Tate's pas de deux

Dance and architecture get classic treatment in Pablo Bronstein’s Tate performance

Three dancers in front of an adaptation of the Clore Gallery exterior, just inside the entrance to the Duveen Galleries, Pablo Bronstein,  Historical Dances in an Antique Setting.
Three dancers in front of an adaptation of the Clore Gallery exterior, just inside the entrance to the Duveen Galleries, Pablo Bronstein, Historical Dances in an Antique Setting. · Credit: BrothertonLock

From James Stirling to voguing, Pablo Bronstein’s Historical Dances in an Antique Setting offers an intriguing mash-up of dance and architecture as part of a continuous live performance at the Tate Britain in London.

At any one time for the next six months, three classically-trained dancers from a pool of a dozen will perform a contemporary interpretation of Baroque choreography up and down the neo-classical Duveen Galleries for the annual Tate Britain Commission. This all takes place against a backdrop of hybrid, manipulated architectural imagery drawn from different eras of the gallery’s external architecture. Modelled in 3D and then flattened, these huge images help tame the pompous space of the Duveen Galleries.

At one end, attentive visitors may recognise the distinctive triangular entrance of James Stirling’s Clore Gallery, its image repurposed as part of a new wall constructed across the width of the gallery. Here this is flanked by two huge Ionic columns in the style of the Duveen interior and adapted with the addition of a neo-classical doorway. The entrance glazing has become stone and window frames now appear as bands of green marble.

At the other end of the galleries, Bronstein’s backdrop installation is more austere, depicting a manipulated main entrance of the Tate, which has been adapted with a new staircase and a hint of the work of Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The Britannia statue has been removed from the top. Between the two interventions, the gallery floor is adorned with plan markings showing the layout of Baroque gardens which the dancers work with in their performance as they create a contemporary promenade experience through the galleries. 

  • A dancer follows the Greek key in the floor plan, Pablo Bronstein,  Historical Dances in an Antique Setting.
    A dancer follows the Greek key in the floor plan, Pablo Bronstein, Historical Dances in an Antique Setting. · Credit: BrothertonLock
  • Dancers perform contemporary interpretations of Baroque choreography wearing oversized jewellery inspired by 1980s power dressing, Pablo Bronstein,  Historical Dances in an Antique Setting.
    Dancers perform contemporary interpretations of Baroque choreography wearing oversized jewellery inspired by 1980s power dressing, Pablo Bronstein, Historical Dances in an Antique Setting. · Credit: BrothertonLock
  • Solo in the octagon in the middle of the Duveen Galleries, with a backdrop depicting the main entrance behind, Pablo Bronstein, Historical Dances in an Antique Setting.
    Solo in the octagon in the middle of the Duveen Galleries, with a backdrop depicting the main entrance behind, Pablo Bronstein, Historical Dances in an Antique Setting. · Credit: BrothertonLock
  • The three dancers in front of an adaptation of the Clore Gallery entrance, Pablo Bronstein,  Historical Dances in an Antique Setting.
    The three dancers in front of an adaptation of the Clore Gallery entrance, Pablo Bronstein, Historical Dances in an Antique Setting. · Credit: BrothertonLock

The commission continues Bronstein’s long held fascination with grand historic architecture and his use of buildings, furniture and artwork as protagonists in his own work. This piece also touches on his interest in modern architecture and explores the potential for interpretation when past styles are recreated, whether in the NeoClassical design of the Duveen Galleries or Bronstein’s own manipulations of the Tate’s architecture.

The result is a ‘historical compression’ of styles all round, from the setting to the costumes and, most importantly, the stylised elegance of the dance itself. This is inspired by the Italian concept of sprezzatura – a nonchalant sophistication that the ideal courtier should seek to achieve in their behavior. The dance also refers to the ‘voguing’ style of dancing made famous by Madonna. For costumes, the dancers wear oversized jewellery in a reference to 1980s power dressing, combined with classical ballet tights and contemporary baggy tops.

For the audience, witnessing a live dance performance at such close proximity takes a little getting used to, and it will no doubt be something of an endurance test for the group of dancers over the long course of the continuous commission. Generally, the dancers perform together with occasional solos; their impeccable, expressive gestures drawing attention to the space as they promenade up and down the galleries striking pose after pose.

Just as elegant Italian courtiers were aspiring to an ideal of behaviour, Bronstein is suggesting that gallery visitors can aspire to being ideal citizens, according to curator Linsey Young, who hopes that audiences will gain a sense of promenade as the dancers move through the space. They may need a few more interpretative clues if they’re to appreciate the full thinking behind the commission. But if nothing else, the installation is a rare opportunity to experience a free contemporary dance performance at close hand, in grand surroundings.

‘I hope they think it’s really beautiful, and can enjoy it,’ says Young.


Pablo Bronstein, Historical Dances in an Antique Setting, 25 April – 9 October, Tate Britain Duveen Galleries, Millbank, London