Portraits and dance
March 1st, 2020
A great week at the village school Ysgol Llanllyfni, near Caernarfon in North Wales, with Ballet Cymru and Dawns i Bawb working with the children on the Duets dance programme, as I ran figure drawing and painting workshops leading to the creation of some very large canvases.
After first sketching each other and experimenting with the improvisation techniques I use in my own work, each of the school’s three classes moved to the hall to draw their friends in the dance workshops. As well as working from classical ballet positions taught by the dancers, the artists sketched poses exploring themes of trust, joy, betrayal and despair, inspired by the tragic ballet Giselle, and created by the children themselves. Over the course of a day and a half, the entire school took part in these drawing activities, producing some beautifully observed images.
Using these sketches as starting points (and in a few cases creating new ones, with Ballet Cymru dancers modelling), smaller groups of children from each class then worked together to develop ideas for four huge paintings. With canvases laid out across a classroom floor, the groups discussed their ideas and began sketching them out in charcoal before starting work in acrylics. Further details were added as the pictures developed, with the children discussing and agreeing among themselves how they should proceed.
Yrs 1-2 and yrs 3-4 each created paintings five and half meters long – the first a happy dance scene (featuring ballet poses they had learned in their Duets workshops) relating to Act 1 of the tragic ballet, and the second a far sadder and spookier scene, reflecting Act 2, with spirits and sorrowful figures gathered in a forbidding forest. Yrs five and six worked together to create a four-meter-high diptych representing both acts of the story, each full of emotion and interconnected symbolism – for example, falling blossom, blooming tulips and fluttering butterflies in one image, echoed by falling leaves, dead sunflowers and a beady-eyed raven in the other.
I was hugely impressed by the children’s enthusiasm, thoughtfulness and focus. Knowing how big the challenge was, the artists worked long after school hours to make sure we were able to finish in the time we had. It was inspiring to see, and they did a wonderful job.
Many thanks to all the children and staff at Ysgol Llanllyfni – a lovely school, with an extraordinary sense of community – and to Ballet Cymru dancers and staff for all their support. I’d not led a school project on quite this scale before, and everyone’s help throughout the week was much appreciated.
Thanks also to The Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Pontio, and Arts Council of Wales, who funded the work.
The four paintings and a selection of drawings will exhibited from early June at Pontio, Bangor, coinciding with Ballet Cymru’s performance of Giselle later in the month.
Further information about Ballet Cymru’s Duets programme can be found here.