We Know Dance; Christopher Duggan and Nel Shelby Productions

We Know Dance: Working with My Wife at Nel Shelby Productions

by | Feb 27, 2022 | Dance | 0 comments

My wife Nel Shelby, a dance videographer, producer, and director, helped me get my start in photographing dance.

All it took was one choreographer being open to me photographing studio showing (thank you, Ellen Shadle!) and I’ve been hooked ever since. Now, I’ve photographed dance artists from around the globe from Lincoln Center to the Kennedy Center and beyond, and I’ve been the Festival Photographer at the world-renowned Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshires and Vail Dance Festival in Colorado.

From the beginning, I was making pictures and Nel would have me on her film team on the wide camera for live performance capture. Under Nel’s direction, I grew into other video roles as well: specializing in framing and capturing on-camera interviews in documentary-style videos.

On recent projects, I’ve been filming dance clients via drone or using the gimbal (moving camera), becoming even more confident in my collaboration with Nel and her incredible team.


Here are just a few of the projects I’ve been proud to work on with Nel in the past year:

Richard Move’s HERSTORY OF THE UNIVERSE at Governors Island

Nel got a call from Richard Move for an exciting site-specific creation that absolutely “needed aerial shots!!!” You cannot imagine how exciting this was for me, because I love flying my drone. It was for this project that I made things official by studying for and passing my FAA test to become a Part 107 UAS certified remote pilot. Governors Island in NY requires the certification to fly, because it is technically class B airspace and has a National Park on the Island.

This was my first “certified” official drone video project!

Because I’ve been working in the dance world with Nel for so long now, she gives me a lot of freedom. She trusts me to follow my instincts. I’m proud of the footage I created for this project. And I was grateful Richard gave me permission to fly as close as I needed to, not worrying about distracting the dozens of audience present so as to create some really beautiful for the tens of thousands (and more) online viewing audience.


We Know Dance; Christopher Duggan and Nel Shelby Productions
We Know Dance; Christopher Duggan and Nel Shelby Productions

Dance Magazine’s Virtual 2021 Awards

Nel has been my plus one for the Dance Magazine Awards for many years, as I worked as photographer for the event. In 2021, we were able to work alongside one another! My dance and event photography expertise PLUS Nel’s dance videography and live-streaming expertise.

As a team, we’re tackling video capture, live-stream, event photography, dance & live performance videography & photography… I love working together as a package deal. We can deliver so much to our dance clients.

Helen Simonaeu Danse – Creative Process

Nel and I filmed with Helen Simoneau to document the creative process of her new work, Delicate Power. She was in residency at New York City Center, and wanted to capture some of the creative process. It’s always incredible to watch an artist creating — molding the work, figuring things out, trying new ideas on the dancers…

Nel and I will enter into rehearsal with a few notes about what to capture, but we also want to feel the room and film instinctually. For this project, Nel was on the tripod, and I was moving around the room, filming on a gimbal. The gimbal is a moving camera shot. It’s not only a pan, where you’re steady and you’re turning the camera. It’s moving and filming in three-dimensional space. The camera moves with the dancers.

We Know Dance; Christopher Duggan and Nel Shelby Productions

One of the tricky things of filming on a gimbal for dance is that you have to sense what all the dancers are doing… You have to maintain a big-picture vision of how many dancers are in the piece, even as you feature or highlight one dancer or moment. I rely on music cues to find important moments to highlight. It feels like being a part of the dance. It’s really fun and expressive for me.

Nel trusts my instincts but gives me a small note here and there. All I have to do is shoot Nel a look, and she’s like, “You’re in my frame!!” or “You’re good, keep going.”

We did a sit-down interview section with Helen like we often do when making films. I find the light and frame the shot while Nel interviews. I’m handling the camera and sound, but most importantly, I’m listening.

Nel is amazing at interviewing and sometimes she invites me to pitch in by asking a question to the artist, too. She is so humble and generous when collaborating.


We Know Dance; Christopher Duggan and Nel Shelby Productions

Michelle Dorrance Film with Jacob’s Pillow

This site-specific shoot was the first dance film of the summer during Jacob’s Pillow’s 2021 Festival. The drone shots helped to ground the dance work in the environment and gave it a sense of place. I was also on the gimbal for many angles, and I got to offer my creative thoughts on the overall filming along with Nel.

We have such a long relationship with Michelle and her company, Dorrance Dance. It’s nice to share that working history with an artist, because even though I’m not the leader or the visionary, I feel comfortable giving my opinion.

I keep talking with Nel about the value she brings to her clients — that her team knows dance and can create what’s best for the artist & the audience alike. I’m so glad I’m part of the team.

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