Review: Staging Schiele by Shobana Jeyasingh Dance

Staging Schiele by Shobana Jeyasingh Dance

The theatre was hot. I felt squashed in my seat sandwiched between two men, their bodies uncomfortably overdressed and large. The stage with its strip lighting and grids of steel reminded me of the horrors of an open changing room. There is an absence of physical mirrors but metaphorically they are present, and we see at times our own stark reflections.

The first of the four dancers is a male, who we presume to be Schiele. He is sinuous and slight. He performs with immense grace and agility caught in his own internal world. He watches himself posing and posturing with both admiration and disgust catching his image in a small mirror or mobile phone. His body movement recreates the intense disturbing self-portraits painted by Schiele. As the other three dancers move on and off the stage, all women, they add the layers of the narrative of Schiele’s short and tragic life. Schiele felt rejected by his mother and was imprisoned for unconventional behaviour. He married a middle-class girl but continued his relationship with his lover who died of scarlet fever. Both Schiele, his wife and their unborn child died of Spanish Influenza in 1918 within three days of each other. 

Wearing scant clothing, which is put on, taken off, stuffed and balled up, constricting and restricting; the dancers create a world of anguish, shame and solitude. The angular shapes, open mouths and fixed stares all recall Schiele’s extraordinary paintings. There is no romance here, no tenderness between the dancers who never once look directly at one another. Their engagement is purely with their own bodies, harshly scrutinised; their gaze only out towards us, challenging and provocative. A soundscape of voice and discordant music and a video projection of Schieles own face disintegrating into flames all add to the drama of the work.

Beyond the subject of Schiele this work speaks of our own times. A world of appetites sated and unsated, of body dysmorphia, of narcissism and self-obsession, of ‘the selfie’, of anorexia and starvation, and the agony of the body compared. This was a raw, visceral work which left me glad to escape from the claustrophobia of the theatre. I felt anxious and disturbed at the implications of this work with its display of the distorted body performed with such bodily skill and ability. 

Reviewed at Dance East Ipswich on October 18th 2019

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