Staging Schiele review / Art, obsession and orgasmic yelps
Striking moments but lacks light and shade ... Staging Schiele. Photograph: Foteini Christofilopoulou
Staging Schiele review – art, obsession and orgasmic yelps
The expressionist aesthetics of Egon Schiele’s nudes should make for riveting dance, but Shobana Jeyasingh’s production is a bit too beige
Anna Winter Sunday 20 October 2019
t’s easy to see why the work of Austrian painter Egon Schiele (1890-1918) is tempting choreographic catnip. The expressionist aesthetics of Schiele’s nudes – emotionally charged and attenuated lines, tense dynamics and oddly contorted poses – seem like a natural fit for contemporary dance. Despite this felicitous figural match, Shobana Jeyasingh’s Staging Schiele doesn’t always make for riveting dance.
Part of the lasting power of Schiele’s work lies in the unflinching depiction of his models’ (or his own) genitals – thrust forward, distorted, sometimes hermaphroditic – accompanied by a direct gaze at the viewer. Here, the four dancers strip off gauzy outer garments to reveal flesh-coloured underwear. Though their surly spread-eagling pays homage to Schiele’s bodies, a lot of beige gusset ends up on display. It’s an inadvertent reminder that Schiele’s nether regions are anything but beige.
Nevertheless, it’s a slick and skilful production. An upstage structure of slanted metal bars and spare strip lights alludes to Schiele’s brief stint in prison (for obscenity) while evoking a more general sense of spatial dislocation, with washes of pale green and red light suggesting the bruised hues of Schiele’s watercolours.
Fragmented video projections of the artist’s face are matched by a collage of sounds and music: excerpts from poems by Rilke and Schiele and the intense scribbling of a pencil are punctuated by orgasmic yelps and unsettling piano.
Dancing with a small mirror, Dane Hurst is a nimble and compelling presence in the opening section. As he tries out new perspectives and weird angles, grimaces and gurns, he’s nervously fervent, but buoyed by bourgeois confidence. We see the artist’s obsessive scrutiny of his own body not simply as narcissism, but as an earnest pursuit of some higher truth.
Elsewhere, the push and pull of Hurst’s interactions with Catarina Carvalho, Sunbee Han and Estela Merlos – a combination of coercion, collaboration and combat – evokes the ambivalent interplay between artist and model, as well as Schiele’s fraught personal relationships. There are striking moments, but it lacks some crucial light and shade.