These photos make me smile.

A ballet dancer has broken free from the confines of her theater and stage, and she is happy to be goofy and carefree out in the “real” world. The dancer becomes an expressive ideogram — a joyous, playful solo performer riffing and improvising with everything in her immediate environment. It’s refreshing to see modern dance moves and bold physical expressions in these light-soaked outdoor spaces. I love the way she leans her whole body to mimic the angle of a leaning street pole. And the way she engages with her own shadow. Or folds herself to become an abstract headless creature with mismatched limbs on a city sidewalk.

© Sayuri Ichida

As a team, the photographer and dancer collaborate to make these photos into momentary celebrations of life. They feel spontaneous, light, real — not rehearsed, not overly produced, definitely not too serious — and the abstract shapes they create seem to exist in their own otherwise unpopulated world. Sayuri Ichida, the photographer, tells the story behind this series:

“Mayu is a Japanese ballet dancer who currently works for the New York Theatre Ballet. We are both immigrants from Japan, and our paths to New York were similar, with both of us spending a few years in Europe before coming to and settling in the city on our own.

“On our journeys to New York we both experienced various degrees of self-doubt, alienation, depression and at times regret, ultimately followed by a sense of reawakening and rediscovery of our inner selves. With this series, I aim to convey some part of the jarring experiences we independently shared as immigrants looking for our places in a foreign country.

“To emphasize this effect I knew that I had to do things differently from a typical dancer’s portrait so I also deliberately set out to shoot her as an object in a frame. I kept asking her to express something different from formal ballet dance. Everything she does as a dancer is so beautiful, so I asked her to not be too beautiful.”

© Sayuri Ichida

The photographer is moving with grace, too, in the way she frames each performance. There is nothing extraneous or distracting in the compositions. Each photo in this series is spare, punchy, and pleasantly jolting — like discovering a surprising bit of perfect graffiti out in the urban jungle that seems to “belong” just where it is.

And the slightly disturbing sense of dislocation and out-of-the-ordinary dream logic that drives the series seems like a perfect expression of what it feels like, at times, to wake up as a stranger in a strange land.

— Jim Casper