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Elisabeth Schilling's Invisible Dances use local dancers and local artists to map them to leave a temporary artwork that washes away in the next rain – coming to Inverness, Aberdeen and Wick


By Margaret Chrystall

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LIKE the secret midnight dances that will come to the streets of towns and cities across the north of Scotland in the next few weeks, the idea for Invisible Dances came to Elisabeth Schilling at night.

Since then, it has been performed by 200 people in 14 countries across the world in over 55 performances.

In the morning after the dance has taken place, the cities, towns and their streets are clad in colour for the public

to enjoy, to dance along and imagine the dances no-one has seen.

Elisabeth Schilling.
Elisabeth Schilling.

The choreographer said: “It was in the very first lockdown that I noticed that my artist friends and colleagues got sadder and sadder because they didn’t have any projects to work on any more.

“I said ‘As artists we have to do something. We are creative people we have to find a creative solution’.

“But to be honest, I just woke up one morning and I had this idea of dancing in the night – and then tracing the dance in biodegradable chalk colour afterwards, but I would never have thought it would become such a big thing.

After the night-time dance in city and towns, the biodegradeable chalk is left, tracing the individual moves.
After the night-time dance in city and towns, the biodegradeable chalk is left, tracing the individual moves.

“All of a sudden, a year later it has been touring the whole world. So that has been rather surprising!”

It took a while for the idea to make its mark on her.

She explained: “I have always been fascinated by the intersection between the visual arts and dancing and looking at ideas of how to visualise dance and how to digitalise dance. And I think those images had just been digested in me, so I had woken up with this idea the first day. But I didn’t take it seriously.

“Yet the next day – I told my mum and my friend, and she said ‘You must do it! It’s the perfect idea for lockdown!’.”

Elisabeth Schilling used the medium of dance to surprise and bring colour to towns across the world.
Elisabeth Schilling used the medium of dance to surprise and bring colour to towns across the world.

For Elisabeth, Invisible Dances has become a global hit.

She outlines its journey across the world: “It started as a residency in Luxembourg, then we went to New Zealand and Australia and Thailand and India and Chile, Canada and the USA, into Europe – and in Germany we had loads of dates because I am from there. Then Helsinki and Rome and now we are in Scotland.

“I’m glad we are in Scotland because I love it so much. I come to visit every year.

“Before Covid I worked there quite a bit in the arts scene and I loved to go to the Highlands and Islands. I’m so delighted we will be there because I feel like my soul belongs there somehow.”

It has been a contrast for Elisabeth with her latest project Hear. Eyes. Move. Dances With Ligeti – based on the music of the Hungarian composer Elisabeth has loved for years.

elisabethschilling.com/invisibledances/

Elisabeth says: "Musicologists say his are some of the hardest works one can play on the piano. It’s new music and super-complex, but still very emotionally accessible music.

"I have been researching and translating his music and textures into rhythm and dance. I had put together a fund of money over years to make this happen with five dancers and a pianist and had got the co-producers on board – and then Covid hit and we didn’t know if we could make it happen.

"But I think we were very lucky because on the first day when we were supposed to start rehearsing, Germany opened up again – so at least we could rehearse last summer, though the dancers had to live by themselves and not to see anyone at all but just to come to work and go home again and sleep – to go into complete self-isolation, but my dancers were willing to do it which was amazing.

"We worked on it for two and a half months last year then the premiere was cancelled!

"We had lots of ups and downs. All the theatres were closed. Then this summer we had it rescheduled for the premiere and we had to wear masks at the premiere because of the regulations, but we managed to do it and then our German premiere which we were supposed to have in Weimar was cancelled because of Covid.

"But now, just this weekend past, we had our German premiere in a city close to where I was born.

"And we had standing ovations last night and it made me so happy!"

Elisabeth over lockdown has been looking at the impact of Covid on artists' work and wellbeing, and talks eloquently about the challenge.

“I know it was reasonable for the politicians to say we couldn’t perform, but I think as artists we have to show you can’t switch us off like lightbulbs.”

Invisible Dances is in Inverness, Aberdeen and Wick, though times and days are secret, for now. More on Elisabeth Schilling: elisabethschilling.com/invisibledances/

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