Michelangelo Drawing Blood explores the artist’s fascination with the male form, partly inspired by his sketches for the unfinished fresco The Battle of Cascina. Melding video art, live music played on renaissance instruments and a physical performance from two dancers representing Michelangelo and the male bodies seen in his sketches, this show provides us with an atmospheric mix between modern and historical art forms. But while the visual and auditory sides of the performance complement each other well, they are not exactly balanced in quality. Composer Charlie Barber’s seventeen-scene palindrome structure could easily shine as a concert in itself, whereas the dance performance and video art felt somewhat unambitious by comparison.
Charlie Barber’s music was a more fitting tribute to Michelangelo’s work, although this was perhaps because it’s so difficult for any type of visual art to measure up to such an iconic artist.
In Stefano Giglioni, Michelangelo Drawing Blood found someone who could accurately represent the physically perfect nude male bodies of Michelangelo’s art. His role is that of a muse to the artist, the statue waiting to be released from its marble. Giglioni has been appearing in this role for over a year, but his limitations as a dancer are shown up by the relatively simple choreography. The overall effect is that of a faintly homoerotic tai chi practise session, with Michelangelo (played by solemn-faced dancer/artist Aaron Jeffrey) inspecting and manipulating the body of his statue. This duet sometimes came across as oddly impersonal due to the blank expressions of both performers, which contrasted greatly with the fact that they were literal interpretations of the two “characters” (Jeffrey was even dressed in Renaissance garb, with a flowing beard), and the sensuality of their performance together. It would have made more sense either to add more emotional intensity to the performance, or to make it more abstract by toning down the direct visual references to Michelangelo the man.
Charlie Barber’s music was a more fitting tribute to Michelangelo’s work, although this was perhaps because it’s so difficult for any type of visual art to measure up to such an iconic artist. The seventeen scenes of Barber’s composition were each dedicated to a different aspect of Michelangelo’s life, including religion (with reworked texts from the Catholic mass, set to music), excerpts from his poetry, and even everyday inspiration such as one of Michelangelo’s shopping lists. This was all expertly executed by the small group of Renaissance instrumentalists, and while countertenor James Hall only appeared as a recording from behind the scenes, the purity of his voice shone through.