Art and Dance in the Drone Age

Ballerinas captured from a drone for the first time

This post is the latest in the Drones and Small Unmanned Aerial Systems Special Series, which profiles interesting information, research and thoughts on using drones, UAVs and remotely piloted vehicles for journalism and photography, that Kike learns about during his travels. This post is also the latest in the World of Dances series, which profiles ballet and dance photography in iconic, architectonically unique, culturally emblematic, rapidly vanishing landmarks or simply unexpected locations.

Ballerinas from drones for the first time by KIKE CALVO
Aerial view of two dancers on a remote beach, washed out by the waves. Dancers: Lu Baltodano and Tahere Barinju Dada. Costa Rica. Photo © KIKE CALVO

As soon as my hands got a hold of the latest drone technology, my mind started racing with the thought of capturing aerial images beyond the expected categories of nature, landscapes and real state. I saw the potential to create aerial images that convey pure, raw beauty. I wanted to produce art. While my initial steps into drone photography did include shooting rainforests and deserted islands in remote destinations, as I became more proficient and experimented with newer technology, I started thinking: why not doing something different? Why not trying to capture something like ballet dancers from the air? I decided to be a pioneer in using drones to capture art and dance.

My new discovery of aerial photography was a perfect match for my land and underwater work on classic ballet. For the last six years, I have been photographing classic ballet dancers around the world in locations that are environmentally unique or historically relevant such as architectonical gems that are vanishing. I have called this project: “World of Dances”. A crossing of concepts, this project mixes ballet with local flavors and intricate architectural and spatial relationships.

Ballerinas from drones for the first time by KIKE CALVO
Aerial view of two ballerinas washed out by the waves. Dancers: Lu Baltodano and Tahere Barinju Dada. Costa Rica. Photo © KIKE CALVO

What could I create if I were to use drones to photograph the world of ballet? Where could I take my project?

Last weekend I had the unique opportunity to work on this project with a magnificent ballet dancer, Gonzalo Garcia, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet. “When you first approached me Kike, my first reaction to the idea of working with drones was excitement, curiosity and thrill to combine two different art forms,” said Garcia. “I’m always very enthusiastic about bringing dance to a wider audience. I thought this was a great opportunity to engage people in a way I hadn’t seen yet in the world of dance. I have to say, my first thought when working with the drone, alone in the middle of nowhere, was of loneliness but when I started dancing amidst such expansive and beautiful nature I quickly felt a unique connection to my surroundings.”

My first attempts at using drones to create art began with dancers from the New York based company, SLK Ballet. I photographed a few dancers, including Kylie Edwars and Britany Cavaco in places like an urban wetland and a spectacular, ecologically sustainable building at Yale.

Ballerinas from drones for the first time by KIKE CALVO
Dancer: Lu Baltodano. Costa Rica. Photo © KIKE CALVO

Since then I have been compiling a body of work, that complements my land and underwater dance photos. Recently, while on assignment in Costa Rica, I used the stunning backdrop of the beach in Tortugero National Park to photograph ballerinas. With the help of Mauricio Dada from Mawamba Hotel, I was able to capture aerial images of dancers almost engulfed by the powerful waves of the sea in the buffer zone of this tropical conservation area.

A number of amazing projects are already attesting to the transformative power of these new technologies.

Drones are entering the art spaces and galleries. Cirque du Soleil has launched an interactive performance between humans and drones. On a recent article Drones are Descending on the Art World, writer Adam Rothstein quoted artist Sterling Crispin: “I had been working with military technology and reappropriating it for aesthetic and beautiful purposes as a political action unto itself. […] The same technology that could build a crossbow could build a musical instrument. That spirit was my approach.”

Rothstein also wrote The Complexities of Drones in Art for The Creators Project Blog, mentioning artist Nadav Assor, who refers to drones as a black box. “The first thing we have to understand is that a drone is not just a single technology, but a network of technologies,” was Assor’s quote in the blog post.

Dancers from photographed drones for the first time by KIKE CALVO. New York City Ballet principal dancer Gonzalo Garcia.
New York City Ballet principal dancer Gonzalo Garcia. Ballet and Dance photographed using drones for the first time.  Photo © KIKE CALVO

On a recent article called Are Drones the Next Big Thing in Art?” writer Kimberly Bryant described it perfectly: “Technological advancements have always profoundly influenced art. Just think about the impact that inventions throughout history — from the printing press and daguerreotype to video cameras and computers — have had on artistic production. Drone technology is the latest to cause ripples in the creative world.” “Despite these questions, drones continue to offer a poetic analogy for our relationship to art, technology, and life,” Bryant wrote.

My recent blog post on FPV Racing Minicopters is another example of a creative application that is taking off all over the world. FPV (first person view) brings the virtual reality into our households. As an artist I have incorporated this magnificent opportunity to get a bird’s view of my subject, allowing me to produce more powerful images, as if I were flying with my own wings above dancers. FPV is perhaps the drone’s most obvious creative application.

What about drone painting, drone dancing and drone orchestra? Sure thing, these drone-related art forms are emerging in different places. Drones are evolving as cultural objects.

KATSU, a well-known graffiti artist, developed a prototype mountable remote sprayer or “Graffiti Drone 1.0”, which is likely to revolutionize graffiti art itself. KATSU reportedly used a Phantom drone to paint a giant red scribble across Kendall Jenner’s face on one of New York City’s largest and most viewed billboards.

Drones officially hit the music scene when John Cale and Liam Young displayed their drone-based audiovisual collaboration called “Loop”. During a concert at the Barbican Center’s Theater last year, the visionary duo delighted the audience with the sudden appearance of a swarming drone orchestra that flew in to add three-dimensionality to the musical performance.

Dancers from photographed drones for the first time by KIKE CALVO. New York City Ballet principal dancer Gonzalo Garcia.
New York City Ballet principal dancer Gonzalo Garcia. Ballet and Dance photographed using drones for the first time.  Photo © KIKE CALVO

And finally, drones came out to dance. “Shadow”, for instance, is a closely choreographed dance piece in which three synchronized aerial drones are armed with spotlights to illuminate a lone human dancer. The delicate visual effect of floating light sources and contemporary dance movements is the result of a collaboration between dance troupe Elevenplay and Japanese design crew Rhizomatiks.

In a world of digital tools, drones will very soon become a brush, a palette and why not, drones may become actors of our very own creations. Beautiful artworks are starting to emerge around the world. As Robin McNicholas, creative director at Marshmallow Laser Feast described on a recent piece for The Guardian, “In sharp contrast to their warmongering reputation drones are an inspiring addition to the emerging digital tools that creative communities can use to craft unique and beautiful artworks and performances. Of course, there will inevitably be those who can’t resist flirting with drones just for the sake of using the latest new tech, but if we only use drones when they offer fresh and purposeful opportunities that can’t be found elsewhere, 2015 will see us channeling a whole new way of creating show-stopping experiences and art.”

We are in a place and time where tracking technology and drone control systems open the door to new possibilities. There is a new array of tools to trigger the power of expression.

Prints from my aerial ballet images from drones are available here, and will soon be on National Geographic Creative Art Store.

Learn more about World of Dances Print Collection

Follow Kike Calvo on InstagramFacebookTwitterWebTumblr, or LinkedIn

Buy a Ballet or Dance print from Kike:
World of Dances Collection
National Geographic Online Store

Learn More About Drones:
Drone & Pilot sUAV Logbook 

Kike Calvo´s Drone Collections 

Drone / UAV Dictionary: Includes 300 Commercial UAV Applications

Drones: Their Many Civilian Uses and the U.S. Laws Surrounding Them.

Cool stuff for Drone and Unmanned Vehicle enthusiasts

Drone Entrepreneurship: 30 Businesses You Can Start

Small Unmanned Aircraft: Theory and Practice

Introduction to Unmanned Systems: Air, Ground, Sea & Space

UAV Fundamentals Executive Course

How to Start an Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle (UAV) Business Course on DVD

Small UAV Construction

Getting Started with Hobby Quadcopters and Drones: Learn about, buy and fly these amazing aerial vehicles

Introduction to Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Drone Pilot (Cool Careers)

Fly by Wire Aircraft: Fighters, Drones, and Airliners

Introduction to Remote Sensing, Fifth Edition

Popular minicopters and drones include:

DJI Phantom 3 with 4K camera

DJI Phantom 3 with 1080 camera

DJI Phantom 2 Vision

DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter with Zenmuse H3-3D 3-Axis Gimbal

DJI Phantom 2 Vision+

3d Robotics Iris+ Multicopter 915 Mhz 3DR IRIS+

DJI Inspire 1

Parrot MiniDrone Jumping Sumo

Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition Jungle

Parrot MiniDrone Rolling Spider


Walkera QR LadyBird V2 Mini

Hubsan SpyHawk FPV RC Plane

Badboy Quadcopter With Camera

The New Hubsan X4 H107L

MaxSale Hubsan X4 H107C 2.4G 4CH RC Quadcopter With Camera Mode 2 RTF