Some of the most energetic spaces of modern life were the theatres in which the Futurist held their disruptive performances and the cabarets where they found their entertainment. Night life had been transformed by electrification into a fashionable spectacle, the scene of new dances and flirtations. In his 1913 Variety Theatre manifesto Marinetti exalted it as an art-form of his time, ‘born, as we are, from electricity’ and ‘lucky in having no tradition, no masters, no dogma’. It was a theme that engaged with the excitements of pleasure and its release from inhibitions, but also with constant movement and multi-sensory experience. ‘How is it possible’, the painters asked in their 1910 Technical Manifesto, ‘still to see the human face pink, now that our life, redoubled by noctambulism, has multiplied our perceptions as colourists? The human face is yellow, red, green, blue, violet.’
Severini, long-established in Paris, made the cabaret his main subject. His monumental Dance of the “Pan-Pan” at the Monico dominated the Futurists’ 1912 exhibition and consistently attracted comment. Its size matched the aspiration to put ‘the spectator in the centre of the picture’. Through shifting planes and fractured colour Severini moved towards an abstract language of form. In 1913 he would claim that abstraction was ‘a sign of that intensity… with which life is lived today’.