Photo London 2019 Pavilion Commission: ‘Off Pointe’ by Mary McCartney

Wednesday 15 May - Sunday 19 May 2019
Somerset House

Mary McCartney, Dancers Feet, London, 2004 © Mary McCartney

Photo London 2019 Pavilion Commission Off Pointe by Mary McCartney is proudly presented by The Royal Photographic Society.

“I wanted to reveal unseen aspects of the world of ballet, showing the ups-and-downs, the prestige and the chaos of life behind-the-scenes at the Royal Ballet. I was particularly interested in the contrast between the sometimes gruelling, painful lifestyle of the dancers and their fairy-tale performances… I wanted the photographs to dispel many myths about the life of dancers and show the real-life effort they devote to come across as the poised perfection played out on-stage.”

Mary McCartney, 2019

In Off Pointe Mary McCartney proves that candid, un-guarded moments need not be voyeuristic or exploitative of the subject. After being invited by the Royal Ballet to photograph the behind the scenes of its Corps de Ballet, McCartney takes the opportunity to get to know some of the ballerinas beyond the confines of the Royal Opera House’s dressing rooms and captures how they interact, move and engage off the stage and at home. Through small details such as the unzipping of a dress, to a dancer hunched over a sink soaking her feet we
are reminded that this physical job may leave the stage but it does not leave the dancer, it is entwined with who they are. The portraits show us the rawness and ‘everydayness’ of the dancers. McCartney’s subtle and intrinsic approach to photography demonstrates that despite the perfect, precise world of the Royal Ballet the off stage ‘self’ of the dancers is not contrived, manipulated or rehearsed. Seeing a ballerina tie her converse trainers, or standing with her hair in a towel making her morning cup of tea seems far removed from the historical wigs, ballgowns and perfected performances of the Ballet, and so natural and relatable when presented in Off Pointe.

Off Pointe gives humanity to the off-stage dancers it photographs. It does not make them seem ‘other’ or ‘performative’ in anyway. The close up of the ballet dancer’s feet showing bruising and creases gives you a literal indication that McCartney has the ability to get under a sitter’s skin and in doing so shows the subject’s multifaceted self. McCartney makes the viewer think twice of why they find viewing an everyday occurrence a beguiling act. That is where the real magic of Off Pointe comes into focus.

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