Pablo Bronstein review – no disco dads allowed in Tate's time-bender

Tate Britain, London
Past and present shimmy around one another like three graces at a voguing contest in this stately dance work, casting new light on an old building

Pablo Bronstein has turned Tate Britain’s Duveen galleries into a stage, a promenade, a piazza. Three dancers move, stop and move again through the length of the long hall. They dance and pose, flutter their hands, come together and part, echoing one another in stately turns. Pina Bausch it isn’t, though I longed for an avalanche of falling earth to liven things up a bit.

But then ... sometimes the dancers are as static as a painting; as unified as three graces at a voguing contest. They semaphore to one another, bow and curtsey and move on, in a choreography at once formal and jokey, poised and ironic.

Even their necklaces of big white baubles are a reminder of other times, other fashions; not so much Renaissance pearls as Maggie-in-a-twinset pearls, Princess Di rather than a Velázquez Infanta. It’s deliberate, a quiet collision of styles and manners. When the dancers hit the inlaid circle of marble on the floor under the Duveen cupola, some quiet folderol music delays them for a couple of minutes before they continue on their way, stealthy in their ballet pumps.

We are not meant to join in. No disco dads allowed, though I suppose there are some who might try, at the risk of being chucked out. If this were Eddie Peake (another artist who likes a promenade), he’d have naked men on pogo-sticks. But let’s not scare the children. Ornamental markings cover the floor, and at either end giant stage-flats – mock-ups of the front entrance to Tate Britain and the nearby Clore gallery – appear seamless against the pompous neo-classical architecture. You suddenly realise what a mishmash of a building Tate Britain is. Painted shadows pick out the painted columns and pediments, at odds with the real light that falls and casts few shadows. I like this conceit.

Pablo Bronstein at the Tate.

Bronstein’s Historical Dances in an Antique Setting concertinas time, in just the way the gallery does. The dancers’ red jumpers find an echo in Anthony Caro’s 1962 sculpture Early One Morning, visible through a side door. When they walk the lines on the floor, I unavoidably think of certain early video-performances by Bruce Nauman, one of the most influential artists of our times. The only way to go around him is to do things differently – and Bronstein and his dancers do.

Past and present shimmy politely around one another. The measured progressions of this work are as much about our moving through the three unequal parts of this long, high space and accompanying the tableau as it unfolds and refolds, as they are about the dance itself. We are not exactly an audience here, bystanders or witnesses, so much as redundant actors, displaced, out of time.

It may lack the sweaty, pounding drama of Martin Creed’s sprinters, who continually ran through the Duveen in his 2008 Commission, but exhilaration isn’t everything. Bronstein’s dance continues all day, every day between 10am and 5pm, while we come and go, passing by, passing through. It slows you down, and is none the worse for that.

Pablo Bronstein: Historical Dances in an Antique Setting is at Tate Britain, London, until 9 October 2016.


Adrian Searle

The GuardianTramp

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