Dying swans

A series of tragi-comic images highlighting the ageing dancer and cultural obsessions with youth will be unveiled at Edge Hill University’s Arts Centre this month.

Dying Swans and Dragged Up Dames opens to the public from 14th to 31st October and is set of 20 photographs, each of which parodies an iconic performance photograph of a legendary dancer. Highlights include Angina Pavlova’s Dying Swan, the gravity defying leaps of Rudolf Neuroyev and Marko Fonteyn’s The Fired Bird.

The iconic images are interpreted by Mark Edward, Senior Lecturer in Performance and photographed, edited and photo-shopped by Dr Helen Newall, Reader in Performing Arts. The exhibition underpins their research and fondly foregrounds cultural obsessions with youth and Photoshop, and the erasure of age in both live performance and the digital dark room where ability and beauty can be airbrushed and improved.

Mark explained: “These are tragi-comic images. The tragedy lies in knowing that the dancers we watch will eventually expire in terms of their dancing abilities, the comedy arises from the bombastic contrast between athletic dance bodies and aged bodies, alongside overweight ones attempting and achieving the same balletic feats.

“The exhibition has two threads corresponding to our individual practice as research investigations. My work, as a performance artist, investigates the implications of ageing for dance performers. Helen’s work concerns performance photography, and the dissonances between performance photo-documentation and the performance itself.”

Mark has carried out extensive research on the ageing dancer and, for him, having to revisit some of the dance movements during the project was a painful experience.

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“I’d not done things like the ballet pointe technique for more than 20 years and, as a performer, it made me feel uncomfortable and demoralised,” said Mark. “Although I can still do it, I don’t look the same as I did when I was younger and I had to re-language my body. We are aged by popular culture and the media reinforces anti-ageing. But what I’m saying is, why should we conform? We’re not suggesting that older dancers be cast in roles that they can no longer physically accomplish. The physical and emotional demands of dance are, after all, exhausting. Instead, this is where the body could write the dance instead of the dance being imposed on a body which can no longer accommodate inflexible technique. New choreographic practices could celebrate grace, memory, and physical archives. As performers, we should not resuscitate what the body used to do but take ownership of our skin and find our own language. Hopefully the exhibition will show others that we can put ourselves out there as ageing performers and not feel intimidated.”

The exhibition is free to visit, for more information visit the website www.edgehill.ac.uk/artscentre.