Photo credit Wesley Law
Feature Image –
Dancer: Maxine Hupy
Dog: Peek, Newfoundland
The Necessity of Delight: An Interview with Kelly Pratt of Dancers & Dogs
In a ballet world replete with precision and perfectionism, sometimes you need to lighten the mood. And what better way to do so than with puppies?
Photographers Kelly Pratt and Ian Kreidrich are on a mission to bring you unadulterated delight with their photos of ballet dancers spending time with the dogs they love.
Our conversation with Kelly was equally full of joy as explored the work of Dancers & Dogs and the importance of lighthearted sparks of happiness in the internet space today.
Dancer: Destiny Wimpye, Pacific Northwest Ballet Apprentice
Dog: Lucca, Bouvier des Flandres
Alanna: Dancers & Dogs began in 2017 when you had a particularly exciting idea. Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of the project?
My beginning idea was just really random. I wanted to see what it was like to combine the shapes and lines that dancers make with their bodies, with the shapes and lines that dogs make with their bodies. Because dogs come in all different shapes and sizes! Big dogs, little dogs, sleek dogs, fluffy dogs. So I thought there might be an interesting juxtaposition to uncover.
Alanna: In your images you really do emphasize those shapes and explore different compositions. What did it feel like adding in those new lines and structures? Did it adjust your perspective on how you photograph the human body while working with an entirely different object in that same space?
Yes. With dancers alone, you’re just working with one subject so you can really hone in and focus on that one thing. When you add in another being, especially one that doesn’t necessarily know what’s going on, it makes it, well, a lot more interesting.
It’s a different relationship than maybe even two dancers partnering. There’s something special in seeing a person and a dog together. When you really get that emotional connection between the two of them you can see it in the picture.
Thomas: When I was researching and diving in and preparing for the interview, it was so fun to look at that puppy love instinct. It provides a contrast with this superhuman idea of dancers. It’s the most natural thing.
I love that contrast. A lot of the project from the beginning was bringing dancers down from that supervision that people have of them. So many people don’t even think of dancers a lot of times as human beings – almost as if they’re fairytale people.
When you bring dogs in, it brings the dancers more down to earth and people can relate to them. I also feel that seeing a dog in motion and a human in motion just innately makes us all animals in a way.
Alanna: Your first photo shoot was with the St. Louis Ballet dancers. Can you tell us a little bit about what that first experience was like after you had this idea and now you have dancers and a bunch of dogs in a room. What was it like?
Our very first one was with one of the dancers who was then with St. Louis Ballet and a bulldog. We wanted to literally just try it. Let’s see what is going to happen if we put these two beings in a photo shoot. And it worked out really well!
People really thought they were fun, so we tried it with five more of the dancers from St. Louis Ballet along with different dogs. That second time was probably the biggest learning curve we had through this entire process. We learned really quickly a lot of things that don’t work and that do work.
Dancer: Alex Wong, Former Miami City Ballet Principal
Dog – Peach, Adopted Am Staff Mix
Alanna: I can’t even imagine the mix of fantastic energy with just a little bit of chaos as you figured it all out.
Thomas: Have you had any particularly memorable moments with the dogs during shoots?
We’ve had so many! They always make it fun. Nothing can ever be too serious on set, which can happen sometimes with dance photography. Dancers can get really stressed out on photo shoots because they feel they have to look exactly right. And I think these photo shoots are more about creating a feeling than being perfect.
Alanna: One of the things that we were actually watching the other day was your TED Talk, and you shared your passion for bringing joy and a sense of lightheartedness to people through the internet and your photography. Can you tell our readers a little bit about that and why matters to you so much?
In starting Dancers & Dogs, I really found that there’s so much you see on the internet. We as people now are on the internet constantly, and so much of what you see is just coming at you every day. And I know, like all of us… we just find these little things here and there. They can be random, like kitten videos, or just like people doing crazy dances on TikTok, that kind of stuff. Stuff that’s silly. But at the same time, we’ve created this kind of space for ourselves where we almost need those little things. Things that let us smile for a second. So it’s important in its own way.
Alanna: As you said, ballet can be a bit inaccessible at times, and adding a human, lighthearted element to this art form is incredibly powerful.
That was one of the most important things for this project. People say all the time in our comments – oh, I love seeing the dancers laugh. And you know, dancers actually laugh all the time! But I don’t think people always see that when they’re watching a ballet, or when they’re even seeing movies about ballet. All of the ballet movies are very serious in general.
Thomas: I know Black Swan is always brought up. If the ballet world were truly that bad, I don’t think anybody would dance.
Right. Ballet dancers have a really good sense of humor in general actually, so it’s just bringing that across. Saying, hey, they also have fun.
Thomas: Building off of that, there is the positive impact that Dancers & Dogs is also involved in some charities and giving back. Can you tell us about that?
Yeah – one of the biggest things we’ve done for the last five years is a little side project called Muttcracker.
We work with the St. Louis Ballet and Stray Rescue of St. Louis. The dancers from St. Louis Ballet get dressed in their Nutcracker costumes and they come with us to Stray Rescue to pose with different animals that have come off the streets and really give them this fairytale kinda look.
These dogs have had a hard life up until then, so we wanna make them be shown in a really positive light and help them get adopted.
Dancer: Lily Saito, Nashville Ballet Company Dancer
Dog: Red, Pit Bull Mix
Alanna: Do you ever get to work with other animals outside of dogs? I’m sure you get this question a lot, but are there any cats?
We actually have done a few with cats. We had enough to even do a calendar last year. We have also done one photo shoot with a pony, which was kind of an experiment.
Alanna: How was working with a cat and a horse in a photo shoot in this context? Because now you’ve got a bit of a dog specialty going and you have them figured out, right?
Cats are obviously different than dogs. A lot of cats are not happy to come into a new space or be with new people. So we did actually end up working with a lot of trained cats. Cats that are trained to be in commercials, and even some circus cats that know tricks.
And as far as horses go… horses are also very different than dogs in that they’re not always into meeting all the new people and into big lights and such. So again, we had to find the right type of horse for the shoot.
Thomas: That makes sense – I imagine dogs are probably the most playful as a group. You touched on commercial cats, and we know that you also work as a commercial photographer and do many different types of projects. Would you mind sharing a little bit about some of your other work and how you manage taking care of St. Louis Ballet, Dancers & Dogs, and all of your other projects?
I am the official photographer for St. Louis Ballet, and my husband and I also do all of their video now as well.
I also handle their social media, but on top of that we also do a lot of commercial photography. We work with people, animals, we do some travel work… so pretty much anything and everything.
Alanna: How, how do you enjoy doing all this photography and video work for St. Louis Ballet? It seems like you have a pretty great relationship there.
I’ve been their photographer since 2014. So we’ve known each other for a long time. We have a lot of trust between us. That’s probably why Muttcracker was so easy to make happen, because they trust us to use their costumes and we always know we’re gonna take care of each other. I know how all of their dancers work. I’ve known a lot of their dancers since the beginning, since I got there. So it’s been great having that relationship for a long period of time.
Alanna: That’s delightful. What got you into dance photography in general? It’s a rather niche space. How did you find it?
I’ve always loved dance. I was not a professional dancer. But it just speaks to me and I love just creating shapes. That’s really all dance photography is about.
I also like working with people. I’m definitely a people photographer as opposed to a product photographer. I like collaborating with dancers and trying to find new things and create different looks.
Thomas: In your TED talk that we watched, there was a theme of releasing work, observing people’s reaction, and letting that sort of guide what you do. I think that’s amazing. So what is next up your sleeve for Dancers & Dogs?
We’re toying with a bunch of different things, trying to decide if we should do another book. Do we do more types of animals? We’re kinda playing around with what is the next direction, always trying to keep it interesting. So stay tuned!
Alanna: So if there was a dancer who would just love to be a part of this project, how would someone get involved? How would they reach out to you to be a part of one of these photo shoots? What’s that process like?
So we do things typically two different ways.
Either we join up with a particular company – we’ve worked with like Colorado Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, and St. Louis Ballet, obviously. We’ll work with them directly and we work in their studio. So if we do it that way, then basically they can talk to their company and say they wanna be involved with the project.
Otherwise we go to cities like New York or LA or some other cities, and we will announce that ahead of time for people who might want to be interested. And then basically that’s when they would contact us and say they wanna be involved.
Alanna: One last question – do you have a dog?
Oh yes! We have a dog and we also have two cats. Our dog’s name is Dylan and he is 13, and then our cats are Marta and Sam. Sam is 14. Marta’s two. Dylan and Marta have both been in our images. Sam is not the kind of cat who would be good for this, but the other two have been in Dancers & Dogs / Dancers & Cats.
We love that! Thank you so much. It’s been a delight to hear about your process. Thank you for the lovely work that you do, adding more beauty to our world.
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