Summer of Dance

Summer of Dance
July 26, 2016 Deanne Gertner
Demiurge Plaza Installation
Sioux artist, Breastplate, about 1935. Porcupine quill, hide, tin cone, and feathers. The L.D. and Ruth Bax Collection, 1985.114. Image courtesy of the Denver Art Museum.

Sioux artist, Breastplate, about 1935. Porcupine quill, hide, tin cone, and feathers. The L.D. and Ruth Bax Collection, 1985.114. Image courtesy of the Denver Art Museum.

Despite the off season, dance aficionados still have something to celebrate with Dance! A Summer of Movement & Rhythm, which has taken over the Denver Art Museum (DAM)—inside and out—with four concurrent exhibits, an outdoor installation and several performances. The DAM explores dance from a historical perspective to give visitors a rich understanding of the myriad ways dance has shaped culture throughout the Americas.

Grand Gestures: Dance, Drama, Masquerade explores movement and drama through Pre-Columbian objects such as plates and sculptures. Human and supernatural figures are depicted dancing, singing, orating, and acting in this installation of 29 objects from across Mesoamerica and Central and South America.

Why We Dance: American Indian Art in Motion highlights the multiple roles dance plays in Native American life through video, regalia, watercolors, weavings and a twelve-channel video installation. The exhibit begins with a video from the DAM’s 2015 Friendship Powwow, the beat of the drum like a thumping heartbeat throughout the space. Coupled with the exquisitely-crafted regalia (that rivals any costume created by The Metropolitan Opera) and fine art pieces, the exhibit shows how Native Americans used dance for ceremonial, religious and social purposes. Highlights from the exhibit include Harry Fonseca’s Shuffle Off to Buffalo #V depicting a cartoonish, Vaudeville-style coyote as Uncle Sam complete with a glitter-encrusted border and Marie Watt’s Butterfly, a fiber work featuring over 4,000 cone-shaped jingles that are typically sewn to dresses and pants to emphasize delicate footwork. In the main atrium of the Hamilton, fourteen-foot high murals by Pueblo artists from the 1939 San Francisco World’s Fair stagger up the angled wall.

Rhythm and Roots: Dance in American Art documents the evolution of American dance from the 1830’s through 1960. Curators Jane Dini and Angelica Daneo arranged the exhibition into four themes: Roots, which looks at the often spontaneous, intimate and religious dances of early settlers, indigenous peoples, slave traditions and European immigrants; A New Rhythm, which examines the rise of dance as a public and social activity up to and through the Jazz Age; On to the Stage, which highlights the rising professionalism of dance as well as the iconic personalities of legendary dancers including Isadora Duncan, Katherine Dunham, Fred Astaire and Josephine Baker; and finally, Creative Collaboration, featuring the cross-genre productions between modern visual artists and dancers such as Martha Graham and Isamu Noguchi. Visitors will not want to miss Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds, a small room filled with floating silver pillow-shaped balloons, from Merce Cunningham’s RainForest with slash costumes by Jasper Johns.

A small show from the Architecture, Design & Graphics Department, Performance on Paper: The Posters of Phil Risbeck and John Sorbie, showcases the innovative design work of two Colorado State University professors. Their highly experimental techniques coupled with their ability to capture the essence of the event position Risbeck and Sorbie as master designers. For the Rosalind Dancers posters, for example, the figures’ dramatic curves and the stark contrast between the deep purple background and white figures point to the theatricality and seriousness of the performance. Posters for Alvin Ailey, Nikolais Dance Theatre and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo point to CSU’s long-standing commitment to showcasing dance.

In #dancelab, Wonderbound and Legwork Studio team up to create an interactive, immersive experience that is guaranteed to get even the most stiff museum goer moving. Using projection technology and choreography created specifically for the exhibition, Legwork and Wonderbound create an infectious and fun installation. The pop-y beats and electric colors lend the exhibit a dance-club feel that’s fit for all ages.

Demiurge Plaza Installation, June 2016. Image courtesy of the Denver Art Museum.

Demiurge Plaza Installation, June 2016. Image courtesy of the Denver Art Museum.

Outside the Hamilton Building sits In Motion: An Outdoor Installation designed by Wynn Earl Buzzell Jr. with Demiurge LLC and woven by fiber artists Katie Fowler and Tamara Leberer. Inspired by the twirling movement of a dancer’s body and costume, the massive, neon-colored sculpture invites viewers to move through and around it in a playful dance of one’s own. The work will also serve as the backdrop for several live dance performances throughout the summer. Cleo Parker Robinson Dance will perform at the next Untitled Final Friday: In-Sync, on July 29, 2016 at 7 pm. The next Free First Saturday on August 6, 2016 from 1 to 2 pm will feature 20 different dance companies across four stages spanning a wide variety of movement such as Flamenco, belly dancing, Egyptian, West African, swing, modern and contemporary. The August 26th Untitled: Center Stage will have another performance on the plaza by Colorado Ballet as well as a musical performance by Denver band Land Lines.

Dance and visual arts have a history of collaborating in Denver (Wonderbound and RedLine Denver paired choreographers and visual arts a few years ago), but the sheer scope and volume of the DAM’s programming is head spinning. Luckily, the DAM has proved itself adept at spotting.


Deanne Gertner: A Colorado native, Deanne Gertner is a graduate from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She works for Denver-based art consulting firm, NINE dot ARTS, where she helps companies tell their stories through art. She sits on the boards of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and CultureHaus, the Denver Art Museum’s young professionals’ group. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from DailyServing and Quaint Magazine.

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