Visual Arts: In the tortured steps of Egon Schiele

Lea Anderson has created a dance from the works of the Austrian expressionist. Looks painful, says Louise Levene

Lea Anderson normally makes do with her own sketches when looking for inspiration for new dance pieces. Her workroom's shelves are lined with scrapbooks packed with images. "I've got books of fledgling ideas, more developed ideas and loads and loads and loads of Egon Schiele."

The published sketches of the Austrian expressionist have formed the basis for Anderson's latest work for her all-male group The Featherstonehaughs, celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. Essentially these are the lost dances of Egon Schiele. Anderson (who studied at St Martins School of Art before doing her dance training at the Laban Centre) sees the sketches as stills taken from a forgotten dance: "The paintings are incredibly anatomically correct and exciting. The muscles and the tension in the bodies is so tangible it lends itself naturally as source material for movement." Anderson has been hatching this posthumous collaboration for over five years but it is her habit to spend a long time incubating her dances. "I usually make my own pictures and drawings and collect things for up to two years before a show to create a structure, to see how it will work spatially."

It has to be said that many choreographers would regard dancers' bodies in the studio as the ideal means for establishing whether something will "work spatially" but Anderson has a CV to prove the efficiency of her working method. In addition to her work with her two groups The Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs she has also been prolific in opera and theatre, choreographing ENO's Khovanschina and Sam Mendes' Cabaret.

Did she find that using Schiele's way of seeing provided her with a fresh set of ideas? Could we look forward to the lost dances of Michelangelo or Rodin or Beryl Cook? ``I don't think so. This has been a very particular thing. I wanted to throw myself out of familiar ways of working but not so much that I didn't know how to work. It's up to me to decide what to do with the sketches. But using them makes sure that I can't resort to tricks or make things work in a way I know they will. It's been a challenge to me but it hasn't taken things out of my hands."

The costumes are by Sandy Powell (famous for her work on Caravaggio, Edward II, Orlando and Wings of a Dove). Given Schiele's notorious fondness for the naked body it is perhaps a surprise that Anderson didn't opt to dispense with the costume budget entirely but she has a bit of a problem with stage nudity. ``I think it's very complex and it's very hard to deal with. We've decided not to use real nudity but expressionist nudity." This turns out to be flesh-coloured suits painted with muscles, bruises, pubic hair et al to mimic the tortured bodies of Schiele's drawings.

The six Featherstonehaughs have had to work hard to get inside Schiele's figures. ``They were a bit baffled at first but they've been staring at it all day every day to reproduce the shapes and they've become incredibly sensitive to the work. You have to make a sequence that requires fluid movement through maybe 50 of the paintings. It's been a challenge but one that they've really risen to.''

`The Featherstonehaughs draw on the sketchbooks of Egon Schiele', 24- 28 Feb, The Place, 0171-387 0031 and touring nationally.

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