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Quantum Leap: Photography exhibition at Hornchurch theatre explores the lives of retired dancers

PUBLISHED: 15:00 22 October 2019 | UPDATED: 09:19 24 October 2019

Karen Hutchins' picture 'A Dancer Dies Twice'. Picture: Karen Hutchins

Karen Hutchins' picture 'A Dancer Dies Twice'. Picture: Karen Hutchins

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An Elm Park photographer shares the stories of retired professional dancers and their attempts to reinvent themselves in her Hornchurch exhibition.

Lynne's dancing shows. Picture: Karen HutchinsLynne's dancing shows. Picture: Karen Hutchins

For two years Karen Hutchins photographed dancers for her exhibition, Quantum Leap, which is currently displayed in the Queen's Theatre.

She is a photographer of dance and the arts with a particular emphasis on live shows and costume portraiture, and for her latest exhibition she wanted to explore what happens when the dance is over for performers.

Karen told the Recorder: "The life of a dancer is short and intense.

"The emotion of leaving the dance is as key as the emotion of living the dance.

Karen Hutchins' photography exhibition about the lives of dancers post retirement is at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch until October 18. Picture: Karen HutchinsKaren Hutchins' photography exhibition about the lives of dancers post retirement is at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch until October 18. Picture: Karen Hutchins

"Experiencing the bereavement of a terminated passion can be bewildering and indentifying a new area of career interest daunting.

"At an age when most people are established in their careers, a retired dancer must transition from an institutionalised existence to carve out a new career, establishing themselves at an age where society assumes that has already been achieved."

Karen enjoyed working with dancers at their peak but also wondered what happened once that peak came to an end, and what happens to dancers who are forced through age or injury to dance their final piece.

"I too found a second career later in life, enabling me to understand the emotions and pitfalls of reinvention," she said.

Lynne, a retired dancer. The picture features in Karen Hutchins' exhibition at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch. Picture: Karen HutchinsLynne, a retired dancer. The picture features in Karen Hutchins' exhibition at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch. Picture: Karen Hutchins

"A dancer dies twice, that first death on stage but then comes rebirth - regeneration, that quantum leap."

For Karen one of the highlights of preparing Quantum Leap was being able to share the final pictures with the dancers.

She said: "There was a definite sense of closure from many of those photographed and also a feeling of having their stories heard and their future career documented.

"In some instances I photographed the dance shoes of those dancers involved in this project.

Jenna, a retired dancer. The picture features in Karen Hutchins' exhibition at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch. Picture: Karen HutchinsJenna, a retired dancer. The picture features in Karen Hutchins' exhibition at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch. Picture: Karen Hutchins

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"One lady handed me her old ballet shoes with the gentleness and care of handing over a newborn child."

Karen added that it was the dancers' "resilience" to continue working after their dance careers that inspired her the most.

She spoke with one lady who created a charity which takes large flower displays after a big event, and with the help of volunteers, dismantles the display and builds individual posies for delivery to hospices and homes for the elderly.

One of Karen Hutchins' photographs which feature in her exhibition at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch. Picture: Karen HutchinsOne of Karen Hutchins' photographs which feature in her exhibition at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch. Picture: Karen Hutchins

Another dancer retired the day his daughter was born with a heart defect.

He used his life savings to retrain as an osteopath in order to have a local job which gave him flexibility.

Karen also remembers two ballerinas who met at ballet school in their youth, moved through the ranks to become principal ballerinas, married around the same time, fell pregnant at the same time and retired to start their business together.

She said: "Their stories were touching, without exception."

Jenna, a retired dancer. The picture features in Karen Hutchins' exhibition at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch. Picture: Karen HutchinsJenna, a retired dancer. The picture features in Karen Hutchins' exhibition at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch. Picture: Karen Hutchins

Karen started working when she was 16 as a junior at Barclays Bank.

The mother-of-two worked a variety of temporary jobs after her children where born and it wasn't until a conversation with a friend led her to investigate a career in photography.

"I happened to be in the right place at the right time, photographing a production of my daughter's drama group at the Towngate theatre in Basildon when I was approached about a job working for Carmel Jane Photography, a local company who specialises in dance photography and costume portraiture," said Karen.

"This opportunity was the start of everything."

Lynne, a retired dancer. The picture features in Karen Hutchins' exhibition at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch. Picture: Karen HutchinsLynne, a retired dancer. The picture features in Karen Hutchins' exhibition at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch. Picture: Karen Hutchins

For her next exhibition Karen plans to photograph retired athletes.

Speaking about the two projects, Karen said: "Although there are many similarities - mainly starting so young, living a disciplined, travelling extensively, unsociable hours - there are also may differences too which I'm looking forward to exploring.

"To date I have photographed twelve athletes including Frances Houghton MBE, Gail Emms MBE and Fatima Whitbread MBE."

Quantum Leap is at the Queen's Theatre in Billet Lane until Saturday, October 26.

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