A Family Affair: Documenting Hong Kong Ballet at New York City Center

by | May 31, 2023 | Warm Note

From Christopher:

Back in January, I had the pleasure of photographing Hong Kong Ballet (both Cast A and Cast B) in Romeo & Juliet at New York City Center while my wife, Nel Shelby, was filming the production.

The dancers of Hong Kong Ballet are athletic and graceful at the same time. I actually knew two of them from Jacob’s Pillow! I made creative portraits with the woman who danced ‘Juliet’ in Cast B a few years back when she was performing with Barak Ballet. I also recognized the name of another dancer from the Contemporary Ballet Program at The School at Jacob’s Pillow. I love unexpected Pillow Connections! 


The sets were so large and colorful… so large that they had to be sent to New York City Center in October 2022!


I especially loved the neon signs and references to 1960s Hong Kong.

It’s always a great feeling when your photos are chosen for The New York Times. = ) I was really excited about this!

I love when I get to work with my wife and her team on dance projects. She’s such an expert at what she does, and it’s amazing to watch!!

From Nel:

The first time I filmed Hong Kong Ballet was at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 2014.

They performed Castrati by Nacho Duato, an all-male piece that tells a story of a dark period in music history. Watch an excerpt and learn more about this work on Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive (JDPI).

I was so excited to film the company once more, and to work with them again as a husband-and-wife team!! (My husband, Christopher, works as the Festival Photographer at Jacob’s Pillow alongside my Video Team!)

It’s always wonderful to film at New York City Center – my team’s new office is there, so it feels like home.  


Christopher, our son Jack, and I watched the company’s dress rehearsal the night before the performances opened. It was a family affair!! The choreographer, Septime Webre, created this version with a 60’s look, and the Hong Kong Ballet performed it beautifully. As you know, Romeo & Juliet is a lengthy ballet… Jack fell asleep about 1:30 minutes in. 😂

The set was ginormous! It was so large that I remember thinking to myself, “how are we going to shoot all of this!!?” I love when those kinds of challenges come up. I think an extra challenge makes the work more fun!!

We had 2 cameras and I worked the close-ups… I LOVE doing close-ups. You get to capture the story and move right alongside what’s happening on stage. It’s my favorite!!!

It was really wonderful to collaborate with Hong Kong Ballet. They were incredibly kind and thoughtful.


It was such a fun and rewarding project for Christopher and I to kick off the year!

Nel Shelby is Owner & Filmmaker for Nel Shelby Productions, her New York City-based company dedicated to dance videography and editing. Nel shares her mission to preserve and promote the art of dance with her husband, Christopher Duggan, a dance and wedding photographer. They collaborate on projects with dance companies of worldwide renown, up-and-coming choreographers, dance educators, dance schools and more. Nel is Video Producer at Jacob’s Pillow and Vail Dance Festival and is also the proud Director and Producer of PS DANCE! — a New York Emmy-nominated documentary about dance education in NYC’s public schools.