Capturing the Moments…

The photos of Peggy’s new work, stone leaf shell skin, are quite stunning. Makoto Hirata is the man behind the camera who has captured these beautiful moments. Makoto tells us about what it’s like to photograph dance, and the experience he had while shooting Peggy and the dancers in rehearsal.

How did you come to know Peggy, and what was the first project you shot of the company?

MH: Life is full of unpredictable things and sometime the miracle is happening. Knowing Peggy Baker and her company dancers is one of those experiences for me.

I believe my life was far, far away from contemporary dance scene.

As a freelance photographer/reporter/blogger, I’m regularly attending major events in Toronto which are Honda Indy Toronto (high-speed motor sports), Rogers Cup Tennis Tournament, Caribbean Carnival, TIFF, Toronto Marlies, ISU Figure Skate competition also exploring coast to coast by VIA Rail, chasing Northern lights at Yellowknife and Yukon.

First I met her was at COC free noon concert at Richard Bradshow Amphitheatre. I took few shots at that time but it wasn’t good. I was unprepared and I didn’t satisfy with result. But what struck me was, I heard a Japanese name when Peggy introduced her company dancers. After performance, I found her and quickly introduced myself. Her name is Sahara Morimoto. Surprisingly enough, we came to Canada exactly same year of almost 17 years ago.

I was curious about why she came to Canada (it is halfway around the globe from Japan) and working for Peggy now…. I know it must be quite a challenge for her to be there. Even though this was first time meeting her, I couldn’t resist asking this question.

In return of this question, she gave me a big smile then introduced me to Peggy.


Peggy and Sahara at the Canadian Opera Company. Photo by Mikato Hirata

I took one photo of them. I don’t know why I took their photo but this is exact moment when I met them, with many thoughts. This is how I met Peggy not knowing anything about her but they’re passionate contemporary dancers / artists.

It was what’s happening at very cold winter day of January 2012.

Taking photos of people moving, especially dancing, can be quite challenging. What is so different about shooting dance in comparison to some of your other projects? And how do you prepare for what’s coming next, and/or not knowing where the dancers are moving? Any advice for photographers on shooting dancers?

MH: I was looking for a chance to see them again.

Four months later, Sahara sent me an email that Peggy’s welcoming me to take photos at their rehearsal. Sahara was a one of dancers of “Old & Young & Reckless Together” and busy preparing for solo performance of Peggy’s 1997 work, “Sylvan Quartet”. This was my first experience of shooting contemporary dance.

First photo day was at studio 5B of NBS.

I brought two lenses, two cameras. I came early checking a room for positioning of photo shooting and light. During rehearsal, I tried not interfering their rehearsal by my movement, sound of shutter. It took over three hours and I was busy to capture the moment. What surprised me was, Peggy merely showed her moves by herself but expressed her thoughts / ideas through “words” and “phrases”. This was an eye opening experience for me.

“It is something like listening to a voice of earth”

I still remember that Sahara’s move has completely changed after this Peggy’s words. Two dancers were connected. They are not only artists but also athletes. It’s unbelievable for me how they precisely move their body to where they want to. Having said that, capturing the moment when they’re sharing “image” of “movements” through “words” is quite a challenge for me. Also I started to think there might be something I might find in-between moments of “image”, “words” and “movement”.

Second photo day was at “The Citadel”.

It was last day before performance, technical rehearsal. Peggy was busy checking combination of light, sound and dance. First shooting experience at low light stage, complicated lightings for photo shooting. Adding to these, Sahara’s costume was black.

Despite these circumstances, I felt something while I was chasing black costume in dark place. It was a completely different experience. I saw something warm, passionate and strong even though it was a same dance sequence, same music. Performance was powerful.

Last day was performance day. I felt I must see the day she performs, with no camera. It was funny feeling that still I wanted to capture the moment even I didn’t have a camera….

This was what’s happening on three incredible three days in May, January 2012.

The moments you’ve captured in the rehearsals for stone leaf shell skin are all quite beautiful. What was the experience like on your side of the lens as you were taking photos of the dancers in motion?

MH: After I joined “Night Garden (September 2012)” and “Stereophonic (February 2013)”, I’ve got email from Peggy said she’s started new creation for 2014 spring season. It was October 2013 and I realize I was a witness of very early stage of three rehearsals at studio 5B of NBS.

During intense three hours rehearsals, because of music will be arriving later, only I heard was dancer’s breath and sound of steps on floor. Peggy was communicating with three male dancers through “words” as usual. Dancers tirelessly perform part of dance sequence in front of her again, and again, and again.

Readers of this story might be wondering what photographer will be in this situation. Basically I’m taking photos, a lot. I’m quiet, not moving most of time during performance. I took three positions, stand or sit or lie down on the floor. Three hours rehearsal shooting comes to between 300 to 400 photos. I take these down to between 20 to 30, send them to Peggy for her review.

It is quite an experience for me to know what she chose. She has certain image of creation but nobody knows until it unveils. So, I realize I’m the first person who actually see, without knowing, through lens.

Peggy communicates “words” with dancers. How I communicate with her?
Here is an answer to it.

Hi Peggy,
It was my pleasure to see you again.
Here are photos from yesterday. Attached are off shot as well.

Thank you!

Beautiful images from the performance!
My favorites are
021005, 033715, 035111, 035428, 040131
and most especially 040358
also good are
020756, 032532, 033134, 03220, 033528, 034852

Thank you so much for laying your eyes on my work.

It looks simple email with numbers but these emails are very special for me. The photos I took are my interpretation of what she’s trying to say through her art expression. Because I’m always quiet at studio, only moment I really “talk” with her starts when I show my photos. I don’t recall we discuss how I shoot but something that is especially interesting is she chose photos when I was really focused on dancers even I couldn’t remember I took a shot of it. I don’t know how but she knows.

This is what’s happening now and very rare experience for my life.

Any other thoughts you have about this new piece that Peggy and the dancers are working on?


Peggy with dancers Mateo Galindo Torres, Ric Brown, and Sean Ling.
Photo by Makoto Hirata.

MH: I’m not an artist or dancer, even dance photographer. Still I think it’s a miracle has happened in my life which is I met her and taking photos for her. I was far, far away from contemporary dance scene but I’m one step closer to them now. The reason why I feel this way is a photo I took at last day of rehearsal in October 2013. I’m impressed how closely they work together.

I strongly recommend that you should come to meet dancers and see their performance. There’s a beautiful dance company here, beautiful dance people here and beautiful dance family here.

You can see Makoto’s striking photos of our 2013/14 season on Facebook.

Don’t miss the chance to the see these moments performed live. he:she runs from March 28-30 and April 2-6 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre. Buy your tickets here or call 1-800-838-3006. Use discount code HESHE20 for $20 tickets to shows on March 28-30!


One response to “Capturing the Moments…

  1. Reblogged this on saharamorimoto and commented:
    Finding out that beautiful photographer Makoto, also writes beautifully. His blog post just like his photos, he captures exactly what we’re up to and brings to a form that’s beautiful to share. Sitting in cafe bawling, deeply moved… hope you get a chance to read this!

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