Nicolas Le Riche, photo by Anne Deniau
This past December, French photographer and filmmaker Anne Deniau (also known as Ann Ray) published Nicolas Le Riche, a major collaborative work that has resulted in over 400 photographs. The book will be released in the US next month. For nearly six years, Deniau worked with Le Riche, an étoile with the Paris Opera Ballet since 1993, photographing him in Paris, New York, Tokyo, and London. The book is striking for its depth and honesty. Hardly any of the photographs are posed, and Le Riche seems at ease in front of the lens, perhaps even unaware that he is being photographed. In nearly all black and white photographs, Deniau has captured Le Riche as both a dedicated dancer and an everyman.
Split into two halves with different cover images, one side is called Nicolas, which according to Deniau reveals “the intense and secret moments”. Le Riche can be seen locking arms with a fellow dancer during a rehearsal, practicing guitar on a stairway, smoking out of his apartment window, embracing a woman, and even scrutinizing his own dancing in a fully mirrored studio. His intensity, focus, self-awareness, and sweat are visible while working in a studio, but he appears relaxed and often meditative in other settings. When flipped upside down, the other half is Le Riche, which shows the performer – “the artist on stage in his major roles with all the violent tenderness that belongs to him.” These photographs reveal Le Riche’s vast repertoire – everything from Prince Siegfried to the Prodigal Son to a bare-chested and barefoot modern-day man. Here the viewer only sees fragments of developed characters. It is challenging to look at fixed images and decipher Le Riche’s connection to the characters, making them far less interesting than the more personal, candid images in Nicolas. Yet, the two halves compliment each other, portraying what is both private and public – Le Riche behind the scenes and Le Riche as the performer that audiences adore.
One must wonder why anyone would want to spend so many years photographing one dancer. And why publish such an immense book of just one man? (And at $95, only Le Riche’s most devoted fans, or people eager to enhance their collection of coffee table books, are likely to purchase it). Perhaps Le Riche is Deniau’s muse, but this book speaks to the trust that Le Riche and Deniau have built from working together over the past several years. There is little editorial comment, but an interesting discussion – translated from French – between the photographer and dancer divides the two sections. Deniau admits to Le Riche, “All these images are your trust, returned. In bits. Trust by the kilometer. It’s the only way I know how to work.” And earlier in the conversation, Le Riche confesses, “Doing, not talking, that’s what Rudolf Nureyev always said. And if I’d chosen to express myself through dance, not words? Out of sincerity, by nature. Then that would be my truth: dancing is my nature.”
Nicolas Le Riche, by Anne Deniau (Gourcuff Gradenigo/ACC Distribution, 354 pages, 311 black & white, 93 color photographs, Hardcover, $95.00, March 2009)