Arina Elizarova comes from Moscow and she moved to Milan a few months ago. Her passion is photography, but her love of art is an ongoing experimentation. And she is chasing a utopian ideal: creating perfect harmony using different art forms, something new that may help audiences get closer to a world often considered for the few. Specifically, Elizarova photographs dancers, capturing their emotions and imprinting them in her shots to tell stories of ballet.
You presented your photograph The last jump at Vitaru’s exhibition Art against violence in Venice. Can you tell us the story behind it?
“Working with dancers means dedicating yourself to it for hours, taking a thousand photos, which I will then have to discard. One of their characteristics is that they are never satisfied with the shots we take. There is a lot of work behind every shoot, I have to get know the subjects and get in tune with them, find ways to bring out their emotions. That day, we had worked for hours on end, we were both exhausted. I said ‘Enough, we have our shots, they are fine’, but she was not satisfied and she said ‘Please, let me take one last jump’. And from that one last image, we finally got The last jump“.
How did your artistic journey begin?
“I arrived quite late to studying photography, after I had obtained a degree in Public Relations in Moscow. As a child, I would take amateur shots using an old analogue camera. When I enrolled in the faculty of Photography and Cinema, I decided that my project would be to combine as many different art forms as possible. I started with the stylization technique. I took inspiration from some portraits and paintings, I recreated the settings and costumes, and then I turned the paintings into photographs using real subjects”.
Though I am not a dancer myself, I have always been strongly attracted to opera and ballet. I wanted to tell the dancers’ stories, represent their art, their suffering and emotions using a tool that had nothing to do with that world, that is, my camera.
What do you like about the world of ballet?
“Each day, professional dancers aim to reach their highest point, to be at their best. It is a constant search for perfection. And it is something that is not always understood from the outside. Often, people will stand up after a show saying “What beautiful costumes!” They can’t even imagine what hard work there is behind what they have just seen. The audience often does not realize that behind every single step taken on the stage there is an almost obsessive repetition. A jump is not just a jump, it is also sweat, sacrifice and self-denial”.
But what hides behind the perfection of your photographs? Who are the professionals you portray, really?
They are people who, have been under enormous pressure since childhood from teachers, parents, but most of all, from themselves. They are people who sacrifice a lot and they fight every day, but they hang from a thread. An injury can destroy a career, and it is difficult to fully understand what that means. Dancers can’t help but dance, it is their whole life. Ballet is pure happiness, but also profound drama.
Speaking of roles, male and female figures tend to have distinct roles in ballet.
“These two roles are also reflected in my photographs. Strength is primarily expected from men. My male subjects have given rise to shots full of expression, entirely focused on physical power. The perfection of the male musculature requires a particular use of light and shadows. These are photos that remind me of Caravaggio’s paintings. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to show their emotions. Using different poses and expressions you can therefore create shots with a broader range of emotions”.
Judging by the way you talk about it, it seems as if you also experience a sort of perennial challenge towards perfection, is that so?
“As a photographer, I share the daily challenge with them. Every day, I too have to prove to my family that mine is a proper job, and I constantly want to improve in order to achieve my own perfection. It is the same for dancers: they study and rehearse tirelessly, in a desperate search for perfection. But this is what all art forms have in common: striving strenuously for perfection in your work”.
You are young and you are looking to find your way in a notoriously elitist world. What are the real challenges in your work?
“Not being a dancer myself. Stage photographers are mostly ex-dancers, it is a very closed world, full of envy and spite. I have to contact eighty professionals before getting an answer. But I don’t blame them. They are used to facing many difficulties, they find it hard to trust anyone, and above all, someone who doesn’t belong to their world. ‘Why should you photograph me?’, is the first thing dancers ask me every time. Another real challenge is finding something new, ballet and dance photography are both very classic. But it is essential to me that my work represents something innovative, otherwise it will be nothing more than a pale replica of something that has already been thought and done by someone else”.
Do you remember your first shot?
“Yes, my first was of a dancer’s feet and my second of a broken mirror”.
Why this combination?
Those two shots were inspired by a true story that the dancer I was photographing told me. During a show, she had to change her dance shoes between two acts but when she went back on stage for the second act, she realised someone had put some broken glass in her shoes. Yet, she kept on dancing.
“The life of the dancers is full of pain, a pain they accept and live with. This constant sacrifice and this way of challenging your body will never cease to fascinate me”.
You moved to Milan some months ago now. Why did you choose Italy? What has been your experience so far?
“Because I love art in all its forms, and Italy offers one the opportunity to have everything at hand. I got to photograph some dancers from La Scala. That was a great dream come true for me. I love Italy, it has always made me feel at home. In big cities as well as in smaller towns, I have never felt out of place“.
What are your next projects?
“On December 14th, I will hold a seminar at Fotoshkola – Photoshop School Photographer in Moscow, where I graduated. I will talk about my experience in Italy and give some advice to students who want to work abroad. In the future, I would like to focus on Asia, photographing Asian dancers around the world. Each culture and nationality has its own peculiarities, understanding them and being able to capture them requires a lot of work. But first, I’d like to take the Stage Photography and Video course at the La Scala Academy, and who knows, perhaps curate my own exhibition…”.
“In Italy, of course! (she laughs, Ed.) But in future, I see myself in the world. This is the beauty that art offers you, a continuous mutual inspiration between artists from different countries. This also applies to dance, where dancers bring and offer their own traditions to build a shared dream, creating something new together to donate to art”.
Translated by @cos_ detoma