The Arts: Pointe and Shoot

Posted Wednesday, Oct. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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It’s late morning at the Fort Worth Water Gardens, and Kyle Froman knows exactly what he wants. Raising his voice over the whoosh of the fountains, he directs two male models, wearing suits and ties, into poses that channel the power and serenity of two successful businessmen communing with nature on their lunch break.

Froman’s photos blend beauty and physicality — hallmarks of the style he has developed as an increasingly sought-after dance photographer in New York City.

It’s not surprising that Froman, 37, would choose to focus on the dance world: He spent 13 years as a member of the New York City Ballet, and he was still dancing with the company when the photos he snapped during rehearsals and performances became the 2007 bestselling book In the Wings: Behind the Scenes at the New York City Ballet (Wiley, $35, www.kylefromanphotography.com).

“I kept my camera in my backpack with my leg warmers and sweatpants,” Froman says. “Each night, if I wasn’t dancing, I’d stand in the wings and take photos.” Soon, he was dividing his time between dance and photography classes to hone his technical skills.

Froman turned to photography full time in 2009, and since then, he has developed an impressive clientele that includes such important companies as the Royal Danish Ballet, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Miami City Ballet. He has photographed casts and performances of such Broadway shows as Billy Elliot the Musical, Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera, and he even did a documentary-style shoot of French fashion designer Joseph Altuzarra’s 2013 Spring/Summer show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week last year, at the invitation of the designer.

But on this day, he has taken a break from his busy schedule to come home to Fort Worth. It’s a working trip — he’ll pitch this fashion shoot to magazines in the coming weeks — but also a celebratory one.

His sister, Debbi Jo Utter, began the popular Dance Concept school 40 years ago, and she will be hosting a giant party this weekend at the Ridglea Theater, along with three special “master classes” at her studio, taught by students-turned-dance-professionals. Froman will be one of the guest instructors.

Unfortunately, Kyle’s identical twin brother, Kurt, couldn’t come home for the festivities: He is dancing in the Broadway show On Your Toes, and he can’t miss a performance.

Dance had been a primary focus for Kyle and Kurt since they were students at Tanglewood Elementary School. As the youngest of six kids, they’d endured myriad after-school activities — soccer, gymnastics — but nothing resonated until their mother put them in a tap class at Debbi Jo’s studio. (She is 20 years older than the twins.) They loved it so much that they were soon taking a class every day, often with much older dancers.

“In our family, I think it was assumed you had talent,” says Utter, noting that their mother was a dancer and their father was a singer. “Kurt and Kyle grew up performing on the top of the coffee table in the living room — both were obsessed with Annie, and they could sing and recite dialogue from the opening titles through the closing credits.”

It wasn’t Annie, but rather Mary Tyler Moore who helped the boys discover ballet. Froman vividly remembers being 10 years old and watching the ultra-melodramatic movie Six Weeks on TV, in which Mary Tyler Moore’s character fulfills her leukemia-stricken 12-year-old daughter’s dying wish of dancing in The Nutcracker in New York City. It all looked so dramatic and exciting, he recalls, that he decided he wanted to go to New York City and dance in The Nutcracker, too.

The brothers moved from Dance Concept to the Southwest Ballet Center, and from there to the Fort Worth School of Ballet, which was affiliated with the Fort Worth Ballet (now the Texas Ballet Theater).

At the time, the Fort Worth Ballet used the Balanchine style, a technique developed by legendary New York City Ballet choreographer George Balanchine, and Froman says it was a revelation.

“It was so much faster and jazzier than we were used to. So when we saw it, it was such an eye-opening experience, we fell in love with it,” he recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to be able to do this every day?’ and that’s when we realized we could do this as a career.”

The twins doubled-down on their training, in and outside the studio.

“The public library had a copy of the Dance in America special Choreography by Balanchine — we’d watch it repeatedly and became fascinated by the NYCB dancers,” Kurt Froman recalls. “We’d read whatever biographies we could get our hands on, and we even read old reviews of the company on microfiche.”

Kyle Froman remembers taking a more clandestine approach to their research: “There was a videotape room with recordings of the NYCB performing ballets the Fort Worth Ballet was doing, and we’d sneak in there and borrow the videotapes and watch them.”

They spent high school summers in New York City, training at the New York City Ballet’s School of American Ballet (on scholarship), and amassed enough credits to graduate a year early from Arlington Heights to join the Fort Worth Ballet.

Soon after, however, both were awarded a prestigious Rudolf Nureyev scholarship to study at the School for American Ballet full time for a year — an opportunity that was too good to pass up, they say.

When the year ended, both were invited to join the corps, where they spent more than a decade performing in New York and on stages all over the world.

Kyle Froman says his decision to leave the security of the company was a difficult one.

He says he knew his mom was worried. But he never questioned the decision for a single moment.

“This was my new passion, and it felt right,” he says. “I felt confident in my skills, and by then, I’d had the luxury of having built a portfolio of work.”

But there was one lingering question: Would he miss dancing? After all, Kurt Froman had left the company but was still onstage, choreographing, dancing and teaching. (This fall, he’ll become dance captain for the Broadway musical An American in Paris.)

The answer, Froman soon discovered, was no, thanks in part to his focus on dance photography.

“I shoot mostly dancers and performances, so I am still involved,” he says. “I also had such an intense career — I danced so much when I danced — that I got it all out of my system.”

The act of photography has become the dance — he stands, he moves, he’s back and forth on his feet and actively engaging with his subjects.

“For me,” he says, “the hardest thing is to watch a performance without my camera.”

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