Exhibition Review: Colin Jones – Fifty Years at the Ballet; Proud Gallery, Chelsea

Keeping up with the Jones’

'Does my bum look big in this?'. Elizabeth Anderton strutting her stuff in the Gorbals. Photo, Colin Jones

Colin Jones, one of Britain’s greatest post-war photojournalists and famous for his pictures of a young unknown band in the Sixties called The Who, actually began his professional career as a dancer with the Royal Ballet. Whilst running an errand for Margot Fonteyn on tour in Japan in 1953 (not collecting guns one hopes) he bought himself a camera and found himself a more-than-useful career for when the dancing stopped. This left him in the enviable position of having complete, candid access to a company full of stars. Thus we’re treated to a wonderful picture of Nureyev and Lynn Seymour in a boozer on London’s North End Road, a remarkable pair of images of principle dancer Elizabeth Anderton parading around Glasgow’s desperately poor Gorbals in a fur coat, an hilarious picture of Ninette de Valois and Harold Turner dancing together like nervous teenagers at an onstage party at Covent Garden and many backstage and in-rehearsal shots of the likes of Margot Fonteyn.

The photos from this period are taken by a man of his workplace; they’re not glamorous, if taken now they’d undoubtedly be straight up on his Facebook page, and even the most beautiful images of the lot, a couple of gorgeous pictures of Lynn Seymour under the spotlight of the Covent Garden stage has her body being eaten away by the shadows.

Wow, I didn't know Darts was such a great game: photo, Colin Jones

Jones’ later work (this exhibition covers the years right up to the late 1990s), though still absorbing and full of fun, lack this intimacy and suffer a little in comparison. There are plenty of shots of the English National Ballet, including a youthful Tamara Rojo hard at work in front of the mirror and an image of three ballerinas powdering each other backstage that invites comparison’s with Henri Cartier-Bresson’s famous picture taken in Alicante in1932 but it’s the earlier images that stick in the memory.

The exhibition runs until March 6th 2011 and all the beautifully printed photographs are available to buy. One gripe, however, is that the space is far too small; the pictures are piled up so much that to see the highest you need to stand on tip-toe and to see the lowest you need to crouch down. Worse, the reception desk blocks from view at least three or four of the images. Still, it’s great to see Colin Jones’ amazing ballet images given some air.

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