It is no secret that the arts inspire. Isn’t that the goal of creation? To ignite a spark, or a thought, to push a limit that extends the boundaries of the mind. How far can those limits be pushed? Isn’t one of the challenges, and often triumphs, of art to find the connections between things, to catch and capture the nuances ordinarily overlooked by the average eye?
Oliver Endahl knows something about capturing. In fact, it is the split-seconds he captures that are taking the social media universe by storm and redefining the way the arts are connected by exposing a classical medium on a modern platform. Endahl is the mastermind behind Ballet Zaida, a project designed to expose people around the world to ballet, which is, in Endahl’s opinion, the most beautiful art form. According to him, ballet is “an art that can stand on it’s own, but it also has the ability to fuse and collaborate with every other form of art there is. Similar to how a person works, actually. A person is unique and can stand by themselves, but they also have the ability to collaborate with others and form new ideas.” In this way, ballet is relatable, and as Ballet Zaida grows its audience—currently a staggering three hundred thirty-four thousand Instagram followers—will bring classical arts to the forefront of the modern stage. Undoubtedly, Endahl brings more to his subject than the simple click of a lens. One of the trademarks of a Ballet Zaida photo is superb technical mastery, something that often gets glossed over in a majority of dance photography. Endahl remarks that ballet dancers train for decades to achieve the precise technique, and he knows firsthand: As a former professional ballet dancer, Endahl played with movement accuracy as well as story-telling, citing a performance in the United States premiere of John Neumeier’s Yondering as a career highlight. When Endahl initially began photo shoots for Ballet Zaida, he transitioned his story-telling to a different medium: “I had a great time meeting and working with the various dancers in the photographs. I think that’s when I realized I was passionate about photography.”
The passion is evident. Through Ballet Zaida’s photographs, and the sister project, Ballet Zaida Films, each photograph or film is a fusion of art. Endahl’s emphasis on collaboration is heavy, bringing elements of literature, music, and fashion to his photographs. He is eager in the concept of connecting every element of creativity: “For just one of my upcoming Ballet Zaida films, it will have a man’s voice speaking a poem he wrote during his time in Texas, set to music composed by someone in Washington, the costumes will be made by a designer in Pennsylvania, and it will be danced and choreographed by ballet dancers from California, Arizona, and Oregon. For that one video we have a poet, a composer, a fashion designer, ballet dancers, a choreographer, and myself as a director and filmographer. Ballet can lend itself and collaborate with every other art form there is.” Ballet Zaida is a global effort, lending itself to people of various backgrounds and locations, utilizing their talents on a global scale, to an international audience. Endahl cites Ballet Zaida’s reach as the greatest triumph of the project: “When I post a photo, people all over the entire planet, of every socio-economic class, literally see the photo at the same time. Because the online following has grown so much, it exposes ballet to people who might never have seen this kind of art before.”
Clearly, being relatable in art is a major theme on Endahl’s radar, a touchy subject in classical ballet, which is often seen as a “dying” art, or at least one largely removed from the mainstream view. Endahl is an artistic revolutionary, letting ballet become relatable while still maintaining its otherworldly core. In fact, part of the original inspiration behind Ballet Zaida was that, in Endahl’s own words, there were no ballet photographs that had “a whimsical atmosphere and great technique.” Is it possible to have artistic excellence demonstrated in a way that is—dare we say—fun? Does light-heartedness or cleverness take away from the makes-you-want-to-look-again factor that renders art a trailblazer? In Ballet Zaida’s case, the answer is a resounding no. If anything, Endahl is making ballet, in its purest form, a part of pop culture—not mainstream, not tacky, but as a creator, Endahl is making sophistication and refinement cool again. Recently, Endahl launched the Ballet Zaida Affinities, dancers with a special charisma who will put a name and face to ballet. The Affinities, chosen not only for their dance prowess, but also for their personal style, interests, and the sought-after X-factor, is a collaboration of artists coming together, dancers who can show that flawless technique can be fascinating, and give off an air of effortless cool.
Despite the bona fide success of the project, Endahl says people still question the validity of his chosen career: “Sometimes someone will say or look at me in such a way that says, “Why don’t you have a real job?” Or “Why don’t you do something important and worthwhile?” I always find these kinds or comments humorous, because of how people think of what qualifies as a “real”, or “productive” profession.” In a world where “worthwhile” often has a warped definition, Ballet Zaida showcases something that has the power to move the Earth and shake the souls of everyone near it, something that belongs to the many and connects the masses, even when born from the few: Art. Endahl continues with palpable vigor: “Imagine if every single human being on the planet had the same exact job. If every human were a lawyer, a doctor, or a mathematician, there would be no stage performances of any kind. There would be no movies, no music, no books. I think the arts of all kinds, ballet, painting, fashion, movies, TV shows, plays and literature, are all connected and they all inspire humanity. Art creates art.”
Art creates art, indeed, and could it even be said that artists create artists? By taking people of all different backgrounds, from dancers to composers, and designers, Endahl has done the seemingly impossible: created a cohesive vision that highlights the amazing act of creation. Through Ballet Zaida and the Ballet Zaida Affinities, ballet has a new stage, one of substance and easy charisma that is chic and dynamic and impossible to look away from. At the core of all people is the desire to create something. We are all artists. Oliver Endahl is a liberator.