Morris Nitsun tribute

Internationally known artist, psychologist and psychotherapist

We have been saddened and shocked to hear of the death of Morris Nitsun.

Over the last year or so we have much enjoyed developing a collaborative and creative relationship with Morris, learning about his life and paintings and expressing our experiences of them through dance, movement, music, voice and poetry.

The sessions have been rich and inspiring, and we are grateful to have had this precious time with him, and are so sad it cannot continue

A film of the first session created by Rachel Wise

Extract from Nitsun, M. (2023) A psychotherapist paints. Abingdon: Routledge. Pp 131-132

The dance group
The second group in this series was an altogether different group – a dance and movement group organized to improvise to my paintings of dancers. It took place in real, physical space – momentous itself after lockdown – and was one of the most exciting events that came out of this entire project. The group is called SpiralArts, an innovative dance theatre company with a multi-talented membership, including musicians, singers, movement specialists, and even an ex-circus performer. The director of the group had attended my online presentation of the paintings, was inspired and, together with a close friend of mine, suggested arranging an event focused on my painting, using the images as stimuli for dancing in an exploration of the visual, musical and dance arts coming together. I welcomed the opportunity, and the event took place in September 2021. Twelve people attended, ten women and two men, apart from myself, all with their considerable talents, bringing alive the imagery and spirit of the paintings.
The experience benefited from a wonderful venue a spacious, light-filled penthouse studio atop a green haven of trees, with extensive and commanding views of London. There was ample space to move and breathe, to dance alone or with others.
I began by describing the background to the paintings, drawing on the autobiographical history described earlier. This was a condensed version of the narrative, focusing on my love of dancing as a child, my thwarted aspirations, and how, at a much later stage of life, this was expressed in the current series of paintings. In discussion with the director, I had decided to show only five key paintings, with the idea of concentrating the dance on each work in turn. These are all paintings illustrated previously in the chapter. I introduced each image, describing the significance of the painting, what it represented and how I had used oil painting techniques to express the image. This was the stimulus for the dance. The director, who led the event, invited one person to start by responding to an aspect of the painting that struck her/him and embodying that in a dance. She then invited anyone who felt moved to join in, encouraging the whole group, in turn, to join dance flowing effortlessly, spontaneously, playfully. A musician accompanied as the impulse took them. The group was highly responsive, the movement and the movement on simple percussive instruments and drums, producing a deeply sonorous background, sensitively attuned to the spirit of the dance. She and two other singers also vocalized to the dance: non-verbal sounds, varying between guttural low and eerily high, sudden shouts, calling, moaning, then lingering, amplified by other voices in turn. There was a tremendous synergy in the group, the different movements and sounds building to climactic moments of beauty and intensity.

Rather than describing each of the five dances in turn, I am focusing on one image to illustrate the process as it occurred. The painting is called “Young Dancer”, Figure 7.6 in the chapter, and shows a young woman, possibly still a girl, with her back to the viewer. It is as if we are looking over her shoulder into her personal space, away from the dance. Her back dominates the picture, the line of her spine pronounced. The image conveys vulnerability, retreat, possibly shame. This was one of the people’s favourite paintings in the series, evoking strong associations. The woman who came forward to take the floor at the start of the dance said the image touched her deeply. She was a contemporary dancer, trained in ballet, now branching out into further aspects of movement and dance. She expressed an empathic link with the girl in the painting. She started her dance bent, half-crouching, moving slowly, almost painfully, her back in full view. She moved her arms around her breasts in a cradling fashion, as if she was holding something, protecting it. The rest of the group was very quiet, rapt, watching, a singer’s plaintive voice in the background. After a while, a man joined the dancer, moving behind her, his open hands hovering on her back as if wanting to touch, to soothe, to reassure. Then another man joined, this time in front and to the side of her, similarly with open hands, mirroring her movement as if to track or support her. Others in the group slowly, tentatively joined the three figures, taking up complementary positions, moving in gentle, sympathetic ways, the atmosphere one of compassion and care, all circling around the first dancer.
The dance was followed, as with each of the five dances, by a group reflection. There was initially a hushed silence, then people began to share feelings and associations. My own association was of a baby. I saw the dancer’s arms as cradling a baby, at least something very young, very vulnerable. The group was in tune with the association, recognizing their strong inclination to protect, to hold, to contain. The image of mother and child, which seemed symbolically present in several of my other series of paintings, felt embodied within the dancer’s movements. I recognise in this my own subjective association, if not projection, but it ties up with a developing theme in this book: the mother-child relationship embedded in the search that inspired this project.
This is just one example of an afternoon filled with sensitive moments, the dancing coming together with the paintings to create an started the day not knowing what to expect. This was very new territory. I was worried that it would fail, that it was a risky, unthought-out experiment, that it would end in confusion and disarray. The opposite happened. It came together with remarkable ease, as if it was intuitively the right thing to do, leaving the exceptional event. I had group and myself feeling surprised, exhilarated, touched. The musician in the group wrote soon afterwards, describing it as “a very moving afternoon”.