Degas Dances at the Frick | By Mindy Aloff

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (1834–1917), The Rehearsal, 1878–79, oil on canvas, 18 ¾ x 24 inches, The Frick Collection, New York;
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

The Frick Collection, on Manhattan’s upper East Side, owns one painting by Degas, a ballet scene, from 1878-79, called The Rehearsal. The perspective—skewed on a diagonal—shows a rehearsal studio in the Paris Opéra. Several dancers, whom we see on a slant, have just unfurled their right legs in waist-high dévelopés. They’re in the middle ground, kind of falling out of the painting on our right. It’s not clear whether they are the only dancers practicing or the only practicing dancers visible. In the event, their faces are less distinctly rendered than their legs and tulle skirts; in fact, when one looks closely, their faces are almost clownishly featured.

However, in the foreground is another face. It belongs to the violinist who accompanies them, and it is carefully crafted. (Indeed, a preparatory drawing of the violinist is currently on exhibition in the Frick’s basement, as part of a traveling show of art from the Clark.) Seated, apparently, from his low position, he is turned away from the dancers for whom he plays. His legs are out of frame, but we see his body almost to the waist and both of his arms actively exercising his instrument. He’s a man sequestered in the contradictions of middle age, his beard gone gray yet his thick dark hair seemingly pomaded. He looks out of the picture plane meditatively toward the viewer’s right, as the dancers, facing the opposite direction, train their focus on a point outside the left edge of the painting (perhaps at a mirror that isn’t painted). Actually, in their gauzy practice dresses, intent on maintaining their one-legged balances, the dancers seem practically to be emanations from the head of the musician, which overlaps one of their skirts. His ponderous, opaque, black-suited figure and somewhat melancholy expression suggest that he is the sole character in the scene with an interior life, at least an interior life at that moment.

Degas Dances performance. Photo by Lucas Chilczuk.

Recently, the Frick (well, the Frick’s Rika Burnham: author, dancer-choreographer, and head of education at the museum) conceived and realized several performances to “open out” this painting under the title “Degas Dances.” They took place for audiences of some 60-70 persons each night, seated in a half-circle against the wall of the golden rotunda that was built as the mansion’s Music Room, every seat with a clear view of the room’s small yet properly curtained and theatrically lit stage. To get to the Music Room, the audience filed through the Frick’s East Gallery, where, regarding the paintings, were a “Tableau Vivant” of a woman impersonating the painter Mary Cassatt (Olivia Powell), another woman impersonating Cassatt’s sister, Lydia (Katie Steiner), and a young girl, barefoot, in a leotard and raggedy tulle skirt, impersonating the stance of Degas’s sculpture of a young dancer (Mia Potter, a freshman at La Guardia High School of Music & Art). Mary Cassatt observed a painting while she canted her weight on a walking stick or tightly furled umbrella, as one sees her in Degas’s portrait of her from the back (a painting in the touring Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernism show, currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). When the performance was about to begin, the impersonators entered the Music Room and the Cassatts took seats. The young girl—called “Aspiring Dancer Blanche Biot” in the program—stood, trembling with anticipation. On the floor, below the stage, were a violinist (Michael Roth, associate concertmaster of the New York City Ballet orchestra), a portable barre, and a ballet dancer in a leotard and tulle skirt, pointe shoes, and the black velvet choker ubiquitous among Degas dancers (Kristen Stevens, an alumna of the Norwegian National Ballet and several American companies). The program identifies her as Melina Darde. Momentarily, wearing a dapper, three-piece white suit—a nod to the vestments worn by Paris Opéra star and teacher Jules Perrot in Degas’s ballet art—another dancer entered the Music Room: the real Clinton Luckett (a ballet master with A.B.T.), whose height, handsomeness, and youth are so far from the physique of the aging Perrot Degas portrayed that one might call it nontraditional casting.

The Musician played, sensitively and with honeyed intonation, famous French period selections, many of them from ballets. The ballet dancer went through a long, slow warm-up at the barre and (I’m not sure how period this was) on the floor. Mr. Luckett-qua-Perrot, pulling a Stanley Williams, quietly directed the dancer’s barre exercises with small hand gestures. Aspiring Dancer Biot feverishly engaged Mr. Luckett-qua-Perrot in conversation—her most memorable line, “Can I be a ballerina?,” which gave the teacher a chance to point out how hard the ballet dancer was working and how long it takes to become a ballerina and how much dedication, how much one must give up, to dance professionally—that is, gently, he told her no, without saying it. Then M.lle Darde and M. Perrot appeared onstage, lit by impersonations of gaslighting, to perform variations from the Delibes Coppélia (“Prayer”) and Sylvia and two variations from the Bournonville repertoire, one from the Lumbye La Ventana and one from the Helsted-Paulli Napoli, with Mr. Roth’s Musician accompanying them. The tiny stage mercilessly confined the dancing; M.lle Darde was not wearing a period corset (which would have affected her line) and was wearing pointe shoes with 21st-century engineering. Furthermore, the dancers could not suppress their experience with a repertory that included many choreographers Degas could have never imagined and that had given them bodies as lean and strong as prize racehorses. Yet, despite these discrepancies from the authentic, the variations were danced with reverence and an obvious attempt to channel the period style for ballet dancing of Degas’s time. And the lighting (by Adam Macks) produced something of the magic-box effect characteristic of 19th-century proscenium theaters. By my lights, it was exquisite.

Degas Dances performance. Photo by Lucas Chilczuk.

Following a brief intermission, the cast returned, this time with Ms Burnham and Emerson Kent Bowyer (the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow at the Frick) in tow, to answer questions from the audience. The speakers all knew their stuff, and one left with provocative impressions. Mr. Bowyer, for instance, suggested that what Degas appreciated in ballet dancers was not so much the ideal effects of the ballet stage as the hard labor the dancers had to put in to get there. Ms Burnham mentioned that many professional ballet dancers don’t really like the way Degas represented those of his time—that he rarely caught the climax of a step, the reason for its existence, preferring, instead, to concentrate on interim movements leading up to or away from the step’s “picture.” (In The Rehearsal, the dancers’ supporting legs are turned out but their feet aren’t fully pointed, their elbows are dropped in their port de bras, and their hands, positioned in an old-school way, with the thumb touching the forefinger and the other fingers curled in, look like knobs.) And Mr. Luckett noted that by 1878-79, the period of the painting’s creation, the spirit of ballet had gravitated from Paris to St. Petersburg—i.e., that the Paris Opéra company Degas sketched and painted was, in fact, in decline.

The result of these history lessons was to remind us that Degas was not in love with the ballet or with ballet dancers the way balletomanes generally are: He was, instead, obsessed with the opportunities the ballet gave him to experiment with representations of motion, with unusual and/or extreme positions and poses as well as unusual perspectives, and with variations in texture and shape. What makes The Rehearsal unusual as an example of the ballet art of Degas is the extreme care the painter took in presenting the musician’s face and the suggestion of mood, emotion, and temperament in his entire presence. Of course, I speak as a layman. A painter would most likely look at the work quite differently: For a painter, surely, the creation of the space in the room, the rendering of light on surfaces, and the somewhat unsettling counterpoint between depth and flatness in the relation of the floor to the windows would be a primary interest.

Yet, in putting on “Degas Dances,” the Frick opened out the painting beyond the concerns of Degas, offering its audiences the suggestion of idealism in the dancing body–as derived from the statuary of ancient Greece and the Renaissance–and the tension in classical ballet between the look of living flesh and bone and the abstractions of Euclidean geometry such a physique reveals in the course of trained movement. We were asked to compare the painter’s concern with depth vs flatness against the balletic concern with energy vs. sculptural perfection. Although the script for the young aspirant of “Degas Dances” could use an overhaul, I thought the program successful in its rejection of the sentimentality that often varnishes the general public’s idea of Degas, as well as in its reminder that ballet goes way beyond hard work and athleticism: that its illusions and poetic effects are essential to what makes it more than a good subject for painting–to what makes it, in itself, an art.

Mindy Aloff teaches dance history and criticism at Barnard College. She is the author of Hippo in a Tutu: Dancing in Disney Animation and the editor of the reader Leaps in the Dark: Art and the World by Agnes de Mille and of Dance Anecdotes: Stories from the Worlds of Ballet, Broadway, the Ballroom, and Modern Dance. Her writing has appeared in many publications internationally, including The New York Times and The New Yorker.  She is a past fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial and Woodrow Wilson Foundations and a former recipient of a Whiting Writers Award.

Trends in Curatorial Practice: The Value and Values of Performing Arts Curators

On Monday, October 29, 6:30-8pm at the ODC Theater Building (3153 17th Street) Wesleyan University’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance hosts an information session and panel discussion considering:

How can curators of performance learn from curatorial practices in the visual art field and what can visual art curators learn from performance based strategies? How can and should curatorial practice in performance provide context for the many different kinds of performance happening in the U.S. today?

Come hear about the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance and its professional certificate program at Wesleyan University where students consider the role and definition of a curator today through discussions with faculty and guest artists, written assignments, group projects and more.

David Milch, ICPP Program Coordinator, will speak about the program and moderate a discussion about trends in curatorial practice between current ICPP students and recent graduates of the program, including Sarah Curran, Programming Director at Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts, Christine Bolingbroke, Theater Director at ODC Theater, Megan Brian, Education and Public Programs Coordinator at SFMOMA, and Julie Potter, Community Engagement Program Assistant at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

6:30-7:00pm — mingle and enjoy light refreshments

7:00-8:00pm — brief info session; panel discussion; Q&A

For more information and to RSVP, please email with “SF” in the subject line.

Now in its third year, the ICPP will offer a 2013-2014 professional certificate program in Curatorial Practice in Performance at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Students will complete courses in artistic and curatorial practice, social and cultural context, and entrepreneurial strategies and create an independent project in consultation with an advisor. Through a close examination of the practical and theoretical concerns of the performing arts, graduates of the ICPP certificate program will deepen their knowledge of diverse curatorial practices, improve critical thinking and writing skills, and enhance their professional relationships. For more information, please visit or send an e-mail to

The Unexpected Viewer: Dance in the Museum | By Jetta Martin

While many dance makers have embraced the idea of staging their work in non-traditional venues, I have presented work almost exclusively in the traditional theater setting. Yet, over the past few years, my choreography has been graciously supported and encouraged by my continued relationship with the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. This partnership has been a wonderful way to challenge myself as both a performer and choreographer.

I have become more adept at presenting pieces in spatially challenging areas. My dancers have had to avoid power outlets in the floors, wall displays with alarms, spaces with very unconventional dimensions, even museum patrons unintentionally walking through performance areas. This keeps us all on our toes and gives the work a fresh quality.

On the other hand, we were provided with marley when needed, a beautiful sound system, and adequate seating for the audience. The challenges were merely a part of the fact that the original intention of the space was to display static works, rather than moving ones. Yet, this presentation shapes the work in exciting ways. It also challenges me to view my choreography with a new eye for staging.

Usually, I choreograph pieces for a theater stage and I decide the form, length, and content. At the museum, each piece was commissioned for a specific purpose with a program or exhibit in mind. I conceived, shaped, and adjusted the pieces in consultation with the museum staff. I was initially intimidated by this framework, but have come to enjoy the freedom within the structure. My pieces have become more robust as a result and have included lectures, video presentations, and extended question and answer sessions that have worked well for the museum setting.

My first piece, Langston Suite, was a dance for three women. It was a half-hour piece, and I crafted it around the African Diaspora, the main premise of the museum. My next piece, Sweet Nina, was an educational performance for children with vocalist Kwama Thompson. We danced and sang with the enthusiastic children in an interactive context, teaching them about black history, through a call and response format. This performance coincided with the Free Family Days held in museums throughout the city.

Most recently I choreographed My Life as a Bird, a piece about jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. I sought not only to celebrate the life of my favorite jazz musician, but also to link this performance with the art on display. The performance coincided with the Jazz and the Fabric of Life quilt exhibit at the museum. We staged the work within the quilts, which amplified the piece’s energy and vibrancy.

The single most valuable outcome of these experiences has been increased and varied exposure for my work. I believe that performances in non-traditional spaces are vital to building new audiences and increasing interest in dance. I have loved working in a non-traditional space and creating dances that are historical, contextual, and tell a story. This coming February, I will present a piece on the 60s Black Power Movement to augment the 60s exhibit coming to the museum during Black History Month.

After the shows, my dancers and I distributed surveys and had a question and answer panel with the audience. We found out that many of the attendees had not known about the shows in advance. Most were walking past or passing through the museum and were drawn into the piece. These spur of the moment viewers are of great interest to me as an artist. Many of them were from other states, even other countries.

This audience could not have attended the same performance in a conventional setting because traditional theater does not encourage this type of spontaneous viewing. In this way, new audiences can discover dance in a setting that fosters a serendipitous opportunity to enjoy both visual and performance art. I think the kind of exposure that dance can have in spaces where people are allowed to enter and exit, to experience and share, to view with a different lens, are all situations that can help our art form grow and evolve.

Jetta Martin graduated cum laude from Harvard University and performed professionally with Ronn Guidi’s Oakland Ballet, the Mark Foehringer Dance Project, Push Dance Company, Liberation Dance Theater, David Herrera Performance Company, and the Natasha Carlitz Dance Ensemble, among others. Performance credits include Joyce Soho, ODC, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, and the Egyptian Modern Dance Festival in Cairo. Jetta’s choreography has been featured on both coasts and has been commissioned by the Black Choreographer’s Festival, Dance Mission Theater, Museum of the African Diaspora, and Stapleton School of Ballet among others. Currently she is on faculty at Brisbane Dance Workshop, East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, and The Ballet Studio. She is the administrator for Western Sky Studio in Berkeley and a writer and editor for Conscious Dancer magazine.

Photos by Corey Wade of the piece My Life as a Bird. Dancers: Coral Martin, Jetta Martin, and Travis Santell Rowland.

Responding to PICO and the DDP #13 Panel | By Katie Gaydos

After witnessing the Performance Indeterminate Cage Opera (PICO) as a part of the John Cage Celebration at the Berkeley Art Museum last weekend, and then attending Emily Hite and Julie Potter’s recent Dance Discourse Project on dance in museums, I’ve been thinking a lot about appropriation and artistic context.

Back in June one of the many open-ended questions Julie Potter and Emily Hite raised as they launched their Dance Discourse Project in their In Dance article “Dancing in the Museum” was, “How can movement function in a space designed for another kind of art and a different kind of looking?” Their question lends itself to further inquiry: Do our expectations and perceptions, as viewers, shift depending on the venue or context of a dance piece? How can dance engage its context in dialogue? And what responsibilities do dance artists have when responding to existing exhibits within a museum?

At the Berkeley Art Museum last weekend a group of almost 30 dancers in conjunction with a large group of video artists, composers, designers and live musicians set out to pay tribute to John Cage in what presenter John Sanborn titled PICO (Performance Indeterminate Cage Opera). The dancers—a handful wearing sensor-like cameras strapped to their heads, others nude, some wearing bright colors carrying empty picture frames—became a sprawling, chaotic, circus-like tableau. While starting in the main atrium, it wasn’t long before the improvising dancers took free range of the museum, challenging typical audience-performer dynamics and ways of both looking and being seen.

Yet as PICO performers weaved throughout the museum, juxtaposing, and at times almost colliding with, the museum’s existing and unrelated Barry McGee exhibit I couldn’t help but wonder how PICO was speaking not only intentionally to John Cage but also unintentionally to Barry McGee. As I was looking at a large-scale McGee painting on the second floor a dancer approached me with an empty picture frame and began a series of mime-like gestures. The encounter with the dancer momentarily interrupted (and in doing so altered) my encounter with the McGee painting. At the same time, my proximity to the McGee painting colored my encounter with the dancer.

“Barry McGee piece and dancer.” Photo by michaelz1

As PICO—whether intentionally or not—engaged the McGee exhibit, I started to question the ways in which PICO paid tribute to John Cage. I couldn’t help but wonder if PICO was an accurate interpretation of John Cage’s work. Unsure of whose call that is to make and suspecting that perhaps John Cage’s work refuses the notion of accurate interpretation in the first place, I still wondered what John Cage would make of it all. Would he feel honored? Misunderstood? Amused? Proud? Does it matter? In PICO’s program notes presenter John Sanborn remarks, “My approach to celebrating Cage, Duchamp, and Paik is to detail the connections among their legacies and address the quandary of what we do with the knowledge they left us. Yes, we can play Cage’s music, we can view Nude Descending a Staircase as an object, and we can watch Global Groove and compare it to the TV we grew up with—but how do we activate their ideas? We do it by plunging headfirst into expression, without the formality of a frame, a score, or a TV series.”

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Instincts: How museums alter emotional sensation and motion | By Raissa Simpson

Push Dance Company :: Mixed Messages from pushdance on Vimeo.

Certain modern-day museum exhibitions taking cultural heritage as their subject depict a painful history, driving viewers to cringe or embrace. For instance, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Propaganda exhibit, focusing on Nazi Germany’s propaganda, has strongly affected me. Beyond recognizing direct lessons from the repulsive ramifications of propaganda on Jewish culture in Nazi Germany, I am struck by a personal acknowledgement of what cultural struggles do to drive audiences to public spaces.

Enter the question: How are museums and galleries selecting dance to activate their spaces, and how does dance change when its context comes artistically charged with a particular point of view? I have had two experiences presenting my own works in museums. The first museum work was Mixed Messages at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in 2011, made possible by The San Francisco Arts Commission, Zellerbach Family Foundation, and Dancers’ Group’s Lighting Artist in Dance Award, based on my own experience with Mixed (Race) Heritage and underrepresentation. My more recent museum work was Dances for Trayvon in 2012 commissioned by dance anywhere® at the Oakland Museum of California.

As an artist, it’s possible to burrow yourself inside the cultural importance of a project, never letting anyone else into the creative process. Conjuring up a cultural dance at a museum requires willpower not to get stuck in your own cathexes, and instead to consider how the structure of your work can facilitate an audience-driven experience. Herein lies the beautiful surprise of introducing my dances to a museum venue: My process did not predict how the presenter, the audience, or I would react in the aftermath of the production; what was clear, though, is that we all wanted to feel something.

What enhances the performance experience in museums are people, who often mill around the dance space. Dances for Trayvon at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) was a lesson in transforming people or sculpting the audience into art spaces. With thanks to OMCA’s outdoor chair exhibit, I pulled chairs hanging on a wall into a skewed seating arrangement for those audience members wanting to sit as they watched an off-beat dance improvisation about the untimely death of teenage Trayvon Martin. Whether it was the children playfully imitating me or adults brewing over the Trayvon Martin case, seeing the many ways the audience interacted with my work brought my attention to unexpected outcomes garnered by museum dances.

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Notes from New York: Performa’s “Why Dance in the Art World?” panel | By Kate Mattingly

Performa Institute and NYU Steinhardt present: Why Dance in the Art World? Sept. 17, 2012 at Judson Memorial Church. Moderator: RoseLee Goldberg. Panelists: Ralph Lemon, David Velasco, Jenny Schlenzka; introduction by Jennifer Homans.

It was a capacity crowd. People lined up in the stairwell of Judson waiting to see if all the reserved places were occupied. I noticed a mixture of familiar faces from the art and dance worlds, and a moment of disconnect when I walked into the sanctuary and saw rows and rows of chairs, a table with microphones for panelists, and a podium. Not the typical set-up for Monday evening performances at this venue. Judson to me has been a place of surprises and inspiration. I hoped that focusing tonight’s attention on dialogue would elucidate ideas that interest me about intersections of dance and the art world. This is a topic that has intrigued me since the Berkeley symposium Making Time, in April, and the recent Dance Discourse Project, but after two and a half hours I left Judson feeling that I had been momentarily engaged and deeply frustrated. The highlights for me were Ralph Lemon and Jenny Schlenzka who offered insights into the complications — and crisis — of museums and dance. The other panelist, David Velasco, listed names and events (he admitted he did not have much knowledge or familiarity with dance) that, to me, reinforced the hierarchies being imposed by museums rather than the potential to jostle or disrupt staid ways of seeing.

The talk began with RoseLee Goldberg introducing the speakers and acknowledging the dance celebrities in the room: NYCB principal Wendy Whelan and Bolshoi Ballet dancer David Hallberg were at the event (both dancers were named by Goldberg and seated a couple rows in front of her) and this seemed to elevate the status of the affair for Goldberg. I found this strange, but then remembered the first speaker was Jennifer Homans, author of Apollo’s Angels, a book that Goldberg praised in her introduction: “it sits by my bed and I give copies out like candy to people who come to my office.”

Before giving the podium to Homans, Goldberg mentioned a list of important dancers that included “Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Oskar Schlemmer, Yvonne Rainer, Pina Bausch, Butoh and Bharatanatyam…” (a bizarre mingling of two non-Western forms with names of western artists ), then described her childhood in South Africa. Since she had grown up seeing Zulu dancing she never could separate definitions of art from dance. Her last line – her belief that “the art world is always radical, permissive… dance in the art world is good for us, good for dance, good for art, good for humanism” – left me wondering who was included in “us.” More about this when I get to Ralph Lemon’s ideas….
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Drag in the museum | DDP#13 read-a-long

Dancer and drag queen Fauxnique, revered for her spellbinding stage performances, also photographs well. The Huffington Post recently interviewed the artist, otherwise known as Monique Jenkinson, about her reenactment of one of Cindy Sherman‘s portrait subjects as part of a photography project responding to SFMOMA’s Sherman retrospective. Jenkinson, a Dance Discourse Project #13: Dance in the Museum panelist, is a 2012 artist in residence at the de Young Museum.

From the Huffington Post:

I work in theaters, nightclubs and museums, and explore connections and tensions between art and entertainment.
I love the humor in [Sherman’s] work, and that there is almost always simultaneous play and pathos. I love that there is a lack of slickness in some aspects (wrinkled fabric we see reused from era to era, plastic plants and un-seamless makeup) in the midst of such incredible attention to detail…. And of course I love her powerful explorations of femininity and the fact that she is a very powerful woman artist.

Hear more from Jenkinson at DDP#13 on Saturday, September 15 from 2-4 p.m. at the de Young Museum’s Kimball Education Gallery. The event is free and open to the public.

Dancing *and* the Museum: Reflections on Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 in London | By Jasmine Chiu

A view of the main entrance to the Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 exhibition at the National Gallery, London.

In reflecting upon the Dance Discourse Project #13’s theme of “Dancing in the Museum,” I would like to offer a few thoughts on the notion of dancing and the museum that have been provoked by a recent major collaboration between the National Gallery and the Royal Ballet in London.  Originally conceived as a contribution to the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the city’s four-year Cultural Olympiad, Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 (July 11-Sept 23, 2012) is the creative brainchild of a collective of London’s eminent cultural institutions, including the National Gallery, the Royal Ballet, and the Royal Opera House, in addition to leading contemporary artists, designers, musicians, and poets in the United Kingdom.

At the heart of this collaboration, three iconic 16th-century paintings by the Venetian Renaissance master, Titian, have been on display at the National Gallery and have provided the direct inspiration for three major dance commissions by the Royal Ballet.  Exhibited together for the first time in the same gallery space, these large-scale paintings (commonly referred to as Titian’s visual equivalents of poetry, or poesie) depict the mythological scenes of Diana and Callisto, Diana and Actaeon, and The Death of Actaeon, which were inspired by the legendary Roman poet Ovid’s epic narrative poem, Metamorphoses.  In response to these powerful works and as part of her last season as the Director of the Royal Ballet, Dame Monica Mason developed three unique choreographic commissions featuring the work of some of the most notable choreographers in London including Kim Brandstrup, Alastair Marriott, Wayne McGregor, Liam Scarlett, Will Tuckett, Jonathan Watkins, and Christopher Wheeldon.  Pairing these choreographers with three contemporary artists, Chris Ofili, Conrad Shawcross, and Mark Wallinger, this highly collaborative project resulted in the creation of three distinct new ballets—Diana & Actaeon, Machina, and Trespass—which were showcased in four sold-out performances at the Royal Opera House in July.

Much can be said about the three striking dance commissions as stand-alone pieces in and of themselves; however, for the purposes of thinking about dancing in/and the museum, it would be equally beneficial to elaborate further on the ways in which the National Gallery has responded to these resulting dance works in a unique curatorial dialogue.  Hailed by critics as “a Diaghilevean multi-genre collaboration” that combines dance, music, art, design, and poetry under the overarching umbrella of a museum space, the Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 project can be distinguished from other manifestations of dancing in museums due to its highly interdisciplinary nature.[i]  For Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, even though the dancing component of the collaboration was central to the overall project, no live dancing was ever featured within the galleries.  Unlike other instances of dancing in museums which have to contend with the challenges of presenting live performance in the context of a somewhat foreign gallery milieu (as highlighted by many of the previous posts featured on this blog), Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 has kept the traditional exhibition and performance spheres largely separate.  Instead, the National Gallery has devised a clever exhibition surrounding the three Titian paintings which simultaneously honors and deconstructs the dancing element.

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Current conversations on museums presenting dance | DDP#13 read-a-long

In case you missed it, the New York Times recently ran an article on the art world’s interest in showcasing dance. Looking closely at the Museum of Modern Art‘s upcoming series Some sweet day (October 15-November 4), brought to life by guest curator Ralph Lemon, writer Claudia La Rocco outlines other recent collaborations between visual arts institutions and performing artists. Numerous choreographers and curators weigh in on what practical, aesthetic and social questions arise when presenting dances inside spaces built for objects.

From the article:

This is a moment when we’ve kind of tried to blow open the definitions of what and who belong in these places of culture,” said MoMA’s associate director, Kathy Halbreich. She is one of several galvanizing figures to have come from Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, a forward-thinking outlier that has long integrated live art into its vision. “Which is interesting, because politically I think things are closing down,” she added, referring to the “recalcitrant positions” that now curdle much debate in American society.


For [Jenny Schlenzka, an associate curator at MoMA PS1] and many others one of the most exciting aspects of placing dance within a visual-art context is what this often fraught transaction reveals about these two insular cultures.

Comment here or join the Dance Discourse Project #13 discussion on September 15, 2-4 p.m. at the de Young Museum’s Kimball Education Gallery.

Thanks to  DDP panelist Michelle Lynch for flagging the Times article.

Fluxus, Figure, and Ground: Dance in Visual Arts Spaces |By Katharine Hawthorne and Ben Hersh

Framing movement within visual art spaces invites new ways of looking at dance performance.   It opens opportunities to shift visual priorities and structure performance events in which visitors may follow their attention, free to leave and return as they wish. Unscripted audience movement effaces the divisions between audience and performer taken for granted in proscenium theater.  These spaces liberate the gaze, allowing it to give equal weight and meaning to dance and non dance actions, which in turn introduces a palette of physicality ranging from formal athletic movement to casual, “relaxed” bodies.  Working in a gallery or museum context allows choreographers to play with the distinction between pedestrian and performer, observer and observed. Dance in visual arts spaces is not new, as the authors of this blog note; in this entry I will contextualize it in the interdisciplinary explorations of Fluxus artists from the 1960s-’70s and consider how this movement can inform contemporary work.

The Fluxus movement originated out of John Cage’s famous classes at the New School, and encouraged artists to use normal materials to create novel experiences of the world. Fluxus artists emphasized uncertainty and play by drawing from the Dada and Surrealist movements and developments in experimental music. The work coming out of the movement varied from minimal performances called Events, to operas, films, boxes of materials called Fluxkits, and canvas paintings.  In the United States, Happenings were closely connected with Fluxus Events.  These vastly different art forms were connected by an overarching aim to stage experience as performance and engage the senses viscerally. In the groundbreaking book Fluxus Experience, author Hannah Higgins uses “experience” to refer to “a transactional, interpenetrative framework and its capacity to create a sense of continuity with the world.” 1  In short, the Fluxus ethos creates interactive performance that exists on a continuum of lived experience.

Many of the early Fluxus Events took place at George Maciunas’ AG Gallery in New York and were later curated into museums  and public places worldwide.  Despite its fame, Fluxus maintained a “do-it-yourself” and anti-art attitude.  Fluxus artists also bridged traditional arts spaces with public spaces by intentionally scoring Events outside of traditional arts structures.

“Events,” one of various incarnations of Fluxus activity, correlate most closely with the discussion of dance in visual arts spaces and with scored improvisational performance in particular.  Performer and site were frequently left unspecified, and these open-ended directives, handwritten or mimeographed on index cards, could be performed in almost any circumstance. As such, each Event could unfold any number of experiences, ranging from caring, to exploratory, to destructive, ultimately serving to generate primary experience.

Examples of Fluxus Events & scores 2:

George Brecht’s Word Event (Exit) (1961)

Emmett Williams’ Duet for Performer and Audience (1961)
Performer waits silently on stage for audible reaction from audience which he imitates.

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