Skip to main content

Dance Photography: Christopher Cushman

Dance Photography: Christopher Cushman
Capturing the human form in flight

If you've seen the posters, brochures and programmes from many of the dance performances in and around Toronto over the last few years, then you've probably already seen the work of photographer Christopher Cushman.With an eye finely tuned to the nuances of choreography, his images capture the combination of athleticism, artistry and emotion that is dance.

Born and raised in Detroit, MI, Christopher graduated from Ferris State University with a degree in illustration and design. His bent for visual arts led him to start experimenting with photography. "It was probably right after school," he says, "in the early '80's."  He remembers an uncle who first introduced him to the dark room and its techniques. Not long after he left school, however, changing technologies along with people's expectations provided the impetus to use photography in a more deliberate way.

"I used to paint portraits - you remember in the old days, people would sit there for a couple of hours at a time, five or six times," he laughs. "People didn't want to do that anymore! I began to take pictures and work from them." As he did, however, he found this interest in the process deepening in more ways than one. "It was a little bit of instant gratification for me," he admits.

A lifelong collector of art and photography books, he was further inspired by seeing an image of Robert Mapplethorpe's to pursue figure studies. "It hadn't crossed my mind to do anything like that," he says. His early work explores artistic fashion and portraiture, and in particular the male figure in both natural and architectural settings.

Of special note is a series of images taken in the famously derelict 15th Street Train station in Detroit which juxtaposed perfect bodies against the crumbling infrastructure. "I actually got to it before it was completely gone," he reports. It's an early example of the kind of "urban decay" photography that Detroit is now quite famous for. Word of his gift for figure photography spread quickly. "To be honest, it became a kind of cottage industry. I've never had to advertise - people came to me."

From figure to dance seems like an easy step to make. "I've always been a big fan of dance," he says. Yet, it was a bit of happenstance that led to his taking up the genre. He credits a former roommate's request to invite another friend, a road weary professional dancer, to stay with them for a weekend with being his direct link to dance. From that point on, he began to meet more professional dancers and watched many performances. Picking up the camera came as a matter of course. "I was hooked from the get go," he admits.

Still, it's a fairly specialized field, and even with the initial enthusiasm, it remained an infrequent sideline until he came to Toronto and met dancer/choreographer Kevin A. Ormsby in 2006. Through him, he had connections to the city's Kashedance and Ballet Creole companies, and finally steady outlets for his work. He also mentions David Hou, a photographer who was working with Ballet Creole at the time for giving him useful practical and technical advice. Today, he's a regular photographer with both companies, as well as others based in Toronto.

His practice is to attend rehearsals and famliarize himself with the choreography. "There are specific moments where, if you haven't captured them, you may as well have not bothered to show up." It means he's able to pull out separate moments, adding to the dramatic effect. He's shot Ballet Creole's Soulful Messiah, for example, five times. "I know every nuance of the piece." The images reflect that knowledge.

All of his work, from the earliest portraits to today's images of dance, is marked by a concern with drama and artistic composition, something he traces back to his studies in design. From the past to the present and into the future, he's enthusiastic about taking his skills to ever higher levels. "It's an ever evolving thing, photography," Christopher says.

• a piece called "Flow of Emotion"
• Kashedance (2010) - image used in May - June Canadian National Arts Counsel Brochure & in various official programs for the company
• Ballet Creole's Soulful Messiah (2007 production)
• Baby Boyz (2011)
• Ballet Creole's Antagonist (2011)


What Else Is Hot This Week?

FACTORY presents World Premiere ACTS OF FAITH November 19 to 28 2020 - Free Livestream

 From a media release: World Premiere FACTORY presents  ACTS OF FAITH by David Yee Directed by Nina Lee Aquino Starring Natasha Mumba November 19 – 28, 2020 @ 7:30PM Streamed live for 6 performances Free of charge TORONTO (October 19, 2020) - To kick off its groundbreaking 2020/21 season, Factory presents the world premiere of acts of faith, by multi-award winning Asian Canadian playwright David Yee, directed by Nina Lee Aquino, and starring Natasha Mumba. Written specifically to be performed for a digital platform, acts of faith will stream live to audiences at home for six performances, November 19-28, 2020.  Thanks to the generous support of the TD Bank Group, admission is being offered entirely free of charge to audiences across the country and beyond. acts of faith tells a story about the power of faith, the inescapable persistence of our online identities, and the nature of truth in a digital age. The story follows Faith, a young woman who gets mistaken for a prophet. When a ques

Blues Single | Bushwick Blooze Band: Waiting (Independent / 20 October 2020)

Blues Single Bushwick Blooze Band: Waiting (Independent / 20 October 2020) Stream It From Your Fave Service Waiting is the latest in a string of singles released by Bushwick Blooze Band. The Brooklyn-based blues trio have been performing and recording the blues around the NYC area since 2018. Their first album "Cryin' for the L Train" was released in January 2019, and included covers of famous songs composed by their greatest influencers such as Little Richard, The Allman Brothers Band, Freddie King, and Eddie Vinson.  Bushwick Blooze Band is finishing up the production of their second album "Yes Dear" and unlike the previous cover record, this new album will be their first original contribution to the genres they love. Waiting is an upbeat blues track with a party kind of veneer over solid musicianship. What begins with a classic blues feel transforms into an extended psychadelic flavoured trip. Inventive guitar licks almost make you forget about the virtuosity

Blaise La Bamba & Kotakoli November 7th 2020 Online - PWYC

 From a media release: Batuki Music Society and Alliance Francaise Toronto present A virtual concert featuring Blaise La Bamba & Kotakoli November 7th 2020 at 8:00 PM Enjoy the concert from home! K inshasa’s vibrant nightlife has long been world-famous. It is home to the subculture known informally as the Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People (SAPEUR), which has spread its influence through artists such as Papa Wemba. Blaise La Bamba is part of this scene. He has worked with some of the top names of Congolese music, in particular General Defao. I n 2018, Blaise La Bamba founded Kotakoli , an all-star collective of musicians that perform an energetic mix of Congolese rumba and soukous . In the company of Kotakoli, this veteran musician brings Congolese popular music back to the forefront, with spellbinding dances. The Details Date: Saturday November 7th, 2021  Blaise La Bamba and Kotakoli Virtual Concert Time: 8:00 PM Tickets: Pay what you can This concert is offered to you

Review: Night of the Kings / La Nuit des Rois by Philippe Lacôte

Review:  Night of the Kings La Nuit des Rois by Philippe Lacôte A France, Côte d'Ivoire, Canada and Senegal co-production Now Playing In The New York Film Festival ImageAfter Venice and the Toronto Film Festival, Philippe Lacôte's Night of the Kings has moved on to conquer New York City.  Image Courtesy of TIFF A young pickpocket (Koné Bakary), is incarcerated in the giant La MACA prison, the largest in Côte d’Ivoire. The prison offers a hostile atmosphere, where the guards have long given up keeping order and the prisoners run the show, albeit confined within the prison walls. They dance, sing, and mingle at will in a common area called The Jungle.  There is a violent power struggle between Lord Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu), who runs things, and the younger leaders of other factions. Blackbeard is old and infirm, and he knows he can't hold on forever. But, he does want to hold on long enough to leave on his own terms.  Image courtesy of TIFF Blackbeard designates the new

Jazzy Pop: Shihori - Soul Trip (Independent / 4 September 2020)

Jazzy Pop: Shihori - Soul Trip (Independent / 4 September 2020) New York City based singer and songwriter Shihori's new single Soul Trip is atmospheric and ambient. Interesting rhythms and interwoven melodic vocal lines showcase jazzy harmonic progressions in a slow groove mode.  As a songwriter, she uses electronic effects with impeccable musical taste. As a singer, her flexible vocals range from a sweet soprano to a strong mid-range. A veteran of the Japanese pop scene, Shihori moved to New York City in 2018, a move she talks about in a media release. "I was so surprised when I came to NY for the first time. Independent and strong women are respected and there are lots of different preferences in music and style. I thought, 'oh my God! This place really accepts uniqueness and freedom! I didn't know there is a place like this totally different world that allows you to be yourself. Everybody looks so different. So many races, colors, cultures, fashion, ideas...I am so