Balancing on a narrow boat in the middle of Aberdeen Harbour—the Jumbo Floating Restaurant in the background—were two dancers from the Hong Kong Ballet in a perfect pose, the red of their shoes and shorts popping against the red of the boat’s lanterns. In the background Hong Kong Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre was giving his feedback on the shot; photographer Dean Alexander was trying to capture the moment.
“I needed to capture the idea of being on the boat, but get the right moment for the dancers, the right distance from the Jumbo,” Alexander said. “All of this was happening really quickly—there was another [unrelated] boat that had lighting and smoke—and the light was coming in too strong or too weak, the smoke too heavy or none at all. Our boat was bobbing all over the water and the dancers were working on an incredibly small, moving platform.”
But Alexander found the moment and the result is an image that forms part of a series of images to promote the new season of the Hong Kong Ballet. The images—set across a number of iconic Hong Kong locations—were shot in a single day (studio shots to promote each of the season’s performances were done over the prior two days). Working with long-time collaborators Design Army, who were responsible for the concept, design and art direction, as well as Webre, whom Alexander had worked with when Webre was at the Washington Ballet, Alexander was looking capture ballet and Hong Kong in a different way. The use of the colour red in each image unifies the campaign, while helping make the dancer pop.
“Ballet is such an amazing art form that when you stop it in still photography, it really stops a moment in time that can be really beautiful, while showing the athleticism of the dancers,” Alexander said. “The dancers are amazing—they’re this combination of artists, performers and athletes and that’s always a wonderful thing to highlight. When we went to bring that into Hong Kong, it was about bringing in this combination of old and new and tradition and modernity. We wanted to bring out some of the colours and textures that makes it unique.”
Working on what Alexander called an “aggressive” schedule, the shoot required detailed planning. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t an opportunity for spontaneity.
“Some of the shots—the girl jumping by the Cultural Centre with Central in the background—was exactly how we laid it out, but others we thought of on the spot,” Alexander said. “At the cafe, [the pose] was sort of thought of on the spot. We knew we were going to shoot there and Pum [Lefebure], the creative director at Design Army, really figured out the posture of the girl and Septime thought he wanted the male dancer to do the jump. It’s one of my favourite shots.”
In the research and planning for the shoot, Alexander said he and Design Army were inspired by some of the classic films that had been set in Hong Kong. They were also conscious to make ballet the focus of the image—something, Alexander thinks they achieved. “I think the red did help in the concept of making the dancer and the moves the hero of the shots even though there’s a lot going on.”
The shoot itself took place about three months ago, with the images released in May. Since the campaign was launched, Alexander said he had been receiving messages about the images.
“I‘ve gotten a number of notes from people that live in Hong Kong saying that it makes them want to go to the ballet,” Alexander said. “That’s the best statement you could ever get—none of this really matters much unless and there’s a payoff. I know Septime is going to do transforming things in Hong Kong and I think everyone is going to be excited when they go.”