Is a museum hall a suitable scene for dance? A number of exhibitions organized during the last couple of years prove that this type of union can be beneficial.
The latest exhibition entitled Moved Bodies. Choreographies Of Modernity organized at the Łódź Museum of Art in Poland constitutes a type of a primer. The exhibition’s curator, Katarzyna Słoboda, juxtaposes dance and the art of the beginning of the 20th century. One of the first video clips we can see there is The Serpentine Dance by Loie Fuller, the dancer who started experimenting with scene lighting and costumes earlier than the artists of the Great Theatre Reform. Her arms, elongated by the sticks, and her body in movement, enveloped by the flowing fabric, constructed the whirling, iconic image.
Right next to the video there are photos of Isadora Duncan, her pupil and, as it was shown in Stephanie Di Gusto’s movie The Dancer, her rival, captured during her open-air improvisation. Next, there is Martha Graham, the mother of modern dance, with her famous Lamentation, Mary Wigman with dancers posing like actresses in expressionist films, Rudolf Laban with his notation and icosahedron, Oskar Schlemmer with Triadic Ballet, but also Wsiewołod Meyerhold with his biomechanical exercises. The work of these key figures in dance and theatre is juxtaposed with the art of Katarzyna Kobro. Not many of her original pieces have survived until today. Some of them were thrown away during the war, some were burnt by the artist herself to heat her home. Her tragic biography was plagued by poverty, war, sickness, post-war political accusations (Kobro was of Russian-German descent) and a fundamental lack of understanding when it comes to her artistic work. Since the beginning of her path as an artist, she fought to create sculptures that would not be defined by volume. She focused on categories that are also central to modern choreography, such as space, form, and composition based on rules closer to arithmetic than to literary narration. Her art was only appreciated in the 1990s. Similarly to Kobro, most of the choreographers presented at the exhibition are now considered classic representatives of contemporary art.
The exhibition can, therefore, play the role of a translator to the viewers who might want to leave the gallery to head to an auditorium of a dance performance, because the knowledge about Kobro, Strzemiński and other artists of the Łódź avant-garde may serve as a link to a new interest in dance. I was under a similar impression when last year I visited the Let’s Dance exhibition prepared by Agnieszka Sosnowska, Joanna Leśnierowska and Tomasz Plata at the Art Stations Foundation in the Old Brewery in Poznan, Poland. Here, the curators began the story in the ‘60s, by presenting the works of Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton and the Polish group Akademia Ruchu (Academy of Movement). Through a couple of gallery floors filled with works of art they have proven that without the revolution in the perception of the body that was part of the counterculture movement, we would not have Beyonce’s style overflowing with sex appeal, or Rick Owens’s fashion shows, where the models who hide their personality under dresses are replaced by hip-hop dancers who turn the show into a political one. Perhaps we would not even have Artur Żmijewski, who in the anarchist video KR WP undresses the soldiers of an honor guard and turns a drill into a manifesto of the freedom of the body.
It is interesting that both exhibitions were prepared in places connected to dance–it is present in the repertoire of the Łódź Museum of Art, for example in the Museum Of Rhythm, while the Old Brewery is the Mecca of new dance in Poland. The exhibitions, while being interesting from the museums’ point of view, have an excellent educational purpose. They utilize gallery halls to construct in their viewers a context for the reception of dance performances.
The Moved Bodies. Choreographies Of Modernity exhibition is open until March 5th, 2017.
This post originally appeared on East European Performing Arts Platform on March 1, 2017, and has been reposted with permission.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.