ART ACROSS BORDERS
During a time when partisanship, widening divides, and uncertainty cloud our worldview, art remains the key to connection. Embodying this is dancer Francisco Estévez of the Colorado Ballet. Francisco has journeyed from his birthplace of Quito, Ecuador to Denver, Colorado, with many stops in between, carrying with him a passion for ballet and a developing eye for photography.
Francisco has been dancing since childhood. His sister started taking dance first, and as Francisco waited for class to let out, he bounded around the halls. Eventually, his family suggested he join the class to release some of his energy. Though he ran out the first day in tears, he went back into the studio to finish the class, and eventually fell in love with ballet.
In his professional career, Francisco has performed with companies both in the U.S. and in Europe. He toured around the world with the Corella Ballet (later known as Barcelona Ballet), but due to national economic instability, the company lost its financial footing and could no longer afford to pay its dancers. Francisco and his fiancée (now wife), Tracy Jones, sent in audition tapes to Colorado Ballet hoping to land a job midway through the 2012-2013 season. They were both accepted and promptly moved to the Denver area, not knowing what to expect. Five years later, the couple has set down roots; it was here that Francisco’s creativity bloomed across mediums.
Francisco had long been interested in photography, and once he landed in Colorado, this interest deepened. He soon moved on from watching his peers rehearse and perform and began capturing moments of movement preserved long after the performance was over. Recently, Francisco completed his exquisite Shadows & Dust series. Shot in Colorado Ballet’s black box studio space, he utilized simple lighting and minimal clothing to emphasize his fellow company members’ toned bodies and clear lines. Many of the photos feature clouds of flour hovering around a dancer, the entire scene frozen in time. Others utilize clever spacing to manipulate a conventional shape into something more obscure.
When I asked Francisco what inspired him to incorporate flour, he said he’d “seen some people attempt it” and wanted to try his hand at the concept himself. This added element has made it possible for Francisco to maintain a distinctive voice in the increasingly saturated field of dance photography. “You’re taking something that’s 3D and putting it on a 2D plane and making sure that people understand it still has depth,” Francisco explained. The flour, forever suspended around the subject, exaggerates this depth and makes the images accessible to dancers and non-dancers alike without sacrificing artistry.
Francisco expressed his appreciation for his peers’ willingness to experiment and explore in front of the camera. He acknowledged that being the subject of dance photography is harder than it seems (though in the photos the movement looks effortless).
The one downside of using flour? The clean up. After cleaning the space for about four hours, they still had to return to the studio the next day to finish the job. “It was not gluten free for a while,” Francisco joked. Despite the mess, this photo series was a huge success, and garnered attention from local artist Darrell Anderson. Darrell saw Francisco’s photographs on display at The Molecule Effect, a coffee shop a few blocks from the Colorado Ballet. He’s painted dancers before, but when he saw the portraits, he saw a brilliant opportunity to collaborate.
Darrell transformed some of Francisco’s photographs into paintings and drawings, replicating details of the images identically while adding elements of surrealism with lines of motion and shading. To add another layer to his work, Darrell sketched a few of the drawings on original blueprints of the Colorado Ballet building. Through the movement of dancers, the lens of Francisco’s camera, and the stroke of Darrell’s brush, we revel in a collection that, through its many pieces, connects us.
Both Francisco Estévez’s photographs and Darrell Anderson’s pieces are on display in the Colorado Ballet building. You can also view Francisco’s photographs on his website, franciscoestevezphotography.com. Francisco will be performing with the Colorado Ballet this summer in the Vail International Dance Festival as well as in Dracula in October 2017.
Ali Weeks: Ali is a professional dancer, Pilates instructor, and writer. She grew up in the Chicago area, studying dance and psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After graduation, Ali spent four years in San Francisco pursuing her dance career, teaching Pilates, and exploring her passion for writing. She moved to Denver in February 2016, where she continues to dance and teach Pilates. In addition to her contributions to Presenting Denver, Ali writes for SF-based Pilates studio OnPointe Training and Denver-based nonprofit Threads Worldwide.