Cirque de Bombay

Connie Muttock, Shikha Pahari and Joanna Vymeris.

I met Joanna Vymeris when photographing “Thing with Feathers” at the ADC Theatre where she did some impressive air acrobatics. Fast forward two months, and she asked if I wanted to photograph one of their rehearsals for Cirque de Bombay. They were setting up a dance performance with a mix of different dance styles, which sounded like a fun thing to photograph. The director Shikha Pahari told me they were rehearsing in Dressing Room 2, which turned out to be a dressing room. Perhaps that should not have come as a surprise. The room did have some mirrors around the walls with tungsten lamps above, and there were a few small windows at one end, so we could turn off the fluorescent ceiling lights and still have enough light for 1/200 second. Given that we did not have a proper stage, it turned into more of a behind the scenes shot, which gave me a bit of creative freedom. It also became a lot more interactive, as I could ask them to redo things to get a good shot.

Joanna and Shikha dancing to Selena Gomez’s “Come & Get It”. In the mirror you can see how close I have to stand with the 20 mm lens.
The 20 mm wide-angle lens helped make the space look bigger, and allowed me to have more of the dancers in the frame. Win win!


I took a few test shots to get the exposure right, then they turned on some Youtube music clips on an iPad and started dancing. I got a few decent shots of them dancing, but it felt like I was constantly one step behind. However, after a few songs I got a feel for where the light was good, and after running through the dance programme they did it a second time, this time more slowly allowing me to stop them when they had good poses. I wanted to capture the movement, so preferred when they rewound the dance and then did the last bit again.

The nice thing with mirrors is that you get behind the scenes shots for free. No, but seriously, in small spaces they help by increasing the perceived distance so I can get more in the frame. Also, they can provide a bit of context by including the frame around.
Another fun thing to try when you have opposing mirrors is never-ending reflections. Well, they are not really never ending, but they do offer you something different. We did try a few versions with a line of dancers holding their arms at different angles.
This is a composite shot. In reality they were synchronised, but it is not always easy to get good facial expressions on everyone, so when I keep the camera still between shots it gives me the option to stitch them together to make a better shot.
I feel it is important not to just capture the dancers when they dance, but also when they have fun in between.
Shikha Pahari, the director of the show.


Landi Wagner practising. I like her focus on what she is doing.



In addition to the dance shots, we also did a few more spontaneous things. Perhaps the most successful one was the mirror shoot. I suggested that it was possible to combine multiple shots into one photo, and that got the creative juices flowing. We ended up with the idea of replacing the reflection in the mirrors. Here it was important that I kept the camera reasonably fixed so that it would be possible to align the images afterwards. So before we took the photos we went through and discussed what poses they should do, that way they could switch people in front of the camera and be in the right positions right away.

Joanna Vymeris, Shikha Pahari, Sam-Henry Pressling and Matt Dammers. This is a composite shot of two photos, one where the girls pose, and the other where the guys are painting. To get the sparkling stars I used paths (for the first time!) and a custom defined brush which I had modified by playing around with the scattering and flow parameters.


For those who were not in Cambridge this weekend, we had beautiful weather and about +20 °C, so I suggested we should go outside and take a few photos also. It was about seven, so we had the golden hour, beautiful orange light and long shadows. We ended up in the middle of the street, much to the amusement of the passers-by.

Shooting against the sun during the golden hour gives you a really nice light, and you also get long shadows to play with. The only free space with enough sunlight around was the street, so we ended up there.
This was just a snapshot that I took in-between takes. Something about it appeals to me. Joanna was just returning to the street after giving the road to a car.
Playing with shadows. This shot I had pre-visualised in my head, but the poses came from the dancers. It is really fun to photograph people who are aware of their bodies and know how to pose themselves. I feel like I have a lot to learn from them.

It was a fun afternoon, and I got a huge pile of photos to go through. The ones above are some of my favourites. Even though we did not get as many photos of the actual performance, it turned out to be a success and everyone had a good time, which in the end is what really matters. Well, that and some decent photos. 😉

I’ll be photographing their dress rehearsal on Wednesday, so stay tuned for more dance shots. The show opens at the ADC Theatre, this Wednesday at 23:00.

– Johannes

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