Blindly Following Matisse

Online, Global

22/07/2020 - 26/07/2020

Tempo Dance Festival 2020 #goingdigital

Production Details

Dance artist Sarah Houbolt introduces choreography inspired by audio describing visual art, and her unique experience of blindness. She is assisted through collaboration with cinematographer Jamie Gray and choreographer Amy Mauvan to implement her creative vision. Reflecting years of dance research and practice, the frame captures the essence of her unique body weaving through light and shadow, dream and memory. Inspired by Matisse, who made his Jazz series masterpiece from his bed, Sarah celebrates what is found when you really use what you’ve got. This dance film plays with what is possible when you consider audio description and the visceral elements of dance on film. 

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.

22 Jul to 26 Jul
begins at 1pm on 22 Jul
venue: online at

Performer and writer: Sarah Houbolt

Cinematographer/editor: Jamie Gray

Choreographic consultant: Amy Mauvan

Composer: HC Clifford

Gaffer: Matt Willis

Make Up: Marion Neri Amoudru


Performance installation , Multi-discipline , Dance , Contemporary dance ,

16 mins

An inspired autobiographical imagining

Review by Suzanne Cowan 23rd Jul 2020

Blindly Following Matisse is written, performed, choreographed (with choreographic input from Amy Mauvan) and produced by Sarah Houbolt. This is an innovative, experimental dance film that approaches the art of audio description from the self reflexive perspective of the performer. In New Zealand this level of innovation for viewers with visual impairment is rare and for Houbolt it advances her own artistry in her quest to make accessibility not just an adjunct but rather a beginning point of creativity.

The film has four different sections where each create their own world and chart the performer journeying through her private world of introspection and elements of struggle to embracing the world of the trapeze artist, dancer and circus performer. The audio description adds another layer to that world, inviting us into the thoughts and reflections of Houbolt in a manner that is both poetic and instructional. I am reminded of British spoken word artist, Kate Tempest, in the way that spoken word is blended with visuals and subtitles (Firesmoke). Houbolt is not a rap artist but her spoken word comes from a unique perspective of someone with a visual impairment who is involved in a delicate translation. She describes her world as a mover who develops her craft from the inside rather than from the traditional techniques of observation.

We begin not with visuals but with a black screen and the audio description/spoken word narration:
A love of space
Matisse in his bed
From the bed dreams are made
A solo dancer
She feels everything in one touch.

It sets up an inner world that is visceral and tactile. In this first section Houbolt “basks in a hue of red” light in her pink sequinned sparkly leotard and “dances with herself in her memories”. We get the impression that she is remembering a distinctive repertoire and is moving through various iterations, perhaps in different time/spaces. Next we see her standing in a pink Matisse spotlight.

Houbolt describes herself – “Sparse hair, distinctive eyes, sparkly white leotard” – and she walks forward through the shadows with purpose. This is a transition, a moment of transformation. In the next section there is struggle and resistance as she squirms in an internal struggle: “with muscularity she is forced apart in two”. We witness the chaos. Then:
A moment of stillness
Sad clown.

Here there is a hint of the circus creeping into her repertoire, verbally and visually. Houbolt has an incredibly expressive face which translates well onto screen. Then we briefly slip back into the nightmare and the turmoil which concludes with the triptych images of Houbolt as “the elephant, the sword swallower, the knife thrower”.  

The third section begins with darkness and a blue light appearing and this time Houbolt appears in flowing white dress, plucking a sparkly pink heart from the sky, pinning it on her dress. Memory and dreams are her provocations. This is a section of flow where she twirls and floats through the space and returns carrying a metal rod of fire. Here the well seasoned fire-eater is in her element. At first we see her stroke the flame against the skin of her arm . As the fire dances, she dances. She lifts the flame of fire to her lips as she arches her back and smoke billows from her lips as she extinguishes the flame. Daring and death defying indeed.

In the final section we witness her appearing out of the darkness once again in her sparkly pink sequinned leotard. She reaches for the trapeze bar, lifting herself onto the trapeze and the following sequence appears to be a triumpant one. Almost as if she has arrived home:

A celestial being, in the spotlight like a red sun
She smiles
She waves
She’s at peace.

We have witnessed the private self reflexive pathway of the dancer and circus performer, Sarah Houbolt. She looks a lot happier on her trapeze than down on the floor but according to Houbolt she is inspired by the horizontal – specifically Henri Matisse who made his Jazz series masterpiece from his bed. This is a film that weaves the horizontal, the vertical, spoken word  and performance into an autobiographical imagining. It has much to offer.


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