The first time we actually see dancer and choreographer Elisabeth Schilling, her performance is over. Before that, we’ve only experienced her, in a myriad of ways.
First, Schilling is encased in a box, a black rectangle that moves across the floor seemingly of its own accord. Were this a show for children, it would be met with peels of delighted laughter – but given the sinister soundtrack accompanying it, there are no smiles from the audience. Not yet, anyway, but that’s just around the corner.
Tucked against a wall, Schilling slowly emerges from her incarceration, but remains hidden from view by huge swathes of black felted material. From there the images come thick and fast as she advances through the space; one moment she resembles the Grim Reaper, the next an oil spill. Is that a foot pushing against the fabric or her skull? Stretched out across the floor, Schilling’s body almost disappears – then becomes giant-like as she reaches up to the gallery ceiling, her long train equally reminiscent of bridal wear and a reptilian tail.
All the while we move around the gallery to observe and, at times, avoid her. Schilling’s sudden scurries have a childlike joyfulness you can’t help but laugh at, especially when we have to follow suit to move out of her way.
We may not see the woman herself during Felt (she finally emerges smiling at the end to greet her warm applause) but Schilling’s fascinating moving sculpture helps us see fabric in a whole new light.