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These Portraits Reveal The Brutal Beauty Of Dance

Photographer Rick Guest lays bare the hidden strengths of professional dance.

Photographer Rick Guest wanted to "see behind the curtain" of the world of dance and reveal the determination and sacrifice needed to succeed at the art form's highest level.

Guest's photo series What Lies Beneath features dancers from companies such as The Royal Ballet, The English National Ballet, The Richard Alston Dance Company, The Dresden Semperoper, and The Royal Danish Ballet, among others. It is the basis for a book and an upcoming exhibition in London.

Guest explains in an artist statement: "[Dance] deliberately conceals the enormity of effort that goes into its creation ... but I think that this does a great disservice to the dancers, and that having a sense of what lies beneath both enhances our experience of the performance and leads to a more profound appreciation of the dancer's essential being.

"These portraits are at once beautiful and brutal."

As I have photographed more and more dancers … I became obsessed with the grace and poise of these creatures and their intoxicating art form.My appreciation of them as athletes, as performers, and as people, has grown enormously over the years, as I've begun to get a sense of the strength of will that both drives and carries them.
I have tried to strip away the veneer of performance, to remove the masks of role, costume and stage. I wanted to see how their art has both shaped and etched itself into their bodies.

In a foreword to Guest's photo book What Lies Beneath, Tamara Rojo, the artistic director and lead principal dancer of the English National Ballet, discusses her understanding of the relationship between dance and photography:

"As a young child I was completely entranced by the images of great dancers on the walls of the dance studio where I trained in Madrid.

"Every day I would stare at each of them, trying to decipher what made those dancers special. Yes, they were beautiful and their positions were technically perfect, but there was more, an essence, a secret. There was something captured in the image that was more ephemeral … There is a spirit that elevates those who dedicate their entire lives to our art form."

The What Lies Beneath exhibition runs from 22 to 31 January at the Hospital Club in London.