Ballet has been an admired art form for centuries and requires both mental and physical discipline. The dancers have to use all their strength to create and hold shapes with their bodies whilst remaining flexible and expressive. To capture ballet dancers in action requires a real sensitivity and an understanding of the art form.

Art photographer Ingrid Bugge spent almost two years with the Royal Danish Ballet capturing images of the dancers in a stunning photographic project that included manipulated images, collages and sequences to recreate the magic and beauty of watching the dancers in real life performance. These images have been culminated in ‘The Essence of Ballet’ which, at present, has three parts, a book, an exhibition and an iBook.

Bugge has a lifelong love of photography and counts Rembrandt and Leonardo Da Vinci as some of her artistic inspirations, particularly in the way they utilise light and capture the natural sinuosity of the human body. The artist is also fascinated at the way the human body moves and how bodies can interact with each other. In her project, she has done more than just captured the elegance of the movements, she has managed to encapsulate the passion and expression that each dancer puts into every movement. Much like her influence Da Vinci, Bugge pays attention to the surrounding story of each image as well; in many of the shots the focus is on the main dancer of the scene, but the bodies and shapes made of the supporting dancers are still visible and are incorporated into the complete picture. As well as manipulating the images in post-production, Bugge also used different viewpoints to capture the shapes and silhouettes created by the dancers. In one shot from ‘La Bayadére’, Bugge shot the corps de ballet (the supporting dancers) from above, showcasing the precisely calculated shapes created by the choreographer whilst showing the grace and artistry of each dancer. It is very easy to not notice the part that the dancers’ costumes play in creating a complete visual masterpiece, but Bugge also highlights how the material flows and twirls, like an echo of the dancers’ movements.

Many of the shots are captured whilst the dancers are leaping or twirling, both showing their athleticism and making them look ethereal. When you look at the images, you can almost hear the music as Bugge has truly captured how the ballet dancers use their bodies to respond to the orchestra’s cues and express the emotions behind each story. In the iBook, you can click on some images to reveal the frame by frame path of movement. She has also created evolving photo collages so the background dancers and various parts of the scene gradually appear, as if they are slowly unveiling themselves.

In ‘The Essence of Ballet’, Bugge has truly shown the various dimensions and dynamics of the art of ballet in a captivating and almost haunting way.