Arts

Boston Ballet School Dancers Brought Degas Paintings to Life

The Museum of Fine Arts captured it on video to celebrate the painter's 184th birthday. Here's a look behind the scenes.


Boston Ballet MFA Collaboration Video

Photo by Simone Migliori

In honor of Impressionist painter Edgar Degas’ 184th birthday and the Museum of Fine Arts’ new exhibit, “French Pastels: Treasures from the Vault,” two pre-professional ballerinas convened at the Boston Ballet School on a sunny Tuesday afternoon to bring Degas’ famed dancers to life. Backlit by the gorgeous natural light in the white-walled studio, they donned gauzy tutus and prepared to twirl and pose in front of a video camera hoisted by freelance videographer Ernesto Galan.

Together, the MFA and the Boston Ballet were recreating one of Degas’ most captivating pastels, “Dancers Resting,” a gorgeous exemplar of the artists’ favorite subject: dancers. The real-life dancers were 17-year-old Mia Steedle and 16-year-old Alainah Grace Reidy, one blonde and one brunette, just like Degas’ portrait.

After mice from “The Nutcracker” delighted social media by dancing through the MFA’s gallery halls last November, another collaboration between the two artistic entities felt certain. According to the museum’s Senior Director of Communications, Dawn Griffin, the unveiling of Degas’ pastels from the vault was an unparalleled opportunity, especially since it will likely be the only time the artwork is on view this decade. (The pastels’ rare visits above ground are due to their extreme sensitivity to light.)

“We’ve been kind of waiting for this moment, and waiting for this work of art,” Griffin says. “We’re pulling out all the stops on this one.”

Teams from the MFA and the Boston Ballet joined forces in May to brainstorm and storyboard the video, dreaming up image concepts like the twirling fringe of a tutu, and hunting down a studio space with just the right amount of natural light.

“What the MFA wanted to do, and what we wanted to do, was bring [Degas’] moment to life with living, breathing, dance students,” says Jennifer Weissman, the Ballet’s Chief Marketing Officer. That means the teams played close attention to every detail—down to the textures and colors of the tutus, which were brought out from storage specifically for their vintage appearance.

Steedle says she hopes that the video, released on social media Thursday morning, will excite viewers to see the exhibit and support the ballet.

“We’re reaching so many new audiences through social media,” Griffin says. “Once they see the video, they’ll want to look more closely to the pastels to see…what are the details?”

Take an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the video shoot below.

Boston Ballet MFA Collaboration Video

Photo by Simone Migliori

Boston Ballet MFA Collaboration Video

Boston Ballet School Director Margaret Tracey adjusts Steedle’s tutu. / Photo by Simone Migliori

Boston Ballet MFA Collaboration Video

Photo by Simone Migliori

Boston Ballet MFA Collaboration Video

Photo by Simone Migliori

Boston Ballet MFA Collaboration Video

Photo by Simone Migliori

Boston Ballet MFA Collaboration Video

Reidy holds her contemplative pose. / Photo by Simone Migliori

Boston Ballet MFA Collaboration Video

Photo by Simone Migliori

Boston Ballet MFA Collaboration Video

Galan compares the dancers poses to Degas’ painting. / Photo by Simone Migliori

Boston Ballet MFA Collaboration Video

Photo by Simone Migliori

Boston Ballet MFA Collaboration Video

Galan, left, and Griffin, center, review the footage. / Photo by Simone Migliori

“French Pastels: Treasures from the Vault,” June 30-January 6, 2019, Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, mfa.org.