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Indigo Lewin, Artist In Residence 21
Indigo Lewin, Untitled, Rehearsals, Biennale Danza 2021Photo © Indigo Lewin

Indigo Lewin’s images document the raw physicality of dancers

The photographer captured the toil, sweat, and taught muscles of performers backstage at the Venice Biennale Danza 2021

In 2021, as we all emerged from lockdown and began to renegotiate our relationships with proximity and distance, La Biennale di Venezia’s 15th International Festival of Contemporary Dance took place in the heart of the ‘floating city’. Directed by acclaimed British choreographer and director, Wayne McGregor, the theme of the festival was First Sense – rich with timely associations of physical touch.

McGregor invited British photographer Indigo Lewin to document the festival. Renowned for her photographs of bodies, interlocking forms, and the depiction of skin-on-skin contact, Lewin found the physicality and communality of dance reconnected her to these recurring themes. “I think my time working on this project really reminded me of the necessity of touch and being around other bodies. It has always been a central focus in my work and the pandemic really disrupted that.”

Over a ten-day period at the Venice Biennale Danza 2021, she captured fleeting moments, mostly pre and post-rehearsal and during the dancers’ breaks. In a conversation over email, she tells Dazed, “I spent a lot of time hanging around and just observing, I felt like there was just as much of a story to be told of what was happening in between the actual dancing as there was in performance... capturing the quiet moments was really important to me to be able to deliver a full and honest portrait of the festival.“

McGregor, who described Lewin as “a bright light in a new generation of radical photographers”, reflected on the beauty of her distinct images of the Biennale:“ In this installation, she reframes the traditional dance photography landscape and focuses on the prosaic, the everyday, exposing and illuminating the modern rituals of the dancer and the dance in their raw vulnerability and ecstatic release.” 

Now, in the run-up to the Venice Biennale Danza 2022, Lewin’s images of last year’s festival will be on display at Sale d’Armi A in the Arsenale. Indigo Lewin: Artist In Residence 21 features 50 photographs depicting the toil in pursuit of beauty, the contours and musculature of human bodies at the peak of athleticism, and the vitality of human touch.

Amid an art form which is so fundamentally performative, Lewin didn’t shoot the polished spectacle of the finished show. Instead, she focused on the un-poised, in-between intervals. Her images depict the strain of the arched en point foot, the moments of repose, the smoking breaks, the stretching. “As someone who prior to working on this project knew very little about dance I was under the impression that everything would be very manicured, especially when it comes to traditional dance such as ballet,” she tells us. “In fact, it’s quite the opposite and a lot of cigarettes.”

Despite her self-confessed prior lack of knowledge about dance as an art form, Lewin tells us she found “everything” about it alluring. “The juxtaposition of losing one’s inhibitions whilst being incredibly precise, expressing oneself via movement emotes so much without using any words. It’s an incredibly emotional art form.”

Indigo Lewin: Artist In Residence 21 is on display at Sale d’Armi A in the Arsenale, Venice, from July 22 until July 31 2022