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A midwinter night's dance

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It was foggy, more like London than Raleigh, on the night of Gov. Pat McCrory's inaugural ball.

Afterward, I met Tim Lytvinenko, a photographer, and Eugene Barnes, a dancer for the Carolina Ballet, at Capital Club 16 for supper.

Eugene was dressed in a tan raincoat, boots and a fedora—rocking his best Gene Kelly impression. After our meal, Tim checked out the light and fog on Martin Street and told Eugene to walk into the middle of the intersection. My primary tasks were to hold Eugene's bag and not let Tim get hit by a car.

"When he's 50 feet away from you, he can't scream out what you need to do in the dark," Eugene said. "You start looking at shapes. You figure things out with your hands and with your body. It's the same thing on the stage."

Tim started photographing Carolina Ballet dancers in 2011. He came to me with an idea for a book for the ballet's 15th season.

"It's a project we can do for us and for the dancers," he said, "to show them to Raleigh in a different way."

As the stoplights turned red on Martin Street, Tim strode to the center line and knelt, camera to his face. Eugene danced his way into the intersection in front of the waiting headlights.

Tim started shooting, the shutter firing rapidly. Eugene flung around an open umbrella, deftly and carelessly, all at once.

"With Eugene, he just knows what to do. He'd say he just goes for it," Tim said. "We've shot enough that he gets the project, gets the vision and is able to be a part of it."

The shoot lasted about a minute. After a couple more traffic light cycles, we headed toward Poole's Diner, where the fog was denser.

Next, we headed up to the top of the parking deck next to the convention center. You could see the water hovering in the air. It was like swimming in cold soup.

Tim had Eugene perch on a wall, with the red Marriott sign glowing behind him. As Tim started shooting, Eugene flung his head back and his hat fell off his head. It floated down to the level below.

"Someone go get that," Tim said. He kept shooting.

Eugene, still balanced on the wall, performed for Tim's lens until the camera stopped clicking.

In Tim's photos, you see familiar places, like Fayetteville Street and Halifax Mall, in a completely new way. They are living backdrops for the dancers to be free to be themselves.

That's the goal: To break the fourth wall of the stage and to make the dancers real, free to express themselves in an urban setting, away from the proscenium.

"Working with Tim, it changes the game as a performer," Eugene said, "and you can see it in the dancers that have the opportunity to work with Tim. You become more confident."

Follow the dancer's journey through the Carolina Ballet 15th Anniversary Season ebook, available on iTunes; visit www.newtim.com/books.

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