Photo by Jerry Li by Leica SL

The University of California Irvine's prestigious Claire Trevor Art School Dance Festival organizes an annual student performance. This year's Dance Visions 2017 performance featured Lisa Naugle and Wang Tong as artistic directors.

One of the top highlights of the evening is the masterful work of the choreographers. UCI Professors Donald McKayle and Lar Lubovitch, both of whom are award-winning American dance legends, and have choreographed hundreds of famous performances in the U.S. and around the world.

As with most major performances, there were lead dancers and understudies. While the partners pictured here were the understudies, I can see from the lens the tangible and intense chemistry they have with one another.

Ballet: "Valse Fantaisie", Choreographer: George Balanchine.

Performance: "Crossing the Rubicon: Passing the Point of No Return" premiere, Choreographer: Donald McKayle, Lighting design: Kenneth Keith

This event was shot using two Leica SLs.

At the end of 2015, Leica introduced the Leica SL, which is designed from the ground up specifically with pro photographers in mind. To enhance the artistic feel of my stage photography, I switched from my Nikon D4 Pro DSLR to the mirrorless Leica SL with a 24-90mm zoom lens. I started experimenting with the SL to shoot low-light, fast-action photos. The result? The picture speaks for itself.

I was so impressed by the SL image quality that, in April 2016, I replaced my main gear Nikon D4s with a second Leica SL and a 90-280mm zoom lens (the latter was particularly thrilling, as I was one of the first in Los Angeles to get my hands on that lens). The result?


Well, suffice to say, I now only use my Leica SLs to take action shots because the resulting colors perfectly reproduces the stage performance and aura. Particularly, the artistic charm of the black and white photos is irresistible.

"A Moment" premiere, Choreographer: Molly Lynch, Lighting design: Eb Madry.

One of the most unique aspects of this performance was the live accompaniment by the UCI Symphony Orchestra - that's why they call it a dance concert!

At ISO 12800, the Leica SL can freeze movement under ultra-dim LED lights beautifully.

Modern dance act "Closer Orbits" performing live for the first time.

With additional accompaniment from the piano and violin, the whole performance is breathtaking.

This photo is at ISO 12800, at only 1/30-second shutter speed. As we all know, quick dancing is very difficult to freeze, but the Leica's handheld image stabilization is no joke.

Very distinctive stage backdrop.

The dancers are seemingly relaxed in this picture, despite the fact that this piece lasted a grueling, fast-paced 20 minutes.

When you combine the traditions of Indian music with the loud beats of African drums, it's hard not to be dazzled.

There are still a couple of drawbacks to using mirrorless cameras for dynamic photography. The Leica SL now has the fastest autofocus of any mirrorless camera, with a continuous shooting speed of 11 shots per second--but, when I use it to capture high-speed moving subjects, the shutter lag becomes obvious.

The quietness of mirrorless cameras in a theater, however, is a huge advantage! In my ten plus years of pro stage photo experience, I've had multiple audience members come up to me and complain that my professional DSLR camera shutter sound was too loud. Yikes. As you can imagine, not a fun thing to deal with.

Since I have fallen in love with the quality of Leica, I find myself starting to slowly adapt to the shutter lag that comes with using a mirrorless camera.

I have now completely traded away my professional high-end DSLRs-- I'm now exclusively shooting with Leica!

It is hard to believe that such a heart-wrenching dance was choreographed by a 87-year-old man in a wheelchair! Donald McKayle arrived to the theater every night with the help of two assistants. From rehearsals to the official performance, he never missed a session, demonstrating his master skill and dedication. Compared with my experience with some of the "big names" artists from China, the gap in professionalism is wider than the Pacific.

Sharing a common foundation of a hundred years of cultural heritage and sophisticated workmanship, the Leica camera and modern dance masters gracefully complement each other. The resulting photography has the feeling of painting-like magnificence.

The main cast is simply flawless in execution.



It's my greatest pleasure to make my photos feel like they coming alive.

A moment of beautiful dynamic movement.

My eyes light up in the viewfinder when I witness the master choreography.

To move the audience, the artist must first move herself.

The atmosphere and passion is inspiring. These students and teachers constantly push themselves to improve with every rehearsal and performance, a great reminder of dedication to each one of us in the audience.

Last but not least, here's my favorite photo of the night.

       "The Legend of Ten", Choreography: Lar Lubobitch, Lighting design: Jaymi Lee Smith.

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(All images above are produced by Jerry Li. Please do not use without consent. )