Get Featured: Lisa Cho
Lisa Cho shares with us her story on “Ballet on Film,” a new photo collection on how the Honolulu Classical Ballet evolved to keep art and its artists relevant during the pandemic. Told over the course of three years, “Ballet on Film” follows the school through pre-pandemic performances to virtual and outdoor classes during lockdown, ending with a triumphant return to the stage for their tenth anniversary. My first ever post on JCH was on Alexey Brodovitch’s classic photo book “Ballet” that came to through Edgar Degas’s impressionist series. Among the slew of pandemic ‘nobody in the streets’ or ‘self portrait’ projects, I appreciated the optimism of “Ballet on Film” and its artistic tradition. With that, I will let Lisa tell it:
“Ballet on Film” began as a project to celebrate ballet in Hawaii, but it grew into the intimate story of how Honolulu Classical Ballet evolved to keep art and its artists relevant during the pandemic. Told over the course of 3 years, the story follows the school through pre-pandemic performances to virtual and outdoor classes during lockdown, ending with a triumphant return to the stage for their tenth anniversary.
The majority of “Ballet on Film” was shot on Kodak Portra 800 with a 50-year-old Yashica 635.
Maddie Tying Her Shoe
Chapter 1: Pre-Pandemic 2019-2020
A Nutcracker Suite, 2019
Photographed before the pandemic, this show was my introduction to the world of performing arts. I had never photographed dance, but I have always admired ballet. When “Ballet on Film” began, I decided to focus on the inner workings of the school and all that went on behind the scenes to create a successful show.
During the winter of 2019, I attended the rehearsal for “A Nutcracker Suite” where I photographed the dancers backstage – some in preparation and others relaxing between performances. A notable photo from this show is Girls Backstage, whose warm welcome set the tone for the rest of my time with the school.
Caroline & Maddie
John Landovsky Tribute, 2020
Honolulu Classical Ballet joined other Hawaii ballet schools in paying tribute to John Landovsky. The artistic director trained and mentored many of the dancers who now own and operate ballet schools throughout the islands.
A standout photo from this chapter is “Mirror Mirror,” which won an international award from The Photo Review in 2020. That year the judges were the director of photography and photo editor from The New York Times Magazine.
Chapter 2: Lockdown, 2020
“Ballet on Film” was originally conceived to celebrate ballet in Hawaii, but when the pandemic hit it shifted the story to one about the resiliency of the arts and how critical they are to our individual and shared human experience. With restrictions and limitations comes adaptation and innovation.
Virtual Classes, 2020
In the Spring of 2020, Honolulu Classical Ballet moved from in-person to virtual classes. The teachers came into an empty studio to instruct over Zoom. Life moved from rich, vibrant textures to boxes on a screen. Although the teachers and students poured so much love and care into each class – life didn’t feel in color. That’s why this chapter is in black and white. The high level of instruction and attention to detail was there, but something was missing.
Outdoor Class, 2020
In July, the school arranged an outdoor class at Wai’alae Iki Park which was the first time the older students had seen one another in months. The students were told to wear sneakers then eventually they changed into their ballet flats and finally pointe shoes. One photo from this chapter shows Romi Beppu, the school’s artistic director, jumping high in the air. I titled this shot “Joy!” because that’s how we felt that day. My heart was so full.
Chapter 3: The New World 2021-2022
In Studio Classes, 2021
In the spring of 2021, in-studio classes resumed. I attended the Ballet Technique 4 class every Friday night for 8 weeks. I watched as the dancers rehearsed Swan Lake for their upcoming show.
Swan Lake, Holy Nativity Gym 2021
Some of the series’ most memorable shots were taken at our two unique performance venues. In 2021, traditional theaters were still not allowing performances indoors, so the school got creative.
Their 2021 spring show took place at Holy Nativity gym which is full of character and charm. The vintage wood basketball court added a lot of warmth to the photos and the venue provided a few extra dancers (pigeons) who were waiting in the wings.
Mastering the Bow
The Nutcracker, Bishop Museum 2021
During the winter of 2021, the school performed The Nutcracker under an A-frame roof at Bishop Museum. It felt right to have this performance here. While classical ballet is steeped in European history and tradition, Bishop Museum helps us remember and celebrate our Hawaiian history and traditions. As the dancers effortlessly glided from one edge of the stage to the other a canoe watched over them from above.
Return to the Stage, Mamiya Theater 2022
Finally, in 2022, Honolulu Classical Ballet returned to the stage. They held their 10-year-anniversary performance in Mamiya Theater, which was the first time they have been able to perform in a theater and without masks. It was truly a triumphant show which showcased the hard work and resiliency all of the dancers, their families and the school have shown throughout the pandemic.
Return to the Stage.
I’m a self-taught photographer based in Honolulu. I ventured into photography later in life, picking up my first camera in my 30s. After a few years of shooting digitally, I watched Finding Vivian Maier and everything changed. Soon after, I acquired my first and still my favorite film camera, a 52-year-old Yashica 635 which originally belonged to my mentor.
“Ballet on Film” will be on exhibition at Kahala Mall from September 18th to October 2nd.
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