Jane Franklin and Fax Ayres Meld Dance and Photography in ‘Second Glance’

The upcoming Second Glance at Alexandria’s Athenaeum promises to cross artistic boundaries to produce the uniquely dramatic in a highly original venture.

Jane Franklin Dance Company performs Second Glance. Photo by Gail Bingham.
Jane Franklin Dance Company performs Second Glance. Photo by Gail Bingham.

So what is Second Glance? It is strikingly original choreography that plays off of large-scale, remarkably tension-packed photographic art. Second Glance is aurally propelled with music that spans the centuries, along with spoken narrative. Together, often separate artistic disciplines take on a lively, seamless flow.

Specifically, Second Glance melds together the light-painting photography of Fax Ayres and the buoyant choreography of the Jane Franklin Dance Company with music from the likes of Bach, Handel and David Shire along with narration by some of the Jane Franklin Dance Company dancers.

First, for those less familiar with Alexandria, Virginia’s Athenaeum (home of the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association), “it is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in all forms of art, and to establishing programs that will enrich the cultural life of the D.C. metropolitan area. The Athenaeum Gallery exhibits work created solely by artists living or working in the region and strives to present visitors with a wide variety of excellent art and unique dance, music, and poetry experiences,” said Veronica Szalus, Executive Director, Athenaeum.

In an interview, Fax Ayres described his photographic works as employing a “light painting” approach to make the images appear full of tension and apparent movement. “My images merge the aesthetics of photography and painting,” said Ayres. “I am fascinated by the challenge of exploring and conveying the character of mundane things, daily objects and scenes, trying to extract beauty and personality from them by painting them carefully with light.”

At an early preview of Ayres’ sharp photographs (which are on display at the Athenaeum through February 24), I was struck by this; the compositions may have been of ordinary objects, but they seemed ready to move. They had something akin to dramatic action. I easily understood what Jane Franklin meant when she said that Ayres’ final photographic images are “surprising compositions of ordinary objects spring to life, hinting at dramatic backstories.”

As examples, at the Athenaeum exhibition, Ayres has a number of large-scale photographs with a solitary egg, or perhaps two eggs, as a central character. Yes, the eggs are characters, not just a sold non-human oval object. The eggs may appear as still objects, but they had some sort of “potential movement” aspects to them. “I honestly can’t explain my interest in eggs, except to say that the very first light-painted image I ever created had an egg in it, and I have been drawn back to them over and over. I think their perfect shape, delicate texture and color, and sense of fragility all fascinate me. I do try to create a sense of tension or potential action in my images, and I think that helps draw viewers into the image,” said Ayers.

“My final images consist of many separate photographs, each with only a small portion of the final image exposed, that are stacked on top of each other or ‘layered’ one on top of the other so that when you look through the entire stack, all of the separate images combine to create the final photograph,” added Ayers.

It was the potential movement that helped pique Jane Franklin’s interest in how the ethereal movement nature of a dance performance could connect with printed, large-scale one-dimensional photographs. Franklin’s Second Glance choreography is based upon interviews with photographer Ayres. She aimed to have her original choreography “tied closely to the composition of the photographs and their actual content.”

Fax Ayres, Still Life with Egg (detail), Giclee print on archival paper, 30” x 23”, 201. Photo courtesy of the Athenaeum.
Fax Ayres, Still Life with Egg (detail), Giclee print on archival paper, 30” x 23”, 201. Photo courtesy of the Athenaeum.

“Many times, Fax spoke about collecting small objects, perhaps cast-offs, and you see those in many of his photographs, so I used that idea,” said Franklin. “The idea of pulling a small object out of your pocket and either handing it to someone, or placing it somewhere else, became a movement idea, which then we could use on a very small gestural scale, or expand the movement into large, full-body movements that interacted with other people.”

“Ayres spoke about the mystery of how the objects appear in the photos, the light coming from unusual directions, or else how he pulled objects away from the wall and made them look three-dimensional–which we could do by layering bodies. And then the idea of things being precarious,” said Franklin. “We used the idea of being precarious and things falling over with the catches and falls. The appearance of danger or what is about to happen or might happen I think is a part of his images. Also the storytelling aspects; or using gestures that are actually quite literal, but expanding them or tinkering with them to make them in a way more abstract, but still in line with what the story of the image could be,” she added.

For Ayres, Franklin, and Szalus, it is clear they hope “the audience will gain some new insights into the photos, and what photography and dance can share in common as far as process.”

“We hope the audience will also just enjoy the juxtaposition of hearing some of the photographer’s comments, told by the dancers, as they re-interpret his artwork through movement,” said Franklin.

Running Time: Approximately 50 minutes.

Second Glance performs on February 15, 2019, at the Athenaeum – 201 Prince Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets, call 703-548-0035 or go online.