Review: Pablo Bronstein: Sketches for Regency Living at Institute of Contemporary Art

Performance: 9 June - 25 September 2011
Reviewed by Katerina Pantelides - Thursday 23 June 2011

For Pablo Bronstein dance is a method of drawing in three dimensional space – volumes and social relations are marked out by the gestures and positions of bodies. The solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Pablo Bronstein: Sketches for Regency Living revisits the artist’s juxtaposition of historic dance styles with architectural scenarios seen in the Hayward Gallery’s Move : Choreographing You exhibition last year. This time however, Bronstein puts the designs of the Regency period (c.1811-1820) under the spotlight.

Designed by Regency architect John Nash the demure, classical structure of the ICA is an ideal location for Bronstein’s quiet, but penetrating analysis of this allegedly most elegant period of British History. On entering the exhibition one encounters Horological Promenade, a title that could refer to both the Lower Gallery with its Nash-style illusionistic background of a Georgian forecourt and half columns, or to the clockwork-precise movement of the harlequin-like dancer in Mary Katranzou’s gold, eighteenth-century clock-print costume. Moving in and out of balance with measured grandeur, the ram rod-backed dancer in a mini-farthingale echoes the austere shape of the columns. She dances on demi-pointe in soft shoes, the key locus of movement being in her taut arms. Now and again, a stray limb transgresses, flowery, Corinthian, evoking the lush print on her costume. Her style is fustily balletic – it evokes sketches of the late eighteenth century ballet master Jean-Georges Noverre’s dancers rather than the near 180 degree arabesques of today.

Collaboration was crucial in the creation of Horological Promenade, commissioned by the ICA and improvised by the dancers under the direction of Bronstein. For Katranzou, an emerging fashion designer feted for her intricate layering of digital prints, adapting aspects of her Autumn/Winter 2010 collection based on eighteenth century portraits for the moving body was a learning curve. In a conversation on June 10 with Louise Wilson OBE, Head of the Fashion Design MA at Central Saint Martins Katranzou claimed that she collaborated with Bronstein, who told her how he wanted the dancers to look and move in the clothes.
A cocktail of classical austerity and frivolity, Horological Promenade sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition.

Through the cafe and up the conch shell spiral staircase, on either side deigns for the ornamentation of middle class homes greet the visitor. These are whimsical to the extreme – a Gallery Assistant informs me that though the colourful plaster lozenges used for decoration look elegant and classical, they were in applied liberally on the front of homes according to the owner’s budget. Some of the lozenges feature Terpsichorean silhouettes of dancers in classical attitudes – a nod to the popularity of the attitude dancer Emma Hamilton.

In the upper galleries Bronstein’s large-scale ink drawings, which imagine the actual construction of Regency monuments or the moment when the paint has just dried and an interior is exposed to the public in all its gaudy glory, highlight the artificiality and ostentatiousness of the Regency aesthetic. Balletic figures in Regency dress with turned-out feet and floridly graceful gestures pepper the drawings, acting as fitting counterparts to the stylised architectural scheme.

Despite being idealised by Britons and overseas visitors alike, the Regency period for Bronstein seems to be one of empty elegance. This is nowhere more apparent than in the demonstrations of metamorphic furniture. At hourly intervals a Gallery Assistant, aloof as an auctioneer opens up a large, Grecian-style mahogany cabinet to reveal drawers of stylishly boxed space.

To the exhibition’s credit, its deconstruction of the Regency period’s glamour is a subtle one – visitors are permitted to enjoy Bronstein’s interdisciplinary exploration of Regency design in the ICA’s labyrinthine interiors and arrive at their own conclusions. As with the Hayward exhibition dance performances play an important role in defining the relationship of the moving body to architectural space, both real and ideal.

Continues until 25 September.
On 16 & 17 September, 8 – 9pm, there will be performances of Pablo Bronstein’s two part ballet Plaza Minuet/The Birth of Venus (with Matthias Sperling and Rosalind Masson) Tickets: £15. Box Office 020 7930 3647 **”“:

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