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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 September 2006, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
New life breathed into Lowry
By Caroline Briggs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Stand and Stare. Copyright: Chris Nash
The stark costumes feature layers of coloured fabric and black mesh
A new contemporary dance inspired by the works of artist LS Lowry will make its debut at Salford's Lowry Museum on Wednesday night.

A contemporary ballet based on the work of artist LS Lowry may immediately conjure up images of matchstick men in tights.

But Stand and Stare, by the Rambert Dance Company, features not a matchstick man, cloth cap, or whippet in sight.

Choreographer Darshan Singh Bhuller, 45, was commissioned by the Rambert to create a contemporary piece to mark the 30th anniversary of the artist's death.

He said it was easy to resist a literal translation of Lowry's work - such as Gillian Lynne's biographical ballet, A Simple Man, which she choreographed for the Northern Ballet Theatre in 1987.

Instead, Bhuller drew from the emotions behind Lowry's industrial landscapes and empty seascapes, which were characterised by vertical and horizontal lines and white negative space.

"Lynne's work was done extremely well but it was very representative of Lowry's paintings, in costumes and everything," explained Bhuller, the former artistic director of Phoenix Dance Theatre.

Darshan Singh Bhuller.  Copyright: The Lowry.  Credit: Ben Blackall
Bhuller has also worked with London Contemporary Dance Company

"I thought there was no point in repeating that or doing anything in that ilk. Mine is more abstract."

The Lowry artistic director Robert Robson, who initially approached Rambert with the idea, said he was also keen to get away from simply "matchstick men on stage".

"We wanted something that would breathe new life into Lowry's work and we knew the Rambert wanted to take an imaginative approach," he explained.

"There have been so many literal approaches to Lowry and we wanted to create something new."

The energetic work, which Bhuller describes as a "driven" piece, was inspired by the grit of working class people living in Lowry's northern England.

I found him quite dark in mood and I really don't buy into that simple, northern man as people like us to believe
Darshan Singh Bhuller

The dancers - which includes all of Rambert's 19-strong troupe - leap, stretch, bend, fall and hurl themselves across the stage to the robust rhythm of Bela Bartok's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion.

The sheer mass of dancers on the stage is a nod to Lowry's famous industrial pieces, which gave rise to the matchstick men for which he is famous.

"In that area, at that time, life must have been very tough and you would need to have a lot of energy to survive," explained Bhuller.

"So Stand and Stare is a piece of work that has a lot of energy about it. It is very athletic."

Liz Reed painting gauze and back cloth for Stand and Stare
The work features a backdrop inspired by Lowry's painting The Sea

The vertical and horizontal lines of Lowry's work also feature in the visual backdrop, created by designer Craig Givens.

It includes Lowry's 1963 painting The Sea, as well as moveable screens with images of Lowry himself on them.

The self-portraits were discovered at the Lowry after x-rays of the artist's canvases revealed concealed, earlier images.

Bhuller said he was inspired by these "little memories" which hinted at the hidden emotions beneath Lowry's "simple man" persona.

"He liked empty houses and derelict streets where he would stand and stare for hours looking at them. That's where we got the title for the piece," he explained.

Stand and Stare. Copyright: Chris Nash
Stand and Stare will tour the UK after its premiere in Salford

"There are a lot of horizontal lines in his paintings and in our design we have panels that stretch along the space so we reduce it like a building.

"Chronologically we have moved with Lowry's artistic timeline. He moved from painting these industrial scenes to amazing seascapes. He was fascinated with the sea and what went on under the waves.

"I think he was a very complex human being. I found him quite dark in mood and I really don't buy into that simple, northern man as people like us to believe."

Bhuller, who himself lived in northern England as a young boy, admits he knew little of Lowry's work before accepting the commission.

"I probably knew as much as the average person, such as the Matchstick Men.

"But if I had known more I think I would have been dragged down by all of the popular culture around him, and I don't think that would have helped."

Stand and Stare is on at the at The Lowry, Salford, until Saturday. It will then tour Norwich, High Wycombe, London, Woking and Plymouth from October to December.

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