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October 21, 2013 5:48 pm
Five years ago, just as soon as he was appointed director of the Rennes-Brittany National Choreographic Centre, Boris Charmatz set about to dismantle it (figuratively speaking). Why “centre,” the upstart experimentalist compellingly argued, when dance is dispersed across bodies everywhere? Why privilege the choreographer when it is the dancer who turns idea into act and serves as archive for the future? Charmatz, now 40, reconceived the institute as a museum in flux, a “Musée de la danse”, three variations of which the Museum of Modern Art stages this month.
Twenty Dancers for the XX Century, the first of the “Three Collective Gestures” that run weekends until November 3, exemplifies the Musée de la danse’s levelling impulse. The short solo excerpts that performers chose for unmarked lobbies and galleries throughout MoMA united the iconic to the forgettable – Isadora Duncan and Michael Jackson to Philippe Decouflé. But even when the marvellous former Cunningham dancer Ashley Chen laid into bits of Biped and Rainforest, the casualness of his dress, the boombox static and the slick minimalist sculptures hemming him in, not to mention that Cunningham was only a couple of entries on Chen’s dancing playlist, blunted the solos’ shocks of brightness. In fact, many of the day’s dances assumed a provisional air. This museum specialised in the rough sketch.
The solos gained authority, however, whenever they resonated with the surrounding MoMA art – whenever the dance museum allowed the art museum a role beyond mere container. That actor Jim Fletcher delivered Sheffield playwright Tim Etchells’ free-associative monologue of dopey and unlikely facts (“Love is difficult to describe. Fire is what happens when things get very hot”) in “The New Subjectivity” gallery added to the hilarity. Not only did Trisha Brown alum Shelley Senter bring out the enigmatic power of the Richard Serra lead rectangle of floor she skirted around and ventured on to, but the sharp-edged Serra in turn accentuated Brown’s keen attention to borders of bodies and stages.
Best of all was Richard Move’s setting for his favourite drag queen, the outsized Martha Graham (embodied by him). He caught her tragic Clytemnestra between the two massive screens for Douglas Gordon’s life-sized videos of elephants tromping then rolling helplessly on a Gagosian Gallery floor.
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