I am currently on tour around UK theatres with English National Ballet facilitating live drawing events where artists have access to dancers in Company Class, thereby breaking down the ‘Fourth Wall’ by getting up close to dancers and experiencing all the effort, sweat and musculature behind the scenes. The challenge is to make a fast intuitive response to the moving figure, to seek out mark-making as interpretation for the dynamic body. We explore strategies to trace the body’s trajectories in space, the sculptural space of the body and how to document what is, essentially, an ephemeral event.
As part of ENB’s residency with Tate in Liverpool I led an exciting event on Friday the 20th November where the theatre event was extended to the gallery at Albert Dock. ENB dancers performed a newly choreographed piece in response to the current exhibition ‘An Imagined Museum’ – specifically an artwork titled ‘Portrait of a Businessman’ by Pawel Althamer. This piece is about the absent body and aspects of identity so was a natural choice for a dancework. The dancers rehearsed in the gallery space before performing the piece twice through the afternoon – we had access to draw the dancers working with this dynamic piece of contemporary dance which was truly a ‘live’ and highly charged event.
As a visual artist it is really exciting to work so closely with another artform, to use drawing as a way to understand the complex language of choreography. If dance is ‘thinking with the body’ then perhaps drawing is ‘thinking with the eye’? It was fascinating to experience how a choreographer and dancers may interpret an artwork – in this case, a pile of clothes on the floor of the gallery, the ‘props’ or ‘remains’ of an artist’s performance, documented only by a text and these garments.
The piece was witty, dynamic and confrontational in its physicality and live percussion accompaniment – the resulting fast sketching responded intuitively to this visceral experience and the intimacy of watching dancers work through corrections, vulnerabilities and endurance to make this performance happen so effortlessly in the final moment.
It’s always great to see a gallery invigorated and animated by the physical body – we all inhabit bodies and much of the artwork in the gallery references the body in various ways; this performance brings about an awareness of one’s own physicality in the (usually) quiet, static space of a white space gallery. Conceptually of course, the piece reminds us of the uneasy modern relationship between Art and Business: the pressure to ‘create’ within ‘corporate’ business structures…