Lecture: Dance and Fine Art
Reviewed by Wioleta Rybak
Dance has strong of links with the visual arts and Merce Cunningham goes further, saying they are the same art form. And the impact of dance on other arts, especially visual, including painting, sculpture and film was the theme of a lecture given by Stuart Sweeney, a regular contributor at the Bytom Conference.
The lecturer paid attention to the instances of fine arts inspired by dance, as well as the presence of motifs taken from paintings and found in dance performances. He provided the participants with a tour of the world of art in chronological order, illustrating his presentation with projected images, and pointing out what makes them deeply interesting. One of the first works described is The Egg Dance, painted in the 17th century by Jan Steen, which shows happy people dancing in a country inn, but with the meaning that these folk are wasting their time with frivolity - dance.
In the romantic period, along with the development of ballet, there appeared a multitude of graphics with the figures of ballerinas, yet true interest in dance began only with the impressionists. Degas’ and Renoir’s paintings are swarming with beautiful dancers, portrayed in isolation or in larger groups. Essential in the development of arts inspired by dance are works by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who illustrated the theatrical life of fin de siècle Paris. On his posters, graphics and canvases, he presented scenes from cabarets and cafes, including several of the cancan dancer he helped to make famous, Jane Avril. . The Expressionists took less interest in this art form, but we saw an example from the German, August Macke, whose painting Russian Ballet shows a scene from a Diaghilev performance.
Dance figures may be presented not only on canvas or paper. Body in movement can be fantastically rendered as a three-dimensional sculpture. Some of these were also presented by Sweeney, among them the probably most famous one, The Little Dancer, cast in bronze.
However, the interaction between dance and fine art can be two-way and choreographers have been inspired by painting and drawings, using well-known motifs or even directly transferring scenes from canvas to performance. Film is an art which enables seeing the performances repeatedly. Many motion pictures are created as records of stage dance sequences, as, for instance, The Green Table with Kurt Jooss’ choreography, who was influenced by the works of a German painter and sculptor Käthe Kollwitz. Common for them are the theme of death and shadows of experiences from The Great War. Obviously, it is a good idea to save some pieces from sinking into oblivion. However, records are incomparable with live performances, which enable more profound experiences and do not impose the perspective chosen by the camera operator.
We can also see feature films which employ dance to drive the narrative forward. Dancers can produce spectacular scenes – as in An American in Paris (1951) also shown by Sweeney. It is a full of movement, an American musical with George Gershwin’s music, starring Gene Kelly. Since film became popular, there has been a multitude of productions using the art of dance - they could be listed endlessly.
The relation between dance and other art forms is remarkably strong and often exposed in contemporary culture. What proves this statement, is the number of performances shown during last year’s 13th International Dance Theatre Meetings in Lublin (XIII Międzynarodowych Spotkań Teatrów Tańca w Lublinie), the theme of the festival being exactly such mutual inspirations of these arts. And it was at this festival that Sweeney’s lecture was first presented.