What is a Beautiful Body?

What is a beautiful body?
Rosemary Wagg gets under the skin of “corpulent” dancer and choreographer, Doris Uhlich.

IBTMorethanenoughImage by Andrea Salzmann

Why are you intrigued by the unconventional dancing body?

When I graduated from the Conservatory of Vienna in 2005, I had a crisis – I was no longer interested in the dance I had learnt and in the athletic body: a body that can do nearly everything.

Instead, I approached older people on the streets, in cafes, in trams. In rehearsals, I worked with them on the limits of a body, focussing on the fragility and robustness of older bodies.

Questions about beauty and non-conformism began to arise that continue to have importance in my work.

Why is it the norm for dancing bodies – particularly those in ballet – to be extremely lithe?

In classical ballet, a lithe and lissom body is a beautiful body and only this body is capable of transporting the lightness of expression required.

As ballet technique has improved and developed over the last 20 years, the demand on the body has increased, and dancers become thinner and thinner.

Larger bodies, particularly female ones, are often labeled with historical terms, such as ‘Baroque’ or ‘Rubenesque’. Why look to the past to describe body types of now?

In periods when larger bodies were in vogue, terms were created in order to describe the beauty. Nowadays the ideal is so far away from being large that we lack the words of description.

For me the simple descriptions x-small, small, medium, large, x-large are appropriate terms. The aim would be to find an x-large body as perfect as a x-large Latte from Starbucks. So that the word itself is not perceived by the masses as negative.

IBTMorethanenough Why do you combine both textual and choreographed elements in ‘more than enough’?

In my research on the Baroque epoch, I found the Baudelaire’s poem ‘Hymn to Beauty’ (from his celebrated collection, ‘Le Fleur de Mal’) and I felt a strong connection to his description of beauty.

Inspired by this, ’more than enough’ is a combination of different sources of texts, music and body-material. In the performance, there is a collision of ‘textures of texts’: one moment I read poetry and the next I make calls live on stage.

 How does your work fit into a wider discussion of bodies in society?  

Image by Andrea Salzmann

In my work, the body is the point of departure. Without a body you cannot say any word, you cannot do anything.

The body in our society has become a fetish, a product we want to optimise all the time. In the Western world, the ideal image of a thin body is perpetuated by mass media, and stored in our mind and flesh and bones.

I’m not interested in images, I’m interested in actions. I think real beauty is not in the outer mantel of a body but is found in what the body can do.

I also often work with the unused resources of a body and look for ways to use them. In my latest work, I focused on the joy of a body, on pleasure. Happy bodies have power. We need power to change situations: political and social.                         


In Between Time present Doris Uhlich – ‘more than enough’, at Arnolfini on Fri 1 November. Click here for more information and booking.