Dušan Týnek, Artistic Director/Choreographer
Dušan Týnek Dance Theatre
“Camera Illuminata”
NYC/Dec. 3-5, 2004

The company’s upcoming show is called “Camera Illuminata.”

It’s a play on camera obscura, a device used by painters like Vermeer to view a three-dimensional scene projected as an image inside of a dark box. Light enters the dark chamber through such a small hole, that the light carries with it the actual image, although it appears upside-down. This was a precursor to the modern photographic camera.

In “Camera Illuminata,” I’m working to create the inverse of camera obscura, where two-dimensional paintings inspire dances that are realized in a lit chamber -- the white box theater.

“Camera Illuminata” consists of five new dances -- all inspired by paintings, spanning 400 years, ranging from Caravaggio to John Currin.


I saw a retrospective of John Currin at the Whitney and was impressed particularly by the painting “The Pink Tree.”

At that time, I was already contemplating choreographing a piece for two women, so I guess this was the first step. Then I received an offer to be presented at the Joyce Soho Theater, which used to be a gallery itself, and now serves as a white box theater. I immediately thought that it would be great to use the space as a blank canvas for an evening of dances inspired by paintings.


What connects them is that they are all inspired by paintings. Since the Joyce SoHo is such an intimate space, the dances are all solos and duets.

I decided to play with all the possible variations of gender pairings –- so there’s a solo for a male, one for a female, and duets for two men, two women, and a male-female duet.

Show above: Scene from "Camera Illuminata." Dancers: Elisa Osborne and
Alexandra Berger. Photo: Lisa Kereszi/(c) 2004

All of the dances are basically inspired by a single painting, except for one that is more of an animated tableaux vivants. I use this term to describe the male duet “Trinity” which is inspired by a series of ten Caravaggio paintings. I'm aware that this term is a bit of a paradox, but I think that it very well describes what is happening in this dance.

A tableau vivant is a scene portrayal where the actors or dancers remain silent and motionless as in the painting. In “Trinity”, the dancers move from one tableau to the next, creating a moving image much in the same way that a movie reel is made up of individual pictures or frames linked and played in quick succession.


I am also a painter. I studied at the Self-Taught Academy of Arts. I do take some idea from the paintings and put it onto the dancers, but I do not think that I am translating the paintings back to real life.

I take inspiration from them but the result is my own invention. I'm not necessarily interested in replicating the exact scene or object that inspired the painter to save it onto the canvas.


The five works referenced in “Camera Illuminata” are “Death and the Maiden” by Egon Schiele, “Young Nude Male Sitting by the Sea” by Hippolyte Flandrin, “The Pink Tree” by John Currin, a series of ten paintings from Caravaggio circa 1600, and “The Absinthe Drinker” by Edgar Degas.


Translating paintings: For example, in the opening scene of “Trinity” I recreate ten abbreviated scenes from the life of Christ, as envisioned by Caravaggio.

By abbreviated, I mean that I portray only two characters from each painting even though there may be up to six figures in some. In all of them, the two dancers concentrate around a third entity, but they only allude to it while it is invisible to the audience.

Shown above: "Boy Bitten by a Lizard" (c. 1594)
Oil on canvas
66 x 49.5cm
National Gallery, London

Since light is a signature element in Caravaggio’s paintings, I am working with lighting designer Rick Murray to illuminate the space in a way that gives the sense of the chiaroscuro in Caravaggio’s work.

We achieve the effect by sending beams of light, or creating light channels, where the dancers enter and leave.

However, we deviate from Caravaggio’s light sources which were almost always coming from “stage-right” -- it has to be more dynamic in an “animated” depiction, so we have multiple light sources from several angles, illuminating the dancers’ bodies in different ways.

I’m not really as interested in “recreating” the paintings exactly, as I am in developing them into something beyond their initial feel or message.

I guess the most difficult aspect is to create the right movement vocabulary to take the dance where my imagination wants it to go while maintaining a dialogue that preserves the original idea of the painting.

What I’ve done in all five dances, is isolate a gesture or a pose from each painting, so that if you know the painting well, you will be able to identify it quite clearly in the dance, perhaps in more than one iteration or aberration of it.

Shown above: "The Pink Tree". Dancers: Elisa Osborne, Alexandra Berger. Photo: Lisa Kereszi/(c) 2004

[Capturing an intangible, a feeling evoked by a painting], that’s what I’m interested in predominately; a line or a pose taken from the paintings serves only as a vehicle for the story or feelings that the work of art evokes in me.

Clearly, it’s my own personal take on it, or reaction. Even though we may be looking at the same painting, every one’s reaction will be different -- this is just my version.

Recreating just the lines or poses would be too obvious. My dancers and costumers and lighting designer could easily just recreate the visual impression of the painting.

What leads up to that particular moment captured in a painting, or what comes just after that moment is what, to me, is so fascinating and tempting.


I pick topics that are close to me, or speak to me, so the paintings represented in “Camera Illuminata” would all be found in my own private collection if modern dance were more lucrative.


[Responding to the question: “Did you incorporate any history of the artist’s life into any scenes?”] Actually, yes. For example, “Death and the Maiden” is loaded with biographical references.

I researched Egon Schiele’s painting of the same name and found that “death” represented Schiele himself and the “maiden” was his model, Wally, with whom he had an extremely intense working and romantic relationship for several years.

Shown above: Studio rehearsal, "Death and the Maiden". Dancers: Dušan Týnek, Eden Mazer. Photo: Julie Lemberger/(c) 2004

Schiele eventually proposed to Wally, but she rejected him although it would have been a good prospect for her as Schiele was just on the brink of becoming one of the most successful painters in the Viennese circuit of that time.

Instead, Wally ran off to join the Red Cross during World War I, where she died of scarlet fever two years later. Schiele himself died of influenza the following year at the age of 28.

Shown above: "Death and the Maiden", (1915-1916)
Oil on canvas
150 x 180 cm
Oesterreichische Galerie, Vienna
Egon Schiele

So, even though he painted “Death and the Maiden” as a farewell portrait to Wally, it really became a farewell portrait for both of them.

So, in my work, the history of their entire turbulent affair serves as material for the dance, not just the one moment of a simple, or not so simple, embrace.


For each piece I have created so far, I have tried to do something very different movement-wise, so the only common routine is that I lock myself in the studio alone until I block out the fitting movement style that I want for the dance.

I usually have a particular performer or performers in mind when going through this process, so my next step would be to put that movement onto the performer(s) and see where we can take it together.

I work best with dancers who are not only highly skilled in ballet and modern technique, but who can also offer something more than the technique. It’s fantastic if you have a great extension, but what’s more important is what that great extension helps you to express.

I look for performers who understand how to abandon their training enough to let their personalities come out. My process tries to pull this out of the performers so that they are much more than just skilled automatons moving through space.


A friend once told me that I would become a professional dancer, while I was consumed by dissecting cats in a biology lab and recording magpie mating calls at five in the morning in Australia. This was one of the funniest, oddest, scariest, and most honest, original and insightful things that anyone had ever said to me.

I bumped into this friend at one of my dance performances a few years later and she had a chance to say “I told you so.”

Visit official site: Dušan Týnek

Where: Joyce SoHo (155 Mercer Street – New York City)
When: December 3-5, 2004 at 8 p.m.
Contact info for tickets: (212) 334-7479
Press Rep: William Murray – Better Attitude, Inc. (212) 254-1357/wilmurray@aol.com

Bio: Dušan Týnek came to the United States from Czechoslovakia in 1992 to pursue an education and career in the natural sciences. However, through the influence of mentor and friend Aileen Passloff, he committed himself irrevocably to dance.

In 1997, Dušan received his B.A. in Dance from Bard College and moved to New York City where he began working and touring with a number of modern dance companies and choreographers, including Douglas Dunn and Dancers, Ben Munisteri, Michael Mao Dance, Randy James Dance Works, and Pat Catterson. Dušan spent several years on both a Merit Scholarship and a Chris Komar Scholarship at the Merce Cunningham Dance Studio and in 1999, became an understudy for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. As a member of the Merce Cunningham Repertory Group, he performed company repertory throughout the Northeastern U.S. culminating with a performance at Lincoln Center.

Shown above: (l.) "Death and the Maiden", (1915-1916)
Oil on canvas
150 x 180 cm
Oesterreichische Galerie, Vienna
Egon Schiele
and (r.) Studio rehearsal, "Death and the Maiden". Dancers: Dušan Týnek, Eden Mazer. Photo: Julie Lemberger/(c) 2004

In 2000, Dušan joined the Lucinda Childs Dance Company for its 25th Anniversary Season as the company presented its repertory throughout Europe -- including performances at the Montpelier Dance Festival (France), Vienna Tanz Festival (Austria), and Steps Festival (Switzerland) -- and held seasons at both the Theatre de la Ville in Paris and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In 2001 and 2002, Dušan toured extensively throughout the Netherlands and Switzerland with Dance Works Rotterdam (Netherlands) and collaborated with the Leine en Roebana Company in Amsterdam.

In May 2002, Dušan choreographed “Wardrobe Spectre” for performance by Dance Works Rotterdam. This served as inspiration to focus more intensely on his own choreography and Dušan returned to New York City in the fall of 2002 to found Dušan Týnek Dance Theatre - (DT)2.

In September 2003, (DT)2 made its first public appearance as part of Dancenow/NYC/The Festival at the Joyce SoHo. (DT)2 presented its inaugural season at the Kitchen in December 2003, which met with sold-out performances and critical acclaim.

In September of this year, the company presented “The Pink Tree” at Dancenow/NYC/The Festival 2004. Dušan has also recently completed a commissioned work for Richard Daniels’ “Telling Tales.” Dušan has also taught dance in both New York and Prague.

Shown/header image: Dušan Týnek. Photo: Elisa Osborne/(c) 2003

Read in-depth profiles with other creative artists, in the DEC/JAN issue of "Arte Six."

RELATED EXTRAS: Caravaggio: The Man. The Myth. The Soap Opera.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (b.1571 - d.1610) led a life even more theatrical than his paintings. Orphaned at age 11, he was apprenticed to a painter the same year. Having learned what he could about the craft of painting, he wandered over to Rome in the early 1590s and starved for the next few years. He finally he found a broker for his canvases in 1595; through this connection, he was introduced to Cardinal Francesco del Monte.

Del Monte invited Caravaggio to receive board and lodgings in the house of the cardinal. Despite grinding poverty, Caravaggio had already painted up to 40 canvases before finding a patron; the paintings done in his early years later became some of his best-known works, including “Boy with a Fruit Basket” (1593) and “The Young Bacchus” (1593).

Having settled in for a bit without, one assumes, much additional trauma, Caravaggio obtained the commission for the decoration of the Contarelli Chapel in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, in 1597.

Shown above: "Self-portrait as Bacchus" ("Il Bacchino Malato")
Oil on canvas
660mm × 520mm
Galleria Borghese, Rome

At age 24, he’d established himself as a painter of renown, and was off on a hot streak. Away he went, between 1598-1601, off on plans for three huge canvases depicting scenes from saint’s lives: “St. Matthew and the Angel,” “The Calling of St. Matthew,” and, the bummer, “The Martyrdom of St. Matthew.”

And then...

The canvas which was commissioned to hang over the altar, “St. Matthew and the Angel,” shocked the canons of the church; Caravaggio had painted St. Matthew as a common laborer, in a rough tunic. Then there was the angel. Rather than dangling about graciously mid-air plucking a harp, the angel was actively –- arguing, almost, with the saint, shoving his hand over the page of a book, as if impatient with a man unschooled and illiterate.

Well, the papal court wasn’t having any of that, and the painting had to be redone. The original canvas was later purchased by Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani, made its way to Berlin in the mid 1940s, and was subsequently destroyed.

The irony, of course, was that Caravaggio, in celebrating this humble laborer, was in fact delivering a lesson in the power of belief and humility, elevating an awkward laborer with naked shins and dirty feet into a Christ-like figure.
The matching works, “The Calling of St. Matthew” and “The Martyrdom of St. Matthew” were painted in a style just as shockingly realistic.

Outrage aside, the project was completed in 1602, and Caravaggio’s dramatic work became the ne plus ultra for the well-shod aristo. Caravaggio’s paintings were stark; they often captured scenes of violence or indolent luxury. Still, lucky break aside, nothing went quite right after 1602. Caravaggio’s temper kept landing him in picturesque rumbles with the law.

Shown above: “Portrait of Fillide” (1598)
Oil on canvas, 660mm x 530mm
Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin (destroyed 1945)
In this portrait, the sitter is holding a sprig of orange blossom, a traditional wedding flower; because the shrub is an evergreen, it is also symbol of eternal love. Fillide Melandroni also served as a model for Caravaggio’s “Conversion of Mary Magdalen” (1599), and as Judith, in “Judith Beheading Holofernes” (1598-1599). Another exceptional rendering of the same subject, "Judith Slaying Holofernes" (1612-1613), was painted by artist Artemisia Gentileschi, who also experimented with chiaroscuro.

In 1603, he socked another painter in the nose. Off he went to the chokey. He was released through the intercession of the French ambassador in Rome, because by that time he knew a few people...

Alas, in the spring of 1604 he was accused of tossing a plate of artichokes at a waiter, and was then arrested for throwing stones at the Roman Guards.

In July of 1605 -- more drama. He was nabbed once more, on a charge of misuse of firearms, ie. carrying a concealed weapon. That summer, he left Rome to go hide out for a bit because he’d beat up a churlish notary, in defense of his mistress.

Well, back he came, and in May 1606, he had to vacate Rome forever. He got into a heated brawl over, gawd help us, a sports score. Yes. Some things never change.

Anyway, it ended badly. When the smoke finally cleared, Caravaggio was bashed up but alive, but one Ranuccio Tomassoni was dead as a can of paint.

It’s also been theorized that the knife fight might also have been over –- that’s right, cherchez la femme, a courtesan/artist’s model named Fillide Melandroni.

This was the theory put forth by art historian Maurizio Marini; he argued that the argument over a tennis match could have been the pretext for the duel, rather than the cause.

Pretext for what? To avenge an insult. To Fillide Melandroni. Which is within the realm of remote possibility; art historians have pretty much agreed that Caravaggio swung more ways than a set of hinges on a dodecahedron. And let’s not forget the mini-drama just the year prior, involving an insult to another Caravaggio muse known only as Lena, “la donna di Caravaggio.”

Right. So. On with the rumpus in Rome. Art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon goes one further, and has commented publicly that he believes Caravaggio didn’t actually mean to slash the femoral artery in Tomassoni’s thigh. He was aiming, uhm, elsewhere and missed, killing Tomassoni by accident.

As Graham-Dixon has it, “One of the fascinating things is the discovery that particular wounds in Roman street fights meant particular things. If a man insulted another man's reputation he might have his face cut. If a man insulted a man's woman he would get his penis cut off."

Either way, Tomassoni had exeunted stage left.

Off went Caravaggio; he went to Naples, and painted “The Seven Works of Mercy” for the Chapel of Monte della Misericordia, in 1607. In the winter of 1607, or early 1608, he ran again, this time to Malta.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a man with a price on his head, his works got gloomier and gloomier. He could have run for King of Gloom, if there’d been such a thing and he didn’t have other things on his mind, like the gallows. Or, let's face it, any kinfolk remotely related to Ranuccio Tomassoni. During this time period, he painted “The Beheading of John the Baptist.” He was discovered, natch, and imprisoned.

So, he escapes from prison in the dead of night and hops a boat to Sicily. He lands in Syracuse, stopping just long enough to complete another depressing masterpiece, this time “The Burial of St. Lucia,” for the Church of Santa Lucia.

Time was running out for Caravaggio; somewhat ironically, he'd become so famous a painter that his arrival in a new town couldn’t stay secret for long. He fled again, this time to Messina, in early 1609, where he painted the “Adoration with St. Francis and St. Lawrence.”

Intercessions on his behalf were being made in Rome, but when he landed in Naples in October 1609, his luck evaporated.

He was ambushed at the door of an inn. His face was slashed and he was left for dead. He barely recovered. Caravaggio sailed from Naples to Rome in July, 1610, either to face the music or to wrangle a papal pardon. He was arrested when the boat made a stop at Palo.

He was released two days later and staggered back to the port. More bad news. The boat had already sailed, taking with it every possession he had left in the world.

Obstinate as ever, he set out after the ship on foot, making it as far as Porto Ercole, where his run came to an end.

Shown above: "Portrait of Michelangelo Meresi da Caravaggio" (c.1621), detail.
The pastel sketch of Caravaggio was rendered posthumously by portraitist Ottavio Leoni.

He collapsed in the street and died only a few days later, of a fever or pneumonia, at the age of 37. Many suspected he’d been murdered.

A letter arrived from Rome three days after his death; it was a document granting him clemency for the death of Ranuccio Tomassoni. And that was it. The mystery of whether or not his death was bad luck or foul play was cleared up only 350+ years later.

Well, allegedly cleared up. Conspiracy theorists, keep your weekend free...

A tiny scrap of paper was found between the pages of a church records book in Porto Ercole (Grosseto, Tuscany) in 2001. It is said to be proof that Caravaggio died a natural death.

The note was found by architect Giuseppe La Fauci in a 1654 book of the dead in the small parish of Sant’Erasmo. Caravaggio enthusiast La Fauci spent eight months in Porto Ercole, searching church records books, on the quest to find any shred of proof that would shed light on the mystery.

The official record book corresponding to the year Caravaggio died had been lost or stolen. The note was a mere scrawl, perhaps made by an officiating priest who'd attended a man called Caravaggio before recording the date of his death, first in the note, later in the lost ledger.

The note simply states that an artist named Caravaggio died of an undefined malady in the hospital of Santa Maria Ausiliatrice on July 18, 1610 (the date corresponds to the year 1609 on our current calendar schedule.)

The note had been one of the most searched-for documents in the history of art. No kidding!

Caravaggio’s stormy works later influenced painters Artemisia Gentileschi, José de Ribera, Dutch painter Hendrick Terbrugghen, Diego Velázquez and Georges de La Tour.

His undeniable talent, and his just as undeniable penchant for attracting trouble made him an irresistibly romantic figure. So much so, that the official 100,000 lire note of Italy bore a copy of his likeness, from a pastel sketch by portraitist and Caravaggio contemporary, Ottavio Leoni.

Find out more/Related booklist: "Artemisia Gentileschi," "Artemisia Gentileschi around 1622: The Shaping and Reshaping of an Artistic Identity," "The Passion of Artemisia," "Artemisia: A Novel," "M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio," "Caravaggio" (Puglisi), "Caravaggio: A Life"

Find out about contemporary artists (tempestuous or otherwise) in the current issue of "Arte Six."