Dancing for Schiele

A “Gradual and Persistent Loss of Control” that was how it was billed. A dance inspired by Schiele’s art.

I was curious.

As I walked around the main exhibition space I had noticed the metal platform with shoes magnetically stuck to it, but I paid them little heed. Likewise the corset hanging suspended above the stool by the grand piano – a slightly surreal sight, but not something to distract me from the art, from the exceptional exhibition the Van Gogh Museum has pulled together.

It is a truly wonderful range of work that they have managed to bring to Amsterdam, spanning as it does the whole of Schiele’s painfully short life.

It is the self portaits that always astound me. I always feel compelled to fix my stare on those eyes, those contorted gestures, thouse taut and tense muscles. When I look at these portraits, I imagine I am feeling something similar, as if some strange force has taken hold of me, has seeped into me and momentarily allowed me to physically experience the emotion conveyed on the paper or the canvass.

Schiele has that affect on me.

Last night though I was very aware of the affect he was also having on the people around me.

One drawing and gouache in particular seemed to provoke a stronger response than the others.

It is a picture of a dark haired girl, a teenager. She is naked, vulnerable, exposed. Her body is in that transition stage – the female curves are starting to appear, her breasts are budding, her vagina is red – she is becoming a woman.

In the portrait her stance is vaguely suggestive, but uncertain. Schiele has portrayed her wearing knee-length black stockings – an erotic allusion that works until you look up at the girls face.

The lips are pursed and engorged – sexualy red and inviting. But the eyes! The eyes are very much those of a shy, naive child. Of a girl only vaguely aware of the sensuality of her pose, the eroticism of those lips.

It is, of course, very disconcerting, and I watched as people took her in, admiring her. Then, seeing those eyes, you see them shift as some realisation hits them, some sort of shame.

I keep on watching as they pass on swiftly to the next work, giving her one last furtive, guilty and uncomfortable glance. She is a compelling sight, but one that makes us uncertain.

Schiele, of course, was imprisoned for corrupting minors by exposing them to such “pornographic” images, and he clearly provokes unease to this day.

But if this provocation repulses some, it inspires others.

Krisztina de Chรƒยขtel has choreographed a mesmerising dance to coincide with the Schiele expo that is very much inspired by the physical forms Schiele painted.

The dancers, including an exquisite Japanese geisha girl, walk barefoot to the platform and step into their shoes. They are all wearing headphones. Each moves – well jerks – to the sound of music that the audience cannot hear. They are in their own worlds. Hermetically sealed from life and experience. They are seemingly dancing, but their restricted movements (caused by the magnetic pull on the shoes) makes their movement stiff and graceless.

At this point the pianist enters the room. She is naked from the waist up. She proceeds to the piano and slips into her corset as she takes her seat at the piano.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, she starts to play. As the volume increases you see a change come over the dancers – something is filtering through to them.

One by one they leave the podium and take off their headphones. They begin to move more loosely and as they experience this initial release they start to peel off their clothes until they are naked, save for a flesh coloured stocking that has painted genitalia and breasts, reminiscent of Schiele’s work.

Throughout the course of the dance they increase the pace of their movement, become more fluid, and at the same time more physically present.

The audience can feel their heat, their sweat drips upon us, we hear their breath, hard and fast and reaching a point of fatigue, exhuastion and loss of control.

The dancers, become Schiele paintings, their shapes and movements at times reflecting the figures on the walls around us. They crawl inside and outside perspex boxes, becoming multi-dimensional, weirdly distorted shapes. It is as if the art has come, briefly, to life, to fill the room with an energy and, let’s face it, a ferocious eroticism.

And through it all, the Japanese geisha remains plugged in. She alone remains sealed in her own world, shuffling around, like some mechanical doll, to an unheard sound, while all around her, the real dance moves on.

Even when the music abruptly stops, when life, the dance, the music is over, her shuffle continues. In death she remains the same. Oblivious. Having never lived, she fails to recognise death when it comes, fails to notice that the music has stopped.

It is a breathtaking dance. A mesmeric and heart thumping experience.

Not for the faint hearted perhaps. But for those who must hear that music, who must dance that dance until we are exhausted and spent, it is a beautiful, beautiful expression of humanity.

It is Schiele, made real.

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