The Sitter's Tale: Siobhan Davies

The choreographer chose an extract from Primo Levi when her partner, David Buckland, offered to create a portrait of her
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The Independent Culture
David and I have lived together for more than 20 years, and what I love about this picture is the way that it hints at secret things about me. It's strange and imaginative, and represents not so much the surface me as the inner recesses.

As a starting point, David wanted me to choose a piece of writing that was important to me, which he would then include as part of the picture. The point being that it's easy to go into a gallery and consume a picture very quickly, but with words there as well, suddenly there's a debate between the viewer and the subject.

These lines come from a Primo Levi poem I've loved for a long time. It's a poem about friendship, and it made me aware that there have been times in my life when I've been very malleable - that there have been people who've made an imprint on me that has helped, and others who have made an imprint that hasn't. In the portrait I look very calm - in a sense I am thinking about the imprint that is about to happen.

The idea of the feather and the heart came from a trip David and I made to the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. One of the things we discovered was that when someone died in ancient Egypt they would have their heart weighed, and if they had been a good person their heart would be as light as a feather. Maybe David is imagining my goodness. The landscape at the top of the picture also means a lot to us - it's the part of south-west France where we have a house. You can just see the roof of it.

The picture is computer-generated to the extent that David photographed me first and then fed the picture into a computer. The heart and feather and landscape were added digitally, and I've been made to look paler and with fewer wrinkles. I don't mind losing the wrinkles of course; it's about the balance between my pale skin and the blue background.

I think I can say it's a gorgeous picture without attaching any vanity to it.

Siobhan Davies's 1999 portrait by David Buckland will be on show at the National Portrait Gallery, WC2 (0171 306 0055) from 29 September. On the same date the Siobhan Davies Dance Company's `Wild Air' opens at Sadler's Wells, EC1 (0171 863 8000)

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