Review: Dancing Around the Bride at the Philadelphia Museum of ArtOct 27th, 2012 | By Kat Richter | Category: What Kat Saw
by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal
Our first clue that Dancing around the Bride isn’t your ordinary exhibit is the pile of water bottles. One doesn’t expect to find water bottles—or any of the other dancer paraphernalia— in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, at least certainly not in the middle of a gallery. Then again, one doesn’t expect to find a urinal, a bicycle wheel or a Yamaha piano either, and yet somehow together these objects make sense.
Dancing around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp is an ambitious exhibit orchestrated by French contemporary artist Philippe Parreno. It brings together over one hundred paintings, sculptures, drawings, stage sets and manuscripts to illustrate the connection between Marchel Duchamp, dubbed “the granddaddy of Dada” by curator Carlos Basualdo, and artists John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.
Despite Parreno’s attention to spatial organization and sequence, the exhibit seems a bit of stretch at times. Patrons enter beneath a lighted marquee, pass through an acoustic chamber and are left face to face with Duchamp’s Bride, painted in 1912. From there, we are presented with three additional sections: Chance, The Main Stage and Chess. Across the museum’s enormous central staircase lay several associated galleries, one of which contains Duchamp’s iconic The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass).
We can’t help but wonder: could a single, broken pane of glass really have inspired all of this? Were those intentionally dusty conical shapes, those mechanical, torpedo-like bachelors really responsible for Cunningham’s exploration of chance and the I Ching? For Cage’s unparalleled contributions to modern music?
When the dancers enter the space, however, it all becomes clear. In the center of the Dorrance Galleries lies a large white stage flanked by a replica of the museums Great Stair Hall. Above the stage hang half a dozen clear plastic boxes painted with motifs from Duchamp’s The Large Glass. Originally created by Johns for Cunningham’s tribute to Duchamp, Walkaround Time (1968), the boxes now float atop the stage like angular guardian angels.
Dancers from the former Merce Cunningham Dance Company enter the wingless space and step onto the stage. They are Brandon Collwes, Emma Desjardins, John Hinrichs, Marcie Munnerlyn and Melissa Toogood but they will be joined over the course of the next three months by ten additional company members to perform a number of works from Cunningham’s repertoire including Suite for Five in Space and Time, Aeon, Interscape, XOVER, Story and RainForest.
Under Daniel Squire, former company member and Curator of the Dance Program for Dancing around the Bride, they are to perform shortened versions of Cunningham’s Events—the dance works Cunningham created by splicing together sections of his repertory according to the roll of a dice prior to performance.
They slice across the stage, first a cappella then accompanied by their own breath and the sound of their bodies as they jump and land. Two dancers hold hands and bounce from one leg to the other, swinging like a pendulum and then darting from one corner of the stage to the other. They’re like gymnasts performing a floor routine, eager to make the most of their space, but their footwork follows the controlled slow, slow, quick, quick, slow pattern of the foxtrot.
The second movement reminds me of my undergraduate dance history courses (Cunningham starts with “C” and “c” stands for curve) as the dancers pass from a deep fourth position through first then fourth again, curving their arms and torsos like the letter “s.” There is little feeling, little narrative and little in the way of climax (despite the Freudian analyses many art historians have made of Duchamp’s Glass) but the dancing is extremely technical and precise.
If we’re to believe Dancing around the Bride, the exhibit is a story not just of collaboration but of pilgrimage—of young artists drawing inspiration from those who came before them. Traditional narratives and methods of art making are rejected in favor of a more rational, even intellectual approach, but the quality of the actual work is uncompromising. Here’s hoping that Philadelphia’s dance community follows their example.
Dancing around the Bride: Cage Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp runs from October 30, 2012-January 21, 2013 and features live performances of both music and dance in the Dorrance Galleries and elsewhere in conjunction with Cage: Beyond Silence, a festival celebrating the centennial of John Cage’s birth.
For more information and a complete schedule of performances, visit www.philamuseum.org/bride.
Kat Richter is a freelance writer and teaching artist with an MA in Dance Anthropology. Her work can be found at www.katrichter.com.