Recent acquisition – Theo Schoon

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Tuesday 29 April 2014
Ron Brownson

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Do you know anyone who saw Theo Schoon dancing at Auckland's Town Hall? I would really like to speak to someone who witnessed his dance performance there. I have never associated Theo with being a performer in public but these images show he was. The public are not present, they have either come and gone, or they are soon to arrive.

I recently purchased these two small photographs of Theo for the Gallery's collection.  The images have been taken specially for the artist - he is performing for the photograph's occasion. They show more of the location than his other dance self-portraits. Those examples are studio-based self-portraits where the lighting was controlled.

These previously unknown portraits show that technical issues of working in a hall not made for photo-sessions influenced the resultant pictures. Theo preferred studio light in interiors - he'd spent much time with Wellington society photographer Spencer Digby (as had Brian Brake). Spence was a lighting expert and his wonderful portraits attest to his skill. Theo had exacting standards so the haphazard lighting may well not have pleased him.
It is not generally known that Theo Schoon was an accomplished practitioner of traditional Javanese dance. He collected the appropriate costumes and appropriate head wear. He possessed numerous recordings of Javanese music. When I visited him in Australia he danced for me while seated cross-legged on his bed. For me it was a personal experience of Asian dance the like of which I was then unfamiliar with.
During the 1940s and 1950s Theo Schoon demonstrated Javanese dance to appreciative audiences in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland. There was affirmative and interested newspaper coverage of  his performances. Theo also gave personal tuition of traditional Javanese dance and he was the first person to do this in New Zealand.

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I have met some people who witnessed Theo dancing privately at Auckland. These performances occurred at parties, mostly during the 1950s. Colin McCahon told me that he was charmed and surprised by Theo's skill at dancing. Ross Fraser said Theo's dancing was mesmerising. I saw for myself how he used hand gestures to tell stories.