Cultures of Dance - (Stephanie Cullen)

This gallery explores the various cultures of dance as captured through movement in paintings. Dance is a universal language that tells stories and expresses life through movement. Painters have been capturing that language through the ages, enabling us to share their views of this art form through their own medium.

This 18th Century oil on canvas, by Tilly Kettle, captures female Indian dancers performing in front of a temple for an audience of men and women. The dancers’ slight lean to the left, as illustrated by the lines in this painting and the direction that their eyes look, show us which way their movement is headed as they gracefully perform. The dull colors in the dancers’ dresses make the whites of the onlookers stand out, indicating a difference between performer and audience; dancer and client. The textures in clothing add a depth of realness - we, the viewer, are a part of the audience.
This print of dancers performing a country dance on the outskirts of Rome, was created around 1800 - 1825, by Françoise Pinelli, and boasts a colorful event of movement and music. The two central dancers are accompanied by a female drummer and various onlookers. The lift of the dancers’ aprons and the hem of their skirts as they circle each other show movement in the moment that this painting was created. The bright colors indicate a joyous occasion as both dancers and musicians come together. With a colosseum in the distant background, we are shown that this event takes place on the outskirts of town, out in the open and away from city life.
Edgar Degas is one of the most well-known artists of dance. This particular pastel on paper of ballet dancers on a stage, created in 1883, shows his attention to detail as these dancers move in harmony with one another. The wave of their arms create movement within the piece along with the position of their legs and delicate placement of their fingers. The yellow and blues of their ballet outfits give way to the intricacies of the texture in their tulle. As each dancer looks toward the audience, we, the viewer, are given a different view from above their heads as they move toward the edge of the stage.
William Barak, who experienced the traditional dance, song, and language of the Aboriginal people of Australia, created this charcoal and earth pigment drawing in 1895, illustrating a traditional dance of the Wurundjeri people. The lines and repetition used to illustrate the standing male dancers show movement in their legs and hands that hold boomerangs as they perform. With arms and legs spread wide, we get the sense that the men are moving in rhythm with each other and with the watching audience, who are all clapping along with the dancers. The repeated colors, lines, and people show a solidarity in the group as they experience this dance together.
German painter, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, beautifully captured four women performing a Czardas dance (Hungarian folk dance) with this oil on canvas, which he began in 1908 and finished in 1920. Movement is shown in this painting by the lifted leg of the woman in the center of the painting. She is mid-move, while the other ladies accompany her in dance. Not only do their raised arms and positioned feet show that they are moving across the dance floor, but the lifting of the hem of their dresses shows that these women are performing for the viewer. Kirchner’s bright use of color was added in 1920, giving us the impression that this Hungarian folk dance is lively and full of music and passion.
This regal painting of a Flamenco dancer and her guitarist, was created in 1917 by Julio Romero de Torres. He included his daughter Amelia, and niece Carola Romero de Torres, both looking at the viewer of the painting, to offer a scene of traditional Spanish dance. The lines of the dancer, from her pointed right toe to her pointed fingers, delicately shows the intricacies of this dance and provides movement to this piece. The fingers of all people portrayed in this painting are aligned and placed in just the right position for their role in this scene. Even the fingers of the guitar player show that he is in the middle of a song - plucking away at the strings on his guitar. The textures of the clothing add an element of movement as the dresses hug the women and move with their bodies. Lighting enhances this piece in highlighting the hips, thighs, and arms of the Flamenco dancer in all her glory.
This pastel and watercolor on paperboard, by Alfonso Roybal (Awa Tsireh), is a work of art depicting a traditional Native American Buffalo Dance. This balanced painting of four dancers, shows movement through repetition. The two bent-legged dancers in the front are in position to move forward, while being followed by the two dancers behind them, arms in similar positions. Sparing any background detail, Roybal focuses on the dancers in traditional dress as they perform their ritual. The light colors contrasted with the black provide a pleasing effect of further balance and respect for this dance.
Diego Rivera’s oil on masonite, created in 1942, portrays the essence and movement of Cuban-American dancer, Maudelle Bass. Diego’s curved lines that depict Bass’s body artfully portray her movement and flow. He captures her curves as she dances across the canvas. His use of proportion from her legs up to her head, force the viewer to focus on the lower half of her body, where the movement of this particular dance begins. The colors and highlights accentuate the dance and the curves that our eyes are meant to follow. They shape the body in such a way that the background is also moving and flowing with Bass.
This 1966 color on paper, created by Hashimoto Meiji, portrays a poised Geisha performing for her audience. Meiji’s use of thick lines show the controlled movement of this dancer. Her anticipated next move is shown by the openness of her fan and enticing gaze. The bright blue and green colors give focus to the textures in her dress and fan, giving us the sense of soft silk, hanging limply on her body. The touch of pink in her hair, on her lips, and on her belt give greater balance to this painting as it offsets the greens and blues. Her lifted fingers that hold her fan, prepare us for her next move.
This painting by Lukina Marianna Mikhailovna, created in 1992, beautifully captures movement in this Russian dancer. The arms and dress of the dancer mirror each other in their direction of movement, almost as if a wind is blowing against her. The white of the dancer’s dress opposes the darkness of the drummer and background, giving focus to the dancer and her engagement in her movement. The detailed repetition of decoration on the hem and arms of the dress also allude to the movement being achieved in this painting. The slight tilt of the dancer’s left foot gives the impression that she is moving forward, against the supposed wind.
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