05 September 2012

Henriette & Matisse

“Henriette & Matisse”
Photo: Val Adamson

Read more for reviews by our student writers-in-residence


Joie de Vivre
By: Bronwyn Botha

Bringing art to life. The innocence and imagination of a child is one of the most liberating things. To bring joy, laughter and excitement to a youthful audience is exactly what Michel Kelemenis achieved in his playful piece, Henriette & Matisse.

It started with an eye-catching single, candy-red spotlight. The colour pops on a black stage and reminded me of sweet treats you would find in a candy store. Four performers make their way clumsily to the stage, bumping into one another as each one stops suddenly. They're all dressed in white and ooze innocence.

Their movements take the shape of children's games like 'tug-of-war' and 'ring-around-the-rosie' making the audience reminiscent of childhood innocence. Arms are being twisted and untangled while playing follow-the-leader.

It is a family visit to a museum, discovering new art and being amazed by their findings. Using a spotlight to play with shadows on the backdrop reminds me of our playful shadow-play with hands and torches as children.

The inspiration for this work comes from the story of the French painter Matisse and his muse, Henriette. This is the amusing story of the art of creation. White paper and colour speak to the children.

Gestures are over-exaggerated making the dancers comic in their physical humour. As the piece moves into the second phase, the stage is flooded with a palette of colour.
Incredible paper accordions are used as building blocks; a simple versatile element of the set which is playful and eye-catching. The dancer who portrays Matisse positions his muse for painting; she's costumed in alluring candy-red.

The music echoes the cat-and-mouse chase that takes place between the line brush and the colour brush.

Characters swapping and making a game with Matisse's hat makes me think of the idea of the artist putting on his thinking cap; we watch his thoughts and ideas unfold in the process.
Matisse's signature blue colour pops onto stage unexpectedly in the form of three blue ‘nudes’ as he shapes and moulds his creation to the sound of Debussy’s Clair de Lune. The flattened out figures remain in motion behind the structure he forms with the paper accordions.

This work, on its 100th performance, and with a new cast, is captivating and magical. Both child and adult can enjoy a journey through dance that explores the act of creating.

“Henriette & Matisse”
Photo: Val Adamson

Story of a Dancing Canvas
By: Caitlin Perkins

Henriette & Matisse is the story of French painter Henri Matisse and his model, Henriette. French choreographer Michel Kelemenis explains that he created this piece specifically with children in mind.The performance at the Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience was a particularly special one, as the work celebrated its 100th viewing since it was created two years ago.

The piece opens with a visit to a gallery. A family of four, dressed all in white move closely as a unit, always physically in contact in some way. As they explore the space and examine the imaginary paintings that hang on the walls around them, the bumbling characters twist and tumble together, drawing giggles from the audience with their amusing antics.

The action switches to large circles of coloured light which pattern the floor of the stage, as an artist stands in the centre of his palette and begins to paint the air with his body. 

Suddenly, he runs off-stage and returns dragging a body wrapped in a carpet, which when unravelled, reveals a girl in a striking red dress – the painter’s model and muse – and so begins to unfold the unusual relationship between the two characters.

Following this is a lighthearted narrative of what takes place on the painter’s canvas. Two cartoon-like characters enter to music slightly reminiscent of a video game. The artist’s line brush and colour brush humorously spat and bicker about which of them will define the creation of the model on the page.

The playful dance language of the piece immediately captures the attention of both children and adults. The performers work inventively with few props, such as a hat which gets passed from character to character throughout the performance. Innovative use of paper concertinas used to represent the blank canvas, constantly transform the stage by creating ever-changing layers and levels.

The feel of the piece takes a sudden turn, as three mystical blue faceless figures emerge from the blank canvas, moving lyrically to Debussy’s Clair de Lune. This poignantly reflects on Matisse’s use of his signature blue, which flavours so many of his later works. Using the paper concertinas, the painter gently frames these continuously moving figures.

Including performances aimed at younger audiences in the Jomba! programme is a wonderful idea, as it provides an opportunity for children to begin attending and appreciating dance theatre from a young age. Henriette & Matisse is charming and will delight and entertain audiences of all ages.

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