Dancer-turned-photographer Steven Caras remains living proof of ballet’s transcendence.
When Steven Caras speaks of the ballet superstars he has danced with and photographed, they no longer seem like people. They take on mythic, godly proportions.
Of Mikhail Baryshnikov: “He was one of those prime divine subjects.” Of George Balanchine: “To be a part of [his] kingdom, with those supernatural beings, I was in awe of them.” Marcelo Gomes is “my favorite dancer since Nureyev; he’s ridiculously talented and bigger than life.” And Edward Villella’s “magic as a performer, [his] inexplicable talent, trickled down through the ranks, and no matter what generation of dancers was in there from the ’80s to the present, they were magic.”
Caras’ reverence for dancers and choreographers is an extension of his photography, a hobby-turned-vocation he picked up in the 1970s while still dancing in Balanchine’s trailblazing New York City Ballet company. He has since emerged as arguably the world’s pre-eminent ballet imagist, amassing a corpus of 120,000 images—film and digital, black-and-white and color, onstage and off—from more than 50 ballet companies. Baryshnikov is quoted as saying Caras “captures the outer workings of the body while revealing glimpses of the dancer’s inner life.”
The dancers under Caras’ lens do tend to resemble other-worldly deities: sugar plum fairies, Greek gods and quixotic travelers frozen in gravity-defying artistry or silhouetted against ethereal backdrops. To really look at these pictures, freed from the context of performance, is to suspend our disbelief at what human bodies can accomplish.
“I shoot what I see, and I see such beauty in it,” says Caras, from his elegant, crimson-walled condo in downtown West Palm Beach, his own blown-up images towering above his sofa like monochrome giants.
For more on this story, pick up the January issue of Boca Raton magazine.