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  • Fiona Prior

Picasso and Dance

Picasso and Dance - the icing on the cake

The cake in question is the Napoleon III-style Opera House designed by Charles Garnier, that has obviously been dipped in gold (please forgive me Dubai, for writing that you lead the world in gilding the lily). The icing came after a tale of disappointment as no operas or ballets were being held at Paris’ Opera Garnier to coincide with my visit. Then, to my delight, I discovered that a ‘Picasso and Dance’ exhibition being held at Opera Garnier. Suddenly I had the prospect of dance, glorious architecture and visual art combined. Love!

image: Pablo Picasso dancing (1957) by photographer David Douglas Duncan. Courtesy of Paris Opera Library-Museum Palais Garnier

And within the exhibition of ‘Picasso and Dance’ it is all about collaboration. Starting with Jean Cocteau, Serge Diaghilev and Picasso – what a trio – to bring the Ballets Russe’s ‘Parade’ (1917) into a beautiful realisation. This collaboration was assisted by the fact that at the time the famous artist Pablo Picasso was besotted with ballerina Olga Khokhlo.

image: photograph from Serge Lifar's 'Icare' (1962) staged at Paris Opera. Courtesy of Paris Opera Library-Museum Palais Garnier

Picasso worked on six ballets from 'Parade' (1917) to 'Icare' ('Icarus') (1962), usually in the areas of costuming and/or set and stage design.

In ‘El Sombrero de Tres Picos’ (‘The Three-cornered Hat’) (1919) Picasso was able to realise his long held belief that the ritual of bull-fighting was in fact an intricately choreographed dance to the death between players. ‘The Three cornered Hat’ emphasised the corrida’s life and death entanglement of graceful protocols and dramatic coupling in staged dance.

image by Pablo Picasso

Further emphasising the links between Picasso’s grand passions of dance, bull-fighting and romantic drama was Picasso’s avatar the bull or minotaur, depending on which of his canvases you peruse. Picasso’s female imagery is frequently embodied in the mare who is the vehicle of the picador, or in a morph as female centaur or a ballerina standing on horseback – all used and reused in Picasso’s works over his career. You can see where this is going, the passionate coupling of the sexes and of the forces of nature – these animal spirits - being put into the context of a highly formalised dance where they unite or duel to the death

As Picasso aged his works became more highly eroticised, his last sketches actually put the audience outside the canvas in the role of bull as the mare/matador/woman bewitchingly waves the red flag, frequently in a naked, full frontal dance. Emphasised continually is the lascivious side of dance and frequently a Bacchanalian mood and mythic quality prevails.

image: Pan and Dancer on the Seashore (1947) by Pablo Picasso

Another little sprinkling of gold dust in the 'Picasso and Dance' exhibition is the is the work of experimental photographer Gjon Mili for Life magazine. Gion captures Picasso’s continuous line technique by giving Picasso light emitting ‘brushes’ and having him draw in space. Long exposure time captured Picasso waltzing with a line of light.

image: Pablo Picasso painting with Light (1949) by Gjon Mili.

Paris Opera Library-Museum

Palais Garnier

Until 16 September 2018

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