Nude Live: This walk on the calm side might well be the highlight of the 2017 Sydney Festival

Dancers have performed naked before and choreographers have used the adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony before.

But it was the unlikely combination of the movement and music that created magic in the Art Gallery of New South Wales on Saturday evening.

Within the rooms of the Art Gallery’s exhibition: Nude: Art from the Tate collection, seven dancers moved from room to room, interacting with the art works and occasionally connecting with the audience.

Against the background of a Francis Bacon triptych and to Mahler’s adagietto, the dancers held the hands of some audience members and gently led them to places where they could sit or stand and watch as the dancers themselves twisted into sculptural, circular patterns.

Those in the audience who weren’t ‘placed’ could watch those that were and perhaps marvel, as I did, at their calmness and their expressions of gratitude.

As the group dissolved, the individual dancers walked to other rooms or in one case, lay on her back on the floor.

She looked calm and composed despite the audience shuffling around her.

The meditation and contemplation within the exhibition rooms followed me as I left the gallery into walked to the Domain, where the birds were still singing in the twilight.

For that alone I hope that as many people as can do as much as they can to see the performance.

Nude Live will be performed several times during the 2017 Sydney Festival and while the festival website shows that most of the performances are sold out, there are some tickets available for the 7.30pm performance today, 9 January, so keep watching for further availability.

At the 7.30pm shows on Saturday 14 January and Monday 23 January audience members also have to be naked. The website warns: “Clothed audience members will not be admitted”.

In September 2016 the naked audience experience was part of the Stuart Ringholt exhibition at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, but in that gallery, the audience was exploring the space and art works rather than connecting with performers.

In Nude Live both the dancers and audiences are free to walk through the rooms all depicting nudity in the paintings, sculptures and photographs of more than 100 artists, among them Picasso, Matisse, Louise Bourgeois and Lucian Freud.

Bourgeois’ sculpture of a headless arched body was confronting but not as much as Ron Mueck’s Wild man 2005, a three metre sculpture of a naked man with hairy chest and legs. His expression is the epitome of vulnerability and fear.

The big diamond in the tiara of the exhibition is Rodin’s The Kiss, a massive sculpture that almost upstages the dancers who move around it.

The choreography of Nude Live, by Rafael Bonachela – the Sydney Dance Company’s artistic director – was thoughtful, tender and understated, capturing the essence of the art works well and allowing the dancers to feel confident despite their own vulnerability.

The recorded music is an important element of Nude Live. Chosen by Nick Wales and supplied by ABC Classics, the composers include Schubert, Bach, Mahler, Cilea, Stravinsky, Grieg, Ravel, Bree Van Reyk and Carl Vine.

I had expected the dancers to be members of the Sydney Dance Company ensemble, but instead they came from various backgrounds. Izzac Carroll was the only full time SDC dancer in Nude Live however former SDC dancers, Fiona Jopp and David Mack were also in the troupe as were Marlo Benjamin, Olivia Kingston, Zachary Lopez and Oliver Savariego, all described as “associate artists” on the SDC website.

Nude Live might seem like a niche element of the Sydney Festival but I think it will be remembered as a highlight of the 2017 festival in the way it will resonate with many audiences.

There are no production photos of Nude Live, and the images in this post were taken in the Art Gallery of NSW as promotional material before the season began.

Photos can’t be taken by audiences in the gallery.

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Nude Live, photo © Pedro Greig

Nude Live, photo © Pedro Greig