G-nie Arambulo re-imagines Ballet Manila dancers in photography exhibition

G-nie Arambulo re-imagines Ballet Manila dancers in photography exhibition

Dance is passionate, like fire. Photo by G-nie Arambulo

Top advertising photographer G-nie Arambulo celebrates her 25th anniversary as a force behind the lens via the exhibit Alchemy en Pointe: A Dance of the Elements, which opens at 2 p.m. on August 26, Saturday, at the foyer of Aliw Theater, CCP Complex, Pasay City.

Master photographer G-Nie Arambulo behind the scenes with movement choreographer Jonathan Janolo and project manager Angela Ureta.

Renowned as the country’s most awarded commercial photographer and the only Filipino member of the elite UK-based Master Photographers Association, G-nie says her fascination for capturing dance movements began in 2002 – when she mounted her first exhibit using the pioneering artists of Ballet Manila as subjects.

“It all started after I chanced upon prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde rehearsing at the studio while I was preparing to photograph her daughter for a baby milk ad,” she recalls. “I was really amazed by the grace and power of ballet, and felt it would be an interesting theme for a first exhibit.”

The result was Dance with Me, a collection of photographs that captured the fluid, almost magical mobility and technique of BM’s classical ballerinas and danseurs. The exhibit became one of the highlights for the inauguration of Aliw Theater that year and the master photographer feels it is a happy coincidence that her second exhibit will be held at the same venue exactly 15 years later.

G-nie admits feeling a bit nostalgic since Alchemy en Pointe features the present generation of BM dancers, along with the only artists from the first exhibit who are still with the company – co-artistic directors Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and Osias “Shaz” Barroso.

Principal danseur Geri Francisco gets hoisted to achieve the perfect shot.

“Much of what I know about photographing dancers, I learned from Lisa and Shaz,” she reveals. “Working with them was very challenging and at the same time, enlightening, because they were very meticulous. Even if the shot looked good to me, they would notice the small details like hand gestures or the placement of the feet, and would ask to do a retake if they were not satisfied. And this is something that changed my perspective about photographing dancers – you really have to do your research and consult experts. Not just because a pose looks good to you means it is correct. You also have to deal with issues like safety – for instance, not letting the dancers jump on hard or slippery surfaces – and also timing, wherein you have to capture the movement at just the right moment so you don’t tire them out.”

“Also, you have to be collaborative and engage the dancers in what you want to achieve. They are artists who have trained for many years to perfect what their craft and they deserve to be treated with consideration and respect.”

The invitation to G-nie Arambulo’s first photo exhibit featuring Ballet Manila dancers in 2002. From the Ballet Manila Archives collection

For her second exhibit, G-nie presents the dancers as the embodiment of the life-giving forces of fire, earth, air, water, and spirit. “A play on the elements is the perfect theme for me to experiment on special effects and technical intricacies – like shooting rain indoors, mixing strong lights with actual flames, making air visible, and so on.” She adds that practically all the movements and effects were captured in one shot.

“I have nothing against the use of photo editing software – that’s the in thing these days,” she explains. “But I’d also like to bring back the discipline that comes with planning out your lights and production design so that everything you want to achieve is already there in the frame. If you can capture everything in one shot, then do it.”

She especially extends her gratitude to mentor John Chua of Ad Photo for instilling in her both the artistic and technical skills required in order to succeed in the industry, as well as for supporting and encouraging her personal projects over the years.

“Sir John taught me the importance of knowing your camera so well that you can still come up with excellent work even if you are tired or feeling sick because you know exactly what to do -- what lights to use, what settings. You are so familiar with your equipment that you can always make them work to your advantage, each and every time. As a photographer, it’s not just about creativity. You also have to be technically adept.”

“Everything about the ballet is beautiful,” she enthuses. “That’s why I love photographing ballet dancers. And the artists of Ballet Manila are very inspiring to work with – from their iconic leaders to the youngest members. I had also agreed to have the photographs for sale so that the proceeds can benefit BM’s scholarship program, Project Ballet Futures. It’s a small way of giving back to the company that has been very generous and supportive towards my passion projects. I am very grateful to Lisa and all the Ballet Manila artists for joining me in this artistic journey.”

Presented by AdPhoto, Ballet Manila, and Fujifilm, Alchemy en Pointe: A Dance of the Elements will be open to the public on August 26 to 27 and September 2 to 3, from 2 to 7 p.m. Admission is free.

From hip-hop to ballet: Elmoe Dictado’s call to dance

From hip-hop to ballet: Elmoe Dictado’s call to dance

Elpidio Magat: More highs than lows in ballet

Elpidio Magat: More highs than lows in ballet