Be featured: Lisa Cho – Camera hunter in Japan


Lisa Cho shares her story with us on “Ballet on Film,” a new collection of photos about how the Honolulu Classical Ballet has evolved to keep the art and its artists relevant during the pandemic. Told over three years, ‘Ballet on Film’ follows the school through pre-pandemic performances in virtual and outdoor classes during lockdown, culminating in a triumphant return to the stage for their tenth anniversary. My very first JCH article was on Alexey Brodovitch’s classic photobook “Ballet” which came through Edgar Degas’ Impressionist series. Among the slew of pandemic “nobody in the street” or “self-portrait” projects, I appreciated the optimism of “Ballet on Film” and its artistic tradition. With that, I’ll let Lisa say it:

“Ballet on Film” began as a project to celebrate ballet in Hawaii, but it became the intimate story of how Honolulu Classical Ballet evolved to keep the art and its artists relevant during the pandemic. Told over 3 years, the story follows the school through pre-pandemic performances in virtual and outdoor classes during lockdown, culminating in a triumphant return to the stage for their tenth anniversary.

The majority of “Ballet on Film” was shot on Kodak Portra 800 with a 50-year-old Yashica 635.

Girls Behind The Scenes

Maddie ties her shoe

Chapter 1: Pre-pandemic 2019-2020

A Nutcracker Suite, 2019

Shot before the pandemic, this show was my introduction to the world of performing arts. I had never photographed dance, but I always admired ballet. When “Ballet on Film” started, I decided to focus on the inner workings of the school and everything that goes on behind the scenes to create a successful show.

During the winter of 2019, I attended the rehearsal for “A Nutcracker Suite” where I photographed the dancers backstage – some getting ready and some relaxing between performances. A remarkable photo from this show is Girls Behind The Sceneswhose warm welcome set the tone for the rest of my stay at the school.

Mirror Mirror

Caroline and Maddie

Tribute to John Landovsky, 2020

The Honolulu Classical Ballet joined other Hawaiian ballet schools in honoring John Landovsky. The Artistic Director has trained and mentored many dancers who now own and operate ballet schools all over the islands.

A notable photo from this chapter is “Mirror Mirror”, which won an international award from The photo review in 2020. That year, the judges were the cinematographer and photo editor of The New York Times Magazine.

Chapter 2: Containment, 2020

“Ballet on Film” was originally conceived to celebrate ballet in Hawaii, but when the pandemic hit it shifted the story to a story about the resilience of the arts and how essential they are to our experience. individual and shared human. With restrictions and limitations come adaptation and innovation.

Virtual Classes, 2020

In the spring of 2020, Honolulu Classical Ballet transitioned from in-person to virtual classes. Professors walked into an empty studio to teach over Zoom. Life went from rich, vibrant textures to boxes on a screen. Although teachers and students poured so much love and attention into each class, life did not look colorful. This is why this chapter is in black on white. The high level of instruction and attention to detail was there, but something was missing.

Second Arabesque


Outdoor course, 2020

In July, the school held an outdoor class at Wai’alae Iki Park. It was the first time the older students had seen each other in months. The students were told to wear sneakers, then they finally put on their ballet flats and finally pointe shoes. A photo in this chapter shows Romi Beppu, the school’s artistic director, jumping high in the air. I titled this shot “Joy! because that’s how we felt that day. My heart was so full.



Chapter 3: The New World 2021-2022

In studio classes, 2021

In the spring of 2021, studio classes resumed. I took the Ballet Technique 4 course every Friday evening for 8 weeks. I watched the dancers rehearse Swan Lake for their next show.

Before the classes

Swan Lake

Swan Lake, Holy Nativity Gymnasium 2021

Some of the most memorable photos in the series were taken in our two unique performance venues. In 2021, mainstream theaters still didn’t allow indoor performances, so the school got creative.

Their Spring 2021 show was held at Holy Nativity Gymnasium which is full of character and charm. The vintage wooden basketball court added a lot of warmth to the photos and the venue provided a few extra dancers (pigeons) waiting backstage.


Master the Bow

Nutcracker, Bishop Museum 2021

During the winter of 2021, the school performed The Nutcracker under an A-frame roof at the Bishop Museum. It was just to have this performance here. While classical ballet is rooted in European history and tradition, Bishop’s Museum helps us remember and celebrate our Hawaiian history and traditions. As the dancers glided effortlessly from one side of the stage to the other, a canoe watched them from above.



Back on stage, Mamiya Theater 2022

Finally, in 2022, the Honolulu Classical Ballet returned to the stage. They celebrated their 10th anniversary at the Mamiya Theater, which was the first time they could perform in a theater and without a mask. It was truly a triumphant show that showcased the hard work and resilience that all of the dancers, their families and the school have shown throughout the pandemic.

Return to the stage.


I am a self-taught photographer based in Honolulu. I ventured into photography later in life, picking up my first camera in my thirties. After a few years of digital filming, I looked Finding Vivian Maier and everything changed. Shortly after, I acquired my first and still my favorite film camera, a 52-year-old Yashica 635 that originally belonged to my mentor.

“Ballet on Film” will be exhibited at Kahala Shopping Center September 18 to October 2.

Please learn more about my work at and on Instagram @lisakcho


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