The researcher behind our first ever live broadcast cinema event, Matisse Live, explores how the artist’s childhood exposure to colour and love of ballet are being brought to life on film - with a little help from the Royal Opera House
One of our ambitions in making Matisse Live is to create an event unique to the cinema, as well as to bring our Matisse cut-outs exhibition to those who can’t visit Tate Modern. To help us, we’ve commissioned British choreographer and dancer Will Tuckett of the Royal Opera House to create a brand new work, which draws on two important influences in Matisse’s life – his love of dance and ballet, and his experience of colourful textiles during childhood.
Matisse was fascinated by dance throughout his life. One of his greatest works, The Dance, from 1909-1910, depicts the rhythm of nature and movement in a ring of five dancers. Later, in 1937, Matisse began to design the scenery and costumes for the ballet Rouge et Noir, set to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony #1, by Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo choreographer Léonide Massine. Matisse suggested Shostakovich’s music could be interpreted into five colours, which Massine then gave symbolic meanings: white for man and woman, yellow for wickedness, blue for nature, red for materialism and black for violence.
Will’s dance – which will debut in Matisse Live broadcast on 3 June – will also be set to Shostakovich and feature costumes in five colours, in a subtle nod to Matisse and Massine. Using the colours in Matisse’s cut-out’s as inspiration, we chose black, blue, green, orange and pink. In the finished dance, we’ll layer multiple shots of one dancer wearing five different ‘Matisse coloured’ costumes over a white background - so it will be like a moving Matisse cut-out!
Matisse was exposed to a world of colours and fabrics from a young age. The artist grew up in the textile town of Bohain-en-Vermandois in Picardy, Northern France; which in the late nineteenth century was a major centre of the French textile industry, visited by fashion designers such as Coco Chanel. So whilst there was no gallery in Bohain to teach Matisse about art as a child, it’s evident he was surrounded by strong colours that would stay with him throughout his life.
When it came to dyeing our dancer’s costumes, I felt it was important that we get the ‘Matisse colours’ as close as possible to those in his cut-outs. With the exception of black, we based our colours on those in the cut-out The Parakeet and the Mermaid. I then worked with our design department to gather the correct Pantone colour references, to get the hues as close as we could to Matisse’s. Next, I got to work with textile designer Amy Clark to acid dye the Lycra costumes and colour match them by eye, using a swatch guide to achieve the instantly recognisable clean, bright colours of Matisse.
The dance will be performed by Zenaida Yanowsky, Principal ballet dancer at The Royal Ballet, which according to Will, is ‘delicate yet precise, with movement classically based and entirely led by the music in its form.’ We think Matisse would approve.
Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs is on display at Tate Modern until 7 September