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DanceEast premieres visually spectacular Staging Schiele as part of ongoing anniversary events

PUBLISHED: 20:10 17 October 2019 | UPDATED: 20:10 17 October 2019

Dancer Estela Merlos performing in the premiere of Shobana Jeyasingh Dance's Staging Schiele, which is being unveiled at DanceEast  Photo Chris Nash

Dancer Estela Merlos performing in the premiere of Shobana Jeyasingh Dance's Staging Schiele, which is being unveiled at DanceEast Photo Chris Nash

Chris Nash

Iconic artist Egon Schiele perfected a stark, dramatic look to his works which also included a compelling erotic under-current. DanceEast hosts a premiere which brings Schiele's world to life

Shobana Jeyasingh colour, photo Amelia TroubridgeShobana Jeyasingh colour, photo Amelia Troubridge

The Jerwood DanceHouse on Ipswich Waterfront will be home to a visual spectacular this weekend as it celebrates two landmark anniversaries with the premiere of a major new dance work which captures the style and erotic elegance of artist Egon Schiele.

The home of DanceEast celebrates its tenth birthday this autumn and the Shobana Jeyasingh dance company will be marking 30 creative years with Shobana's latest production Staging Schiele: a choreographic treatment of the artist and his intense depictions of the human body.

The production will be having its world premiere in Ipswich before heading off to London and a UK tour.

Choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh has a reputation for using contemporary dance to investigate the world around her. To mark her 30 years as an independent choroeographer she finds herself drawn to the work of painter Egon Schiele and examines the eternal conundrum of the male artist and the female model.

Estela Merlos and Dane Hurst in rehearsal for Shobana Jeyasingh Dance’s ‘Staging Schiele’ Photo: Foteini ChristofilopoulouEstela Merlos and Dane Hurst in rehearsal for Shobana Jeyasingh Dance’s ‘Staging Schiele’ Photo: Foteini Christofilopoulou

Schiele is known for his twisted body shapes, searing self-portraits and unflinching nudes. Four dancers - Sunbee Han, Dane Hurst, Estela Merlos and Caterina Varvalho - inhabit his highly-charged world of colour, expressive lines and unusual perspective where the human body is on visceral display. Jeyasingh's choreography matches Schiele's intensity, engaging with his anxieties as well as his seeming self-confidence.

Intimate and formal, Staging Schiele captures the artist's self-conscious framing of himself and his work and throws light on his brief meteoric rise to fame before his untimely death.

What made you decide to make a work about Egon Schiele?

Dancers Caterina Carvalho and Estela Merlos performing in the premiere of Staging Schiele at the Jerwood DanceHouse on Ipswich Waterfront Photo: Chris NashDancers Caterina Carvalho and Estela Merlos performing in the premiere of Staging Schiele at the Jerwood DanceHouse on Ipswich Waterfront Photo: Chris Nash

SJ: "Last year, I made a piece about the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and during my research I found out that Schiele was one of the flu's millions of victims. He was just 28 when he died, days after losing his wife who was pregnant. His story is tragic but I find his work a source of joy. There is an incredible energy and boldness in his paintings.

Research can certainly supply some unexpected treats. Did you do a lot of research for this piece too?

SJ: "Luckily there have been three major Schiele exhibitions in the UK in the last four years and I went to all of those. I loved The Radical Nude at the Cortauld Institute. I read as much as I could and looked at his work online. I also spoke to art historians including Gemma Blackshaw who gave me some wonderful insights into his work and life.

Dancer Caterina Calvalho performing in the premiere of Shobana Jeyasingh Dance's Staging Schiele, which is being unveiled at DanceEast  Photo Chris NashDancer Caterina Calvalho performing in the premiere of Shobana Jeyasingh Dance's Staging Schiele, which is being unveiled at DanceEast Photo Chris Nash

Is it an abstract work or does it have a narrative running through it? Does it tell audiences of Schiele's life?

JS: "It is not a documentary of his life. It is partly abstract and partly narrative. The dominant mood is anxiety which is what I get from his paintings. His obsessive scrutiny of the body and the translation of its expressive potential through fervent line, dynamic tension, shape and framing make him a natural choreographic ally.

Like the moving body in a dance studio, Schiele's subjects are devoid of any background. The body is

both text and context. As a woman, one is drawn to the fact that by repeatedly making himself the naked subject in numerous self portraits he radically feminised himself. Traditionally, it is the female nude who was endlessly painted by European male artists. Schiele is, of course, well known also for his

paintings of females, sometimes naked but more often partly clothed where his gaze is shocking for its sexual intrusion.

How did you visualise the work? Where you looking to create his paintings in dance or capture something of the man's personality and character?

SJ: "I am not looking to create his paintings in dance. The work is a response to his paintings and what I understand about him through them. His engagement with women and the women in his life also play a role.

You are known for working with interesting collaborators. For this piece, they include composer Orlando Gough and men's fashion designer, Cottweiler. Can you tell us a bit about them?

SJ: "An old collaborator and a new one! I love working with Orlando, not just because he's a great composer but because he really understands the way music works with a visual medium like dance. Orlando's music channels Schiele's shifting personas and the empathy he had for his female models. Multi layers of vocals, both bass and falsetto, are sung by Jonathan Baker to a compulsive and jazzy piano and keyboard accompaniment.

"Ben and Matthew from Cotteweiler have been great to work with too. Many of Schiele's models are half-clothed - a skirt raised or a stocking pulled down. They took the concept of covering and revealing into the use of transparent materials which should look wonderful on stage.

Was it daunting to create a piece of work that needed to be as visually striking as Schiele's work? Did you feel the need to reflect Schiele's work in the look of your piece?

SJ: "I did not see myself competing with Schiele because I am not a painter. It's a dance work that is inspired by his work. Some aspects of his work have been a resource but in a general, abstracted way. For example, some of his diary entries, letters and poems are used in the score."

Staging Schiele by Shobana Jeyasingh is at the Jerwood DanceHouse on October 18-19. For further information and to book tickets go to www.danceeast.co.uk/

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