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  QLD ballet
In the Studio
New York
Drawing the Queensland Ballet
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Debra Luccio

The Dream & the Dance: Images of the Queensland Ballet
3 – 29 November 2009

Award-winning artist Debra Luccio’s latest exhibition opening early November in Melbourne displays the exuberant result of her rich collaboration with the Queensland Ballet as it rehearsed and performed its return season of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This is Debra’s fifth solo show and the first opportunity for audiences to see her work since she was announced the winner of the CPM National Print Award earlier this year.

The themes of this show – titled The Dream and the Dance – continue Debra’s unique and painterly examination of the figure. This was Debra’s main reason for seeking collaboration with a dance company, but the surprise for her – and the reward in her work – was the irresistible power of performance.

“I have worked with modern dance companies before and was familiar with all the mechanics of muscular movement that they bring onto the stage. What I learned from the dancers at Queensland Ballet was that their first concern was the beauty of performance.

“They layer the dance to hide mechanical motion and show only the choreographed line they draw with their bodies. Layering – with ink, with paint - has always been a feature of my work, so I felt a very strong connection with what they do as artists,” Debra says.

The result is that the work in The Dream and the Dance examines not only the figure but also the artistic creation of beauty in Debra’s distinct visual language.

Among the highlights are: a monotype of an exuberant dancer in the role of Puck, who bursts from a twilight blue and dances his character into being in one graceful leap; Toes 2, of a young dancer captured in perfect balance and Side Barre, a flow of liquid lines on a dark canvas that is possibly Debra’s most assertive display yet of confidence in her talent.

Photos of Debra sketching at rehearsal of Queensland Ballet’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane, by Ken Sparrow.

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  QLD ballet
In the Studio
New York
In the studio
Click to enlarge view 1. Drying the paper at Baldessin Press Studio St Andrews
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2. Rolling the Velin Arches paper to place over the plate on the press.
Click to enlarge view   3. Peeling the monotype from the plate after being pressed.
Click to enlarge view   4. With the finished artwork.
  QLD ballet
In the Studio
New York
Artist's own words: Why I travelled to New York to draw dancers
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New York . What an incredible city. From the first moment we saw the iconic skyline of Manhattan with the stunning Chrysler and Empire State Buildings , we knew we were in a surreal world - a world we knew from movies and television.

It was close to midnight as the cab drove us from JFK airport to our apartment in midtown Manhattan . The streets were alive with movement, noise and lights, completely overwhelming us. That sense barely left us for the entire ten weeks that we immersed ourselves in the City that never sleeps.

New York is truly in a league of its' own, in every sense. We soaked it all up and thoroughly explored the city and everything it had to offer.

I spent the first couple of weeks photographing the city and its' sights. I find taking photographs directs and disciplines my gaze, and it definitely helped me become accustomed to the place. I couldn't cope with being locked away in a studio immediately. There was too much to see.

It's hard not to be inspired in New York . The galleries were the most amazing I've seen anywhere, especially for our fill of 20th Century and Contemporary art. Some of the best included Jackson Pollock's work at the Museum of Modern Art , Lucien Freud at the Metropolitan Museum of Art , and the Neue Gallery, with its Klimt and Schiele.

There were many other things: I loved the bridges. The Brooklyn Bridge is stunning and I enjoyed exploring the ones that not many tourists get to, like the Queensborough Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge . I was surprised by the beauty of the Statue of Liberty and the number of galleries in Chelsea . And Central Park is truly enormous and a great escape from the streets.

Our experiences were countless. Marco and I gave a talk at the Art Students League of New York where many famous artists were once students, we were invited to see a ballet class at the School of American Ballet and Marco drew and I photographed from the 65th floor of the Chrysler Building .

There is a definite edginess to NYC too. I am sure that the energy and attitude that ten weeks of living in such an intense city instills will be evident in the artwork we make.

After a couple of weeks of wandering the streets I began working in our studio apartment and drawing at the Spring Street Studio in SoHo where life drawing sessions are held seven days a week. I also began the task of researching dance companies.

My goal in New York was to make a body of work based on dancers, specifically contemporary dancers. I believed I could make that happen as the Dance scene is currently very popular and New York is the city of opportunity for artists from every discipline.

Before planning our trip to NYC I had not considered dancers as a subject. In hindsight, I don't know how I could have missed the connection. With dramatic lighting and beautiful, strong, muscular, lithe, expressive bodies, moving with passion and emotion, it seems so obvious that dance would be a focus for my artwork.

Whilst in New York I learnt about the NYC Ballet. I had not considered working with a ballet company because I was concerned that traditional movement such as the pointed toe, the plie and the pirouette, may not be expressive enough to satisfy me, but this company was different.

The philosophy of the NYC Ballet was that the body of the dancer was an important aspect of the expression of the dance. The Ballet Master, Mr Peter Martins referred his dancers to Michelangelo's 'Slaves'. The NYC Ballet prides itself on its' dancers being the most capable - to dance the slowest that anyone can, or the fastest - to push boundaries and make it appear effortless, and to constantly move. So, I was hooked. I became a woman obsessed and I just had to work with them.

It proved to be a very difficult task. At those times I envied Marco whose subject is the cityscape. He could walk down any street and find his subject.

I discovered the NYC Ballet Guild and became a member. This allowed me access to the rehearsals held in the New York State Theatre at the Lincoln Centre. The NYC Ballet was celebrating the centenary of its founder Lincoln Kirstein with tickets to performances available at a reduced price, so I was able to attend numerous ballets and rehearsals.

Although I was only able to scribble in the dark in my A5 journal, I absorbed everything I could. The experience was astounding. The performances were superb, the dancers incredible, and the music and lighting were inspiring.

I let my hand follow the lines of the dancers while my eyes soaked up their performance. It was difficult and frustrating at times as I would have loved to have had more time to capture the detail of the pose - the stretch, the twist, the power, the response of the muscles to the exertion of the dance.

The rehearsals were fantastic, and such a privilege to see. It was in rehearsal that the truth of the body seemed to be evident. Without the music I could hear the pounding of the dancers' feet on stage, which would otherwise appear as effortless gliding in a performance. During practice of 'Romeo and Juliet', Romeo's heavy breathing and evident perspiration as he lifted Juliet again and again above his head in a breathtaking duet, was exhilarating.

There was at times a small amount of light available in the stalls during rehearsals which made sketching easier, and I was able to occasionally draw the dancers in repose, although even then they would move their heads while they were listening to the Master, shuffle their feet and change their weight on their hips as though it was impossible for them to keep still.

There is something very special about watching a dancer working in rehearsal or practice. It is an opportunity to see their commitment, their passion and their intensity. I felt even more connected to their movement and performance when they danced. I felt their bodies twisting and lifting.

Our time in New York was flying by. I decided to extend my study beyond the NYC Ballet so, whilst still attending their rehearsals, I began seeking a contemporary dance company that would allow me to watch and draw them.

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A flyer advertising an upcoming contemporary dance performance at the Joyce SoHo caught my eye. A dancer I had met at the Spring Street Studio was listed as one of the six performers for the Tiffany Mills Company (TMC) production of LandFall. I contacted him immediately and he introduced me to Tiffany Mills.

TMC's performance of LandFall was perfect - strength, power, twisting, weight, bodies against bodies, using each other's weight to move their body into an expressive, emotive force. In my last week in New York City I had found exactly what I needed.

At the rehearsals I sat on the floor with my A4 sketchbook with pens and pencils scattered beside me and the dull light of the computer screen of the video artist above me. Over the previous weeks I had become practiced at sketching quickly and allowing my hand to move on the sketchbook while my eyes watched the performance. The dancers were so incredible that it was hard not to become mesmerised with their bodies. I had to keep my hand moving.

These dancers were unlike the ballet, not in their level of skill, but in their physical connection to each other and their environment. I have heard that ballet is about defying gravity while contemporary dance is about working with it. It was wonderful to experience both forms of dance.

Again, I was privy to the private discussion of the dancers at TMC and again, I was indebted to learn of their enthusiasm and commitment. I sketched furiously while they talked passionately about one point or another. I tried not to distract them with my intense staring. I was very fortunate though as the Tiffany Mills Company - the dancers, the video artist, the sound artist, the lighting crew - were all generous and supportive and really seemed to understand my fascination. It was the most fulfilling artwork I have ever made.

I was invited to draw at the rehearsals and I was also able to photograph the last dress rehearsal for reference for paintings. The photographs would allow me to pursue the images further in my own studio back in Melbourne .

We flew out of New York on June 3rd with the parts of New York I needed for my show captured in hundreds of photos and over a dozen sketch books. With September approaching quickly and my exhibition 'New York Figures' opening on September 4th, my New York experience was about to start all over again.

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