Ballerina Project in Hawaii: An Awakening by Kate Ann Behrendt
This past January, I was fortunate enough to experience an amazing and unforgettable event through working on the ballerina project. My excitement and anticipation were less than subtle when Dane first presented me with the prospect of this trip. A few days in a tropical place in which we could fully indulge ourselves into the art that has now reached over 300,000 fans was a dream come true. I am extremely fortunate and grateful for the support of ballerina project’s fans, the other dancers involved, and of course Dane Shitagi and his brilliant vision. Such events are rare and certainly memorable, so I felt it was wise to jot down a few thoughts each day. The following are some of my personal words from the adventure.
After a long journey, a familiar face greeted me at the Honolulu airport with a lei. A welcoming and festive gesture, made of authentic orchids. Dane and I then proceeded to pick up a sizzling white mustang which we ended up naming “Marcia.” I must say it was a bit difficult to come up with a name equally as witty and fitting as the other dancer’s previous vehicles, but it suited her. Buzzing around with the top down and taking in the gorgeous landscape was sort of like a cherry on top. Since Dane is from Hawaii, his touring skills were also an added bonus. We had a casual meal, caught up a bit, and called it an early night. I was actually very excited and anxious for our 5 am wake-up call for the next morning, I recall falling asleep with nothing on my mind but how it was going to feel to pose at the top of a giant crater.
The climb to the top of Diamond Head crater was not a physically easy task. It was a bit of a hike, accompanied by almost 100 steps. Every inch of the trek was well worth the effort. The view at the top was unearthly. As more and more tourists filled up the lookout post, the sun rose. It was a perfect view of Honolulu and the ocean. Per usual, we needed to go against the grain to get our shots. Dane assisted me and between the two of us we managed to transport all of his camera gear, my dance backpack, and clothing from the designated look- out post to another landing. (This is where I encourage any potential vacationers to avoid some of the crater-hopping and other measures we may have to capture the images.) It was well worth the risk- an abandoned artillery fort formed a breathtaking setting. It also had a convenient under portion where I could tactfully change into a lovely, light dress. The contrast of the cement and rock against this garment concocted a neat vibe. It was my first shoot in a little under a year, and my soul needed it. There is a power in posing for something you are passionate about. I usually try and empty my mind. To come into the work and be moved by the setting is my favorite thing about working with Dane. He enjoys using dancer’s natural instincts. A somewhat comical moment was my dash at the sight of a small lizard in a doorway of the structure. I must have leapt and yelled like a crazy lady, at least I gave Dane a good chuckle. By the end of the trip, these natural “interferences” ended up adding to the experience but it had caught me off guard this early morning. The next location was the Manoa Falls. This is the birthplace of ballerina project and the sight I was most anticipating. I have seen Dane’s original image from over ten years ago, and it continues to imprint my spirit when I view photographs. It was a nice hike, and the falls felt amazing. A wimp about actually getting in, I was rewarded with refreshing shaved ice.
The falls are magical. There is a natural rhythm about them that inspires movement and interesting lines. I truly felt like I was dancing, as well as a natural element…a part of the fall. A few shots occurred on our hike back down as well such as using a bright green dress against massive tree stumps. A fun taco shop provided a tasty lunch before we gazed over the Pauli lookout. It is a sacred sight, and for this we maintained a level of respect while shooting here. Again we went to a more desolate portion of this sight to avoid tourists and get the best view. The view was undeniably amazing. To breathe in the landscape of Hawaii was to recharge every cell in my body. I felt elevated, and something inside me began to take on a new perspective entirely. A long day, full of incredible sights, sounds, people, and places ended with a fun dinner. We went to a tasty restaurant, the “Side Street Inn” – “ The place where chefs like to eat.” I could understand why. I tried some traditional Hawaiian dishes and met some of Dane’s wonderfully kind, intelligent, and generous friends.
Waikiki beach was our first stop the following day. I wore a colorful, flowing dress and even put my lei on for a few shots. That sight was accompanied by a Venti Starbucks iced coffee. Starbucks and the ballerina project have a very special affiliation for me. The Astor Place Starbucks in downtown Manhattan is where Dane and I first met to discuss his work and my potential for working on it-the start of a successful and creative partnership. Although other stigmas are often false, it is a well-known characteristic of many dancers that we consume a good amount of coffee. Dane is familiar with this craving and always does an excellent job at keeping his dancers caffeinated. We also picked up a variety of native snacks for the day. Our next journey was to the island of Kauai. This rustic, lush island is nothing short of a green paradise. Less tourists, more wide spaces and fields, and chock full of perfect shooting locations. The entire time I felt I had leaped into the film “Jurassic Park.” Our housing was a scenic and really nice hotel/resort. Although this was not a leisure vacation, each setting was more than comfortable. We navigated to a very neat waterfall off of Highway 56. Dane had recalled this sight, like many others, from his early works. This fall was tucked away and gave a large dose of creative exploration. I fell in love with a small town near this fall. Hanalei is a novelty spot- many authentic shops, restaurants, and specifically a tasty all natural fruit juice/ smoothie bar. We shot some images at the juice hut as well. On the drive back, a beach overflowing with textured black rocks was too hard to pass up. Our last shots of the day ended here and we enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Sheraton that evening.
The hotel offered an abundance of breakfast goods and coffee for the morning. We fueled up and headed to one of the most influential natural settings I have come by. The Queen’s Bath is named very appropriately. A massive lava-formed shelf maintains natural swimming pools which invited us to do some of my favorite images in Hawaii. Again a bit tentative to get into the water, I was delighted to find I actually can float above water. Again probably in reward for my brave acts earlier in the day, Dane and I returned to Hanalei and ate delicious fish tacos, got more juices, and picked up some souvenirs. That evening we ate authentic Hawaiian food at a restaurant near the hotel. The area feels very special and less touched than the other areas I experienced in Hawaii. It is the location of sugar industry started in 1835. Maybe this plays a hand in their delicious sweet bread…
Feeling a bit sullen about having to depart from the wonderland, in the early morning we headed to the resort beach and watched the sun rise in anticipation of the perfect lighting. Another breakfast kick-off, and we did a bit of exploring before finding a very neat old Russian fort. Fort Elisabeth is a white sand beach at the mouth of the Waimea River. Following that, a drive up the Waimea Canyon was very foggy, but there was a magic about it. One literally feels at the border of earth and heaven when at the top. Although the fog inhibited the view, we still snagged wonderful shots and taped footage as well. I love the live taping because I can continually dance and move through them. All of Dane’s work has an insanely real feel, but this technique gives the emotion and shapes another dimension for the viewer. The Menuhune Ditch and bridge were amongst more treasures discovered on this day. There is a legend about the Menuhune- “ the little people.” My understanding is they are little dwarves that protect the ditch. The small bridge had an intense sway and was very entertaining to shoot on. A black stallion also added to the setting. My heart was overwhelmed by the darling little children playing in the water. As we pulled away, it had started to rain but I was sure to take some video footage of their genuine joyfulness. Our final location in Hawaii was at red dirt falls located on the drive up the Canyon. The vivid color was indescribably mystical. It has stained garments and I will cherish the pointe shoes I wore at this shoot forever. They are still a rich, burnt orange color and I gaze at them with fond memories of this last shoot. I have to say I almost felt like tearing up on this last shoot. I could feel years of hard work, passion, and a creative hunger coming to life. I have a strong sense that Dane and I both felt this way.
Looking back, this trip was more than just a journey to a beautiful place to take beautiful images. It pushed me in a spiritual way as well. The chats, walks, good music we listened to on car rides, and sights all fed my soul in one way or another. I will never forget this experience. When I first started being involved in ballerina project several years ago, I could have imagined such a marvelous adventure would take place. To see the images of myself, and other dancers, is to feel the honest beauty of the work itself. Dane has given dance a new, strong voice. On challenging days in the studio, the first mental place I transport my mind to is shooting ballerina project images. Whether in NY or Hawaii, I feel extremely privileged to be behind Dane Shitagi’s lenses and cannot wait to see more growth in the project.
by Kate Ann Behrendt