From ‘Brigadoon’ to Balanchine

One of the preeminent dance photographers in the world
Steven Caras

    When Steven Caras was 15 years old, Emile Sanzari, the director of his high school production of “Brigadoon,” assured him he had enough talent to pursue a career in dance, despite having never taken a single lesson. “I started ballet classes immediately,” Mr. Caras recalls, “and three years later found myself dancing with, in my opinion, the greatest ballet company in the world — the New York City Ballet — under the watchful eye of the legendary choreographer, George Balanchine.”

    Mr. Caras went on to a career as a dancer in more than 40 ballets choreographed by Balanchine and then, encouraged by both Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, the company’s co-founder, to a parallel career as one of the preeminent dance photographers in the world. Mr. Caras is, today, a lecturer, photographer, dance critic, guest ballet master, fund-raiser, and philanthropist.

    A former resident of East Hampton, he is the subject of “Steven Caras: See Them Dance,” an Emmy Award-winning documentary directed by Deborah Novak that will air on WNET/13 Sunday at 1:30 p.m. In the film Mr. Caras shares professional and personal anecdotes and milestones, from his difficult childhood to his days as a dancer to his career as a photographer. The film uses many photographs from Mr. Caras’s archive, interspersed with interviews with such dance icons as Jacques d’Amboise, Patricia McBride, Mia Michaels, Kay Mazzo, Peter Martins, Allegra Kent, Sean Lavery, Elizabeth Streb, Gary Chryst, and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux.

    Mr. Caras’s connection to East Hampton can be traced to Mr. Sanzari, his high school mentor. “One night after a performance at the New York City Ballet, there was a note backstage from Emile, sharing how proud he was,” Mr. Caras recalled. “He and his partner came often to the ballet, and eventually we became very good friends. In the early 1970s I was invited to spend a weekend in their home in East Hampton and it was love at first sight.”

    “I’d never seen a more beautiful setting,” he said, “from the quaint village architecture to farm fields to hilly woods, all within reach of wide open beaches mere minutes from the jagged cliffs overlooking Gardiner’s Bay.” Mr. Caras continued to visit until, in 1980, he and his partner designed their own house on Semaphore Road in Landfall, in the Northwest Woods. He acquired a second house on North Woods Lane in the late 1980s, before moving to South Florida in 1990. “Summers were lovely in East Hampton, but winter weekends with friends were always our favorite times,” he said.

    Mr. Caras’s photographic archive includes more than 120,000 images, spanning 35 years, of the dance world’s greatest performers and institutions. Included in the collection are images from “Last Bow,” George Balanchine’s final curtain call with the New York City Ballet, as well as stage, studio, and behind-the-scenes photographs of such greats as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Suzanne Farrell, Gelsey Kirkland, Alicia Alonso, Edward Villella, Natalia Makarova, Peter Martins, and Rudolf Nureyev.

    Dance companies represented within the collection are diverse, among them the American Ballet Theatre, the Joffrey Ballet, the Royal Ballet, Momix, Twyla Tharp Dance Company, Ballet Nacionale de Cuba, Pilobolus, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Streb, the White Oak Dance Project, New York City Ballet, Les Ballets Grandiva de Russia, and Miami City Ballet.

    Before becoming a filmmaker, Deborah Novak trained and performed with the prestigious Dickinson School of Dance through high school and continued classes with the American Ballet Theatre while studying theater and film at New York University. She quit dancing in her mid-20s to pursue a career on stage. Although they never danced together, Ms. Novak and Mr. Caras crossed paths years ago in New York. She made a note in her future-projects file. In early 2010, she and her husband, a fellow filmmaker, John Witek, decided to follow up. “See Them Dance” is the result.lobolus, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Streb, the White Oak Dance Project, New York City Ballet, Les Ballets Grandiva de Russia, and Miami City Ballet.

    Before becoming a filmmaker, Deborah Novak trained and performed with the prestigious Dickinson School of Dance through high school and continued classes with the American Ballet Theatre while studying theater and film at New York University. She quit dancing in her mid-20s to pursue a career on stage. Although they never danced together, Ms. Novak and Mr. Caras crossed paths years ago in New York. She made a note in her future-projects file. In early 2010, she and her husband, a fellow filmmaker, John Witek, decided to follow up. “See Them Dance” is the result.

Mikhail Baryshnikov in “Coppelia,” 1978.
Connor Walsh, Houston Ballet principal dancer, 2010.
The Miami City Ballet, 1990
A photograph of Mr. Caras rehearsing with Jerome Robbins in 1972.Steven Caras, Martha Swope, and Richard Graulich Photos