Foreword to "In The the Company of stars" published by Flammarion. "What is a great photograph? It is a photograph that makes the viewer's experience echo the emotions felt by the photographer when the shutter clicked. The work of Gérard Uféras takes us to the very heart of Dance. Because he has had the rare privilege of spending time with the exponents of that art, he offers us profoundly personal images of outstanding imaginative richness that go both close and deep. Gérard becomes a second choreographer, with his own vision and his own art of placing bodies in spa ce, in accordance with the light and the geometry of the movements. But there are also the moments when the dance stops, when the tension drops, when tiredness causes a slackening that is so moving; when we see revealed both the character of these men and women and their fragility. This is when his sensibility touches us most deeply. He offers us images of people like ourselves, with our weaknesses and our yearning for unexpected encounters, whether in friendship or love. When mind and heart come together in this way, it means that we are in the presence of a very great artist. We would like to use a very strong word, but we do not dare, so we say that we are witnessing that great mystery known as Grace." Willy Ronis, photographer "For an entire season, Gérard Uféras followed the Paris Opera Ballet. He shadowed the dancers not only in the rehearsal rooms, where the ballet takes shape, and in the wings or backstage, but also on their tour of Japan, training his lens on moments from their daily life generally unseen by the public. With his own artistic sensibility, he unveils places and people entirely free of artifice, leading us where audiences never go but where the artists feel at home: in exercise rooms, each bearing the name of an important figure who has contributed to the glory of the Ballet: such as the studios Lifar, Petipa, Nureyev, Franchetti, and the rotundas Zambelli and Chauviré, but also in the Foyer de la Danse, where the troupe gathers to warm up before each performance. Page after page, Uféras's photographs recall the incessant, arduous, yet often exhilarating toil that rhythms the Company's calendar as the ballet gradually blossoms into splendor. From the wings, he captures the rapt concentration that precedes a dancer's entrance, the glances, gestures, and attitudes, each mirroring an emotion, a moment of effort or repose. There is a whole other life that takes place behind the curtain. These photographs constitute a tribute to the Company: beyond the troupe, they reveal personalities, a genuine family, where the complicity between the dancers, the ties linking the Paris Opera Ballet School to the corps de ballet, the collaboration between all those involved in the performance can be savored in telling images that the photographer has caught, as it were, on the fly. And so I invite the reader to enter a world bathed in a unique kind of magic, and it is my heartfelt wish that through it he or she should gain insight into the artistic community that makes the Company what it is today." BRIGITTE LEFÈVRE director of the Paris Opera Ballet "Maybe dance is at the root an art of contradiction" by Gerard Mannoni "Sacred in origin, dance was condemned early on by the Church, which nevertheless found a place for it in its sanctuaries. Dance is a source of transitory images which, scarcely embodied, are erased forever. It is as ancient as drawing in the history of humankind and undoubtedly precedes the word, being able, like language, to communicate messages, even political ones. An expression of the body and of sensuality, its aim is immateriality and abstraction. Rooted in a technique forged by strain and pain, outwardly it must convey only ease and facility. In an era when transmission and communication are dominated by machines, it remains an anachronistic, initiatory art, upheld by a society of artists in which masters and apprentices collaborate in a manner more akin to that of the guildsmen of the Middle Ages than to a multinational in the third millennium. A dance company-whether performing, on tour, backstage, in rehearsal, or at the barre-is a world apart, peopled by beings that seem a mix of butterfly, sex symbol, and athlete; a universe at once very near to and very far from us, whose ingredients are inextricably intertwined on all conscious and unconscious levels. The art of the photographer conveys its life, its breathtaking diversity, capturing and preserving infinitesimal fractions of a second that are in themselves moments of eternity. As the history of humanity demonstrates, and non-European civilizations remind us, from the outset dance has expressed humankind?s will to enter into dialogue with the divine. In the Orient, in Africa, in ancient, even prehistoric cultures, jumping, whirling, or more or less codified gesticulations were always more than simple merrymaking; rather they represented an attempt to induce a trance-like state so as to reach the gods. Temple dancing girls in Asia, Greek bacchantes, the priestesses of ancient Egypt, African medicine men, as well as many others, all functioned as actors or directors of choreographic events that were seen as a path to communication with the gods. The phenomenon was universal, though admittedly less common among the Romans and the Gauls. The hallowed character of dance is even present in the Bible: one merely has to think of King David. The advent of Christianity might have been expected to be just another phase in the history of these traditions and rites, but the very fact that the contrary was the case introduced a further twist to the story. From the beginning of the Christian era, the Church saw fit to condemn and prohibit dancing in what was the opening salvo in the religion's tumultuous, polemic, and constantly changing relationship with the body. Over the centuries, however, this condemnation took on various forms that mirror the history of the faith and of its culture. The astonishing thing is that the Church never actually stopped staging dances of its own. Ornamental initials in books of hours from medieval monasteries show monks holding each other by the little finger in charming roundelays. By the middle of the sixteenth century, while the terrible Inquisition raged, the corps de ballet of Seville Cathedral pleaded with the pope to lift an interdict preventing them from performing, implying not only that they had previously done so but that the Church acceded to their request. The friars accompanying the conquistadors to South America were keen to convert local pagan festivals into dance processions that conducted the populace from the public square to the nave of the newly built cathedrals. And there were also danses macabres staged at stopping places along pilgrimage routes, while others formed part of the mystery plays danced on cathedral forecourts. In the seventeenth century, too, the Jesuits organized courtly ballets for their novices in some of their colleges. Evolving over time, this doubly ambivalent and singularly complicated relationship between Christianity and dance has continued up to the present day, though no one today is shocked to see choreographed versions of a Bach's Passion or Mozart's Requiem, even if dancing has been abandoned in convents. Nothing is more transitory than a dance step. It is perpetually "becoming," writ in the sands of time. Scarcely begun, it is already nearly over. A round dance, no matter how rudimentary, dies as soon as it materializes. How long does a given attitude, a piqué arabesque, for instance, last? A tenth of a second? And what about a grand jeté or a leap that seems to us to hang in the air? Not much longer. A dancer poised in equilibrium for two or three seconds feels like an eternity. Is it all really worth the effort? And yet in our civilization, since it took the form of spectacle this fleeting language?a spontaneous outgrowth that over time has been codified?has served to embody (initially through allegory and later more explicitly) not only hundreds of romantic fables, but also real historical episodes, and in the past it has even managed to convey political statements sufficiently overt to have sparked civil wars or cemented alliances. From La Délivrance de Renaud, aping Louis XIII?s coming-of-age, to the Green Table, from Spartacus to The Red Detachment of Women, and any number of Soviet or Chinese productions, this art of the ephemeral has also marked human history in what is a striking contradiction between an art form that evaporates almost as soon as it takes shape and the enduring resonance of the message it seeks to convey and preserve. Even if many of today?s choreographers yield to the temptation to have their dancers speak, dance is still basically a language of the body, and thus of sensuality. In many of its sacred forms, it already prepared, heralded, or even represented the union between the physical and the divine. The motionless body in painting or statuary can never make the impact of one in motion. Often performed naked in ancient rites and then clothed once it became a public affair, and today once more divested of its coverings as more and more performances make use of near- or even total nudity, dance inevitably sets up an incarnate and therefore concrete relation between dancer and viewer, a fusion between sensation and imagination. Moreover, perhaps dance, along with music, is the most immaterial artistic language, the one that best expresses the abstract, conjuring up dreams, encapsulating the ontological dimension of the human. One might even venture that the foremost present-day creators, by exploiting the apparent contradiction of the expressive possibilities of the human body, have shown themselves capable of depicting not only the private angst of contemporary man but also the religious and mythical aspirations that underpinned the most ancient civilizations. When, in the course of the eighteenth century, dance at last emerged as an autonomous performing art distinct from the opera, it set about stabilizing its codes with increasing rigor and precision. The so-called "classical" technique-a time-honored foundation, even for those intent on subverting, rejecting, or demolishing it-is rooted in a logic of effort. Everyone is aware of the long years of apprenticeship, the daily routine of training, the tough realities of a world in which physical pain is omnipresent in a thousand different ways, where performers have to regulate the body and even overcome it. And all this so that on stage the exact opposite image is given-one of ease, grace, complete effortlessness. Anyone fortunate enough to have been allowed the magical experience of watching a dance performance from the wings knows how the seductive, ethereal creature that the public sees toying with its body and muscles with such disconcerting facility is transformed as soon as it exits between two scenery flats into an exhausted, perspiring, breathless shell, likely to collapse and stretch out on the bare floor before springing off once more toward the footlights with the same buoyancy and energy as before, the patch of damp left behind on the floor the only sign of his or her incredible exertions. And lastly, it must be admitted that there is an odd contradiction between the cutting-edge advances in communication technology of which dancers are so fond, and for which the world of dance has found a myriad of different uses, and the fundamentally initiatory character of this art, where the direct rapport between master and pupil remains irreplaceable. Dancers are by and large a youthful lot and, as they fly about on their tours of Asia, they cannot resist the most up-to-date contraptions that modern electronics has to offer: mobiles, TVs, PDAs, computers, mp3 players... Video, too, has assumed an essential role in communicating and preserving repertories, and even in creative choreography. The core programs of the majority of the larger companies are now recorded and released, while many choreographers remodel or create works with film in mind. And of course, many dancers first become interested in the choreography of a repertory ballet by watching a performance on screen. Yet any given interpretation or creation is always forged through direct contact between master, or choreographer, and dancer. Nothing can replace it: the precise movement to be reproduced, and which can only be demonstrated by someone who knows exactly what is required; the hand that adjusts the position of an arm or a head to the nearest millimeter?; a word of reprimand or encouragement; the authority of a celebrated mentor whose art perhaps inspired the same dancer's vocation. The ballet, therefore, is a world of unmediated contact between human beings, physical as well as psychological, where mysterious impulses flow from one body to another, where the sensitivity of one artist meshes with that of another, a place where a wealth of experience is passed on to minds with an insatiable thirst for knowledge?quite at odds with relationships or interchange based on text messaging, e-mailing, or an image on the screen. How, then, is a photographer supposed to capture an art and a world that are by nature so full of contradiction? High-speed film would certainly be useful to capture that split-second leap or step that attains perfection, and can yield beautiful results, too. Or, in the quest for the opposite effect, an impressionistic blur that seeks to convey the fluidity of a movement might effectively portray the ambiance of a work or scene. And perhaps by deploying elaborate lighting that sculpts the dancer's body like Michelangelo's chisel, an interesting tribute could be provided to one of the most impressive aspects of the ballet. But however rewarding these approaches may be, they cannot account for the complexity of an art whose manifold contradictions have been outlined above. For the photographer intent on conveying this inner complexity as truthfully as possible, a preferable option is perhaps to endeavor to record (according to his personal sensitivities and without preconceptions) the countless moments that make up the life of a company-at work, on stage, or on tour, straining at the leash or unwinding, as individuals or in a group-breaking each movement down into its components, or framing a particular part of the body that suddenly appears marked by a graceful position or by a certain lighting, ornament, or costume. Neither catalog nor balance sheet, the photographer's work has to tread the line between sensation and imagination, concrete and abstract, past and present, sacred and profane. The challenge is immense and calls for as much instinct as patience, as much spontaneity as expertise. But whoever rises to it knows that he, too, has gained entrance into that magic circle where, since the hallowed festivals of prehistory, the soul of dance is to be found." GÉRARD MANNONI