Mark Aiden Bergin is the creative force behind the Street Ballerina Performance Art Project. He is a local dance, theatre and street photographer, as well as a teacher and Program Coordinator of the Music and Digital Media program at St. Lawrence College.
Spending a lot of his time in New York City, Bergin was inspired when he saw dancers from Julliard School performing ballet movements in front of the fountain outside the Lincoln Center. The idea of photographing dancers in non-dance settings became the basis for a few projects Bergin has worked on over the years.
What is the Street Ballerina Performance Art Project?
The Street Ballerina Performance Art Project is a collaborative art performance with photographers, dancers and often other artists (visual arts, performing arts, musicians). Mark’s work pairs the grace and poise of local ballet dancers with raw, real life settings, often in iconic Kingston locations. This is an ongoing, permanent project.
More than 25 dancers are currently active in the project. Most of them are active dancers at local dance studios. There are also over twenty alumni of this project, who can still be invited to participate, as long as they are actively involved in dance, and keep up their dance technique.
The settings for the photography sessions are vast and varied. From posing with lambs at Topsy Farms, to grungy graffiti shots and iconic Kingston locales such at Fort Henry, Portsmouth Olympic Harbour and the Tett Center — inside and out — the images captured have a wonderful balance of beauty and elegance, against urban sprawl or farms and nature.
An exhibition of photographs from the project was scheduled to be held at the Kingston Arts Centre in the Tett Centre for the month of July, but due to the pandemic, that exhibition will likely be rescheduled. Bergin had also hoped to launch the next multi-media exhibition involving live performances and a photo exhibition late in 2020. However, given the COVID-19 situation, that has been put on hold.
A special thank you to frontline workers
Bergin and his dancer models recently created a series of photo shoots with the intention of thanking those people who have been working hard and supporting the community during this pandemic.
“I think the inspiration for the ‘Thank You’ project came from a feeling of helplessness, yet wanting to do something to thank those who are on the front lines, day in and day out,” Bergin told me. “Several of the dancers have family members who are nurses and doctors. When I suggested it to them, they were super enthusiastic and 100 per cent on board. In fact, one of the dancer’s moms is a nurse, who has also been making masks.”
“We were very careful in the photo sessions as we also wanted to model safe behaviour,” he continued. “On short notice (24 hours) we had 10 dancers involved. They were all into wearing masks, and even when we had a duet involved, they stayed more than six feet apart at all times. You’ll see a photo of them reaching out to one another (above). Ideally, we would have liked to create the photos in parks and iconic Kingston locations, but we were concerned about looking cavalier, so we did each photo session at the dancers’ own homes.”
The dancers each created their own signs and messages of thanks and support. A local quilt maker, Chasing Lightning Bugs Studio, donated the masks the dancers are wearing.
“The mother of one of the ballerinas who knows me through my studio work, having purchased quilts from me, asked if she could get masks for the project,” commented Annette Willis, owner of Chasing Lightning Bugs Studio. “During the past couple months I’ve grown committed to getting masks out into the public. I firmly believe that giving everyone access to comfortable masks that are fun to wear means we are healthier, safer, and stronger as a community. I had been sewing batches of masks and leaving them on my front porch free for anyone who needed one. That’s why I was contacted. Although Mark and I are friends, it was more of a back door that connected us.”
“I first met Annette when I worked for Metroland,” Bergin shared. “I did one of my Enchante columns about her after I’d seen the amazing quilts she made. That was several years ago. Since then we’ve kept in touch and discovered we have several mutual friends. I have also purchased a couple of quilts from her.”
From these photo sessions, Bergin has created “Thank You” posters that will be distributed to health care settings around Kingston. Posters are available in PDF format for anyone who would like a copy.
Bergin is currently working on a fresh website for the project, and a book is in the works, as well. For now, stay up to date with the Street Ballerina Performance Art Project through their Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/streetballerinas/
Jessica is a busy mom with a startup Copywriting business. She loves raising her family here in Kingston and tries to attend the amazing events around town. You can find more of her writing on her blog A Modern Mom’s Life, and see what she gets up to with her family on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!