Balanchine’s Eternal Present: The Photographs of Paul Kolnik
Harkness Dance Festival
92nd Street Y
February 27, 2018
Before the talk, for which photographer Paul Kolnik was joined by former New York City Ballet principal Darci Kistler, we had the pleasure of viewing Kolnik’s captivating pictures in a downstairs gallery. Kolnik, who has chronicled NYCB for forty years, is indeed a master and his pictures of dancers and choreographers past and present are gems.
Kolnik calls these images, drawn from former exhibitions in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Tbilisi, “illuminated documents,” observing that once an image is captured, it remains for all time. However, Kolnik the photographer and Kolnik the speaker don’t quite understand one another because the speaker would never have read so many quotes (from his idol, George Balanchine, and others) and instead have allowed the audience to luxuriate in the wonderful photographs.
Darci Kistler, who became an NYCB principal at age seventeen, is often considered Balanchine’s last muse. I suspect many audience members who remember her beauty and brilliant dancing were curious about what she looks like today in her early fifties. Rest assured—she remains very attractive with long blonde hair, (a trademark in her ballerina days), appearing chicly clad in black with slightly clunky short boots. Other than eliciting gentle laughter when she said the Apollo pas de deux was “easy,” she didn’t offer any insights into her work with Balanchine, (always referred to reverentially as “Mr. B”), other than an anecdote about the time he hustled her offstage and into her dressing room shortly before she was due onstage to adjust the position of her crown. “Mr. B. wanted everything to be perfect,” Kistler said as Kolnik concurred. (Well, yes. Does any choreographer/conductor/director say he or she likes it when work is presented sloppily?)
Far better to move past the chatter to sink into the photograph of Ms. Kistler in Serenade, Balanchine’s first ballet made in the U.S., a vertical line running from the tips of her outstretched fingers to her foot on pointe with a strong horizontal line created by her other arm and raised leg, the two linked by the whirling curve of her skirt. Kolnik refers to the importance of the “eternal present” meaning that once a moment is caught on camera it stays for all time. His photographs are striking in their simplicity minus background or other distracting details, highly appropriate for showing work by Balanchine who generally de-emphasized plot in his ballets so that dance was the “star of the show.” Currently Kolnik shoots digitally so that the images are in color but for exhibitions he prefers black and white to show off best the architecture of dance—the pointed toes, graceful hands and strong lines found in solo and group moments.
I would have preferred more time spent looking at Kolnik’s photographs and less listening to him read quotes which broke up the flow. But with work of his caliber, it’s hard to complain.