showcasing the two different aspects of Le Riche as two books in one depending on which side/cover you enter. From one side you will find either Nicholas the person who is the artist/actor/performer, or from the opposite side of the book you encounter Le Riche the fluid and graceful performer with Deniau’s beautiful interpretation of his dancing performances.
Interestingly the book is as complex as the artist. Deniau’s photographs provide us with a visual feast of Le Riche’s performances and literally on the flip side the personal photographs of the the actor and dancer. We are allowed to see behind the theater curtain during the rehearsal time of the strain and rigor of getting things “right”. Or the more personal time to meditate or practice playing the guitar while in the one of many faceless hotel roads on the road.
It is a difficult task to find the spirit of a person who resides behind the veneer of the many masks we all wear through out the day least a trained and talented actor who knows the integrity of a lens and film. It is to Deniau’s credit that she penetrates the veil as I pause during the flow of images to begin to sense who Le Riche may be beyond the facade provided for at the theater.
In actuality this book can be considered a joint collaborative project between Deniau and Le Riche. As this series evolved over a considerable amount of time you can sense the mutual trust. There is the hint of vulnerability and an openness between them. Perhaps there was more of a personal dance and performance between them over time. Viewing the body of work it appears that Deniau was able to capture more of the spirit of Le Riche and she did so with grace and respect.
Deniau utilized a variety of ways to express Le Riche’s athleticism and artistic movements while he was moving through his performances. It can be difficult to illustrate with a two-dimension medium the amount of raw energy that takes place as a dancer explodes off the stage momentarily flying effortlessly suspended as though hanging by a wire then gracefully falling back to earth.
Predominately her photographs are black and white with a grittiness that results from low light conditions and film being pushed. The flow of the images is nicely paced and the occasional full bleed photographs work very well to provide that extra sense of openness especially the largeness of the stage. The pairing of the photographs also play off each other such as the photograph of Le Riche applying makeup while on the facing page we see the audience finding their places. The anticipation of the both the audience and the actor is felt in the tension between the two.
Although this is book is about a specifically about Le Riche, it is a story and an insight about all artists and especially ballet performers. Each artist has a private life that is much different than the very public life under the lights and in front of the audience. They are real people dealing with real problems who work untold hours to fine tune their skills and craft to create the allusion of how “effortless” the abilities are while on stage. Deniau captures all of that from the down time to the rehearsals and hours of work to prepare the performance with the resulting sweat and worn out ballet slippers.
Only after a little time with Deniau’s photographs do I start to find the little things that are left in the corners of the image such as an old photograph that is tucked in the corner Le Riche’s stage mirror. These appear as a constant reminder of the past as well as what standard is to be expected and maintained in the performance that is about to take place.
The book has 354 pages with 311 black and white and 93 color photographs in a beautifully bound hardcover book with dust cover. The text is both in French and English.
By Douglas Stockdale
Update: Anne has provided a photo, below, from the first book signing in Paris, of her, Nicolas and another friend during an amusing moment. There a web-journal has been started for the book, including subsequent photographs of Nicholas by Anne, which can be found here.
From the signature (launching of the book) that took place on the 23rd of October 2008 in Paris at the Repetto boutique, rue de la paix.