I was very moved by the New Rhythms exhibition at Kettle’s Yard (Gaudier-Brzeska and co)

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If you possibly can, make every effort to go to Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge this weekend to catch the  New Rhythms exhibition.  It shows the influence of dance and wrestling on artists in London immediately  prior to the First World War.

The Dancer 1913, cast 1965 Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891-1915 Presented by Sir Edward Beddington-Behrens 1965 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00762

Gaudier-Brzeska – The Dancer (1913)

The exhibition is brilliantly curated  –  even though I was familiar with the artwork on display I saw it in a dramatically new light. Well-known sculptures by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Jacob Epstein and Alexander Archipenko are shown alongside hastily scribbled sketches of movement and Futurist paintings by a number of their contemporaries.

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Gaudier-Brzeska’s Dancer, study (1914)

However it was the inclusion of a stunning film shot in 1912, ‘La Danse des Apaches’ that (I felt) brought the whole exhibition together.  At one point I put my hand to my chest, concerned because my heart was pounding so hard – it took me a moment to realise that I was just experiencing a rush of pure excitement.

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lexander Archipenko’s The Dance (1912-13) needs to be seen in the round to be appreciated fully – the internal space between the figures is as interesting as the forms themselves, and changes with every new viewpoint. It’s worth going to the exhibition for this piece alone.

The grainy, black & white film showed Beatrice Collier and Fred Farren in a dance that was sometimes passionate and rhythmic like an impromptu Tango, and at other times what seemed to be a distressingly brutal fight. Apparently this form of dance was a craze that took Paris by storm in 1908, ‘inspired by the gang culture and sexualized liaisons of the Parisian underworld’.  It made the posturing of Punks such as Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen in the 1970’s look limp and half-hearted.

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The extraordinary dance footage gave a glimpse of the strange energy and sense of unrest in Europe prior to the First World War. It increased my appreciation of the angular forms on display, and also why many artists flocked to experience the drama of war on the front-line. When you look at the work on display it seems utterly inevitable.

See: http://www.kettlesyard.co.uk/events/new-rhythms-henri-gaudier-brzeska-art-dance-movement-london-1911-1915
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