The World of Dance: out of the loft and into the museum

The muse of dance is peripatetic and so appealing that she no longer can be contained in the theaters and lofts where she is usually seen. Terpsichore has found a new home: many of the nation's museums, formerly hospitable only to the visual arts.

Dance-cum-art is not a contemporary phenomenon, as attested by the many images of dancers found on artifacts across the centuries, from Greek amphora to the paintings by Degas. In the 20th century some of the most influential designs resulted from the collaborative efforts fostered by the Diaghilev Ballets Russes which put experimental art works center stage with the dancers.

Moreover, with the advent of new technology, artists could no longer confine their work to the traditional media. They sought to express rhythm, light and motion, and were not willing to be confined to canvas and sculpture. Museums found they needed to accommodate art in other than familiar ways.

At the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston the galleries provide an unconventional stage for performances by dance companies. The second floor space is broken into uneven sections with walls, half-walls, and low railings making architectural patterns that complement the choreography. In a recent concert by Clearing, a Boston-based contact improvisation group, the dancers used the floor, walls, and distant galleries, visible only in snatches, to create an environment. The large paintings of the current exhibition, "Geometric Abstraction: A New Generation" served as a colorful backdrop to the equally geometric combinations of body shapes.

The ICA is available to local dance companies throughout the year, and, on occasion, to out-of-towners, as when Merce Cunningham and his company appeared there in 1978. In addition, the ICA cosponsored a winter dance film series.

The museum has received a planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for an exhibition of works relating to dance. The exhibition -- planned to travel to other museums after opening at the ICA in the fall of 1982 -- will include a dance film series, a symposium, performances in the galleries, and at least one commissioned dance work utilizing the talents of an artist and a choreographer.

Across the country, at the San Francisco Palace of the Legion of Honor, a large exhibit honoring Anna Pavlova is on view until April 26. The exhibition materials of costumes (including the legendary "Dying Swan"), set designs, posters, photographs, programs, and a collection of sculpture is drawn primarily from the collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco which is the largest storehouse of theater and dance material in the western United States.

The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., includes in its grandmother's attic of artifacts of American life a live and lively series called the American Dance Experience. The attractions are farflung, both in style and location, encompassing tap, modern dance, and the post- modern era at theaters all over the city. Concerts, films, and master classes take place at the Museum of Natural History, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and George Washington University.

These many activities are not confined to the East and West Coasts, but are found in the Midwest as well. At Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, a ferment of dance augments the special exhibitions and permanent collection on display. The center's performing arts program, started in 1971, is the largest in any American museum. Walker Art Center is interested in the post-modern choreographers who are challenging traditional concepts of dance in much the same spirit and irreverence as contemporary visual artists.

The 1980-81 series includes Laura Dean, Charles Moulton, Kenneth King, and the guru of the avant-garde choreographers, Merce Cunningham, who will be in residence with his company from April 5 to May 2. In October 1981, Walker Art Center will sponsor a Festival of New Dance, importing virtually every resident of the New York SoHo lofts where post-modern dance is centered.

Like the visual artists, choreographers are concerned with shaping space, rhythm, and new forms of expression. Nigel Redden, coordinator of the dance events at Walker Arts Center, believes in the connections among all the arts. Since his philosophy is shared by others, we can expect to continue to find d ance on stage in the museums.

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