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The Best 9 Times Art And Dance Merged
It seems artists have a thing for the dance floor…
Art Girls Jungle 08 Oct 2020

First we gave you opera, and now we’re giving your dance! How many of you are wishing that you could be on the dance floor right now? Quite a lot, right? Well, while most of us are unable to have a real dance party given the current circumstances, we thought we’d remind you of some gorgeous occasions when art and dance merged, giving you some inspo for the next time we’re all legitimately allowed to dance the night away.

Picasso And The Ballets Russes

Did you know Picasso had a fling with the ballet? Between 1917 and 1922 the Spanish artist collaborated on costume designs and sets for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The pair were introduced by Jean Cocteau, with Picasso becoming involved with the ballet in Rome, where he went to live following the onset of World War I. Picasso enjoyed the ballet so much that he even married ballerina Olga Khokhlova. He worked on a number of productions including Le Tricorne, Pulcinella, Cuadro Flamenco, Mercure and Le Train Bleu, and his costumes are celebrated for their dramatic colours and cubist references.

And Matisse Also Collaborated With The Ballets Russes…

In 1920 Sergei Diaghilev invited Matisse to design the production of La Chant du Rossignol. Matisse collaborated with the ballet again in 1937 in Monte Carlo, designing costumes and scenery for Rouge et Noir. Later in the 1940s when confined to a wheelchair following a cancer diagnosis, Matisse began working on his trademark cutouts, his most famous being images of dancers dancing hand-in-hand. 

Merce Cunningham And Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg had a long running relationship with choreographer Merce Cunningham, having been brought together by John Cage in the 1950s to work together on an event known as Theater Piece. Rauschenberg went on to work with Cunningham for decades providing light, costume and set designs for dozens of dance performances. 

Merce Cunningham And Jasper Johns 

Jasper Johns is quoted as saying that Cunningham was his favourite artist and in this video Cunningham reciprocated, admitting that Johns was his favourite painter. At one point during the 1960s, Johns was artistic advisor to Cunningham’s dance company, designing sets and costumes and also enlisting other artists like Andy Warhol to Bruce Nauman to contribute. Johns even founded a foundation with John Cage to raise funds for Cunningham’s company. And, actually, Johns helped Rauschenberg on his first collaboration with Cunningham. There is so much to talk about in terms of Johns and Cunningham, that it might take years to set it out here. Amongst John’s most celebrated contributions to Cunningham’s work were costumes for Un jour ou deux commissioned for the Paris Opera ballet, as well as another production called Exchange. Both works dancers dancing in front of and behind screens in minimalistic blue-grey costumes.

Dorothea Tanning’s Theatre Designs

Known for her work as a surrealist painter, Dorothea Tanning was also commissioned to create costumes and sets for the New York City Ballet, having met George Balanchine at Julien Levy Gallery in NYC. Tanning’s designs were incorporated in Night Shadow, The Witch and Bayou, all of which were performed in the 1940s and 1950s.

Anthea Hamilton’s Dancing Squash

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Anthea Hamilton, The Squash Tate Britain, London 22/03/2018 – 07/10/2018 Hamilton is no stranger to gracing the gallery with strange and unusual installations, having blessed Tate Britain with her gigantic golden buttocks two years prior for the Turner Prize. However, The Squash is not merely a sculptural installation or a static spectacle to behold. Instead, it combines installation and traditional sculpture with performance to produce a gourd-geously whimsical experience, in the re-tiled Duveen Galleries. The use of space builds anticipation as visitors emerge through the main entrance of the museum, drawing the eye across seemingly acres of white tiling, to the main performance space at the rear of the galleries. This overly-clinical space not only transforms the space into something akin to a swimming pool (minus the water), but it also contrasts with the period decor of the Duveen Galleries, thus injecting a white cube sentiment into the otherwise more “traditional” art space. The floors and walls manifest into plinths, littered sporadically across the galleries, supporting more traditional, largely abstracted, sculptural elements made from stones and metals. Of course, the real attraction of this exhibition is The Squash itself! For eight hours each day a performer, dressed in a theatrical costume with a gourd-shaped mask, moves (or sometimes remains stationery) atop the various plinths and platforms within the whitewashed space. It’s weird, like reaaally weird, and the origins of Hamilton’s inspiration remain equally as obscure. The squash-headed performer emerged from the 1960s, in a photograph by American choreographer Erick Hawkins. However, the original context of this image has been lost to time, thus Hamilton was left to reimage the squash for her own part-performance artwork.  Given the performance-based element of the show, The Squash an exhibition pretty much guaranteed to offer a different experience with each visit. Hamilton creatively tackles an imposing space, and successfully collates an impressive spread of artistic practices into what is undoubtedly the most successful vegetable-inspired performative art piece.

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Anthea Hamilton’s commission at the Tate Britain in 2018 is most associated with several dancers prancing around the gallery with squashes for heads. Yep, you got that right, vegetable face-coverings! Hamilton took her inspiration from a photograph from 1960 that pictured a dance by choreographer Erick Hawkins. Hawkins was inspired by Native American philosophy, taking the costume from the Squash Kachina of the Hopi culture. For her interpretation, Hamilton invited performers to make their own interpretation of the images, prompting dancers to prance around museums dressed as squash. 

Isamu Noguchi’s Collaboration With Martha Graham

Sculptor Isamu Noguchi had a long-running creative relationship with dancer and choreographer Martha Graham. The relationship began in 1929, when Graham commissioned Noguchi to make two portraits. Subsequently she employed Noguchi to help with set design, most notably for her 1935 work Frontier, which explored American homesteads. Their working relationship went on to span more than two decades, and they are most famous for their collaboration on the 1944 production Appalachian Spring. 

Marina Abramovic’s Bolero

It shouldn’t really be a surprise that a performance artist dabbles in ballet. In 2013 Marina Abramovic debuted her version of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero at the Palais Garnier. For her production, Abramovic collaborated with choreographers Damien Jalet and Sibi Larbi. Her Bolero was performed in front of a tilted mirror, allowing reflections of the dancers to take over the stage. And of course, the costumes were designed by Riccardo Tisci (of Givenchy and now Burberry fame). 

And How Could We Forget Degas…

When “art” and “dance” are mentioned in the same sentence, everybody automatically thinks of Degas. Whatever you might think of Degas, or the dancers in his paintings, there is no denying that his paintings are beautiful. Famous for his depictions of Parisian ballerinas, Degas painted, sculpted and sketched dancers everywhere from the stage to the rehearsal room and he is thought to have made over 1,500 works that include dancers.

Text Lizzy Vartanian

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