In the second installment of the three-week project Musée de la danse – Three Collective Gestures, French choreographer and Musée curator Boris Charmatz and his cast of 24 dancers took over the second floor atrium at the Museum of Modern Art this weekend to present Charmatz’s Levée des conflits extended/Suspension of Conflicts Extended. A “durational piece,” Levée was performed for five hours straight, but could probably go on infinitely. The premise is simple – the dancers perform 25 pre-determined gestures, and since there are only 24 dancers, at least one movement is undanced at any given moment.
The extended performance period allowed for a view-as-you-wish audience experience. While some spectators chose to sit along the side walls and post up for an hour or more, others paused while on their way to other exhibits. Lucky for them, every floor has at least one vantage point overlooking the atrium, making it easy to check in on the dancers between exhibit visits.
The piece ranged from frantic rolls on the floor to nonchalant swinging of the arms, and the magnitude of each gesture waxed and waned over the course of their presence in the dance. The progression of the piece was like the cycling of sunlight: changes happened slowly, but once they registered, the differences between sections were profound. At one point, all the dancers lay on the floor with minimal movement; at another, a lone dancer commanded the space. But, even if a viewer only caught snippets of the entire work, the experience was not diminished. Instead, it was rather exciting to see how far the piece could change in just twenty minutes; perhaps recognizing the full extent of these changes necessitated stepping away from the entire transformation process. Moral of the story: there’s no wrong way to see Levée.
Against the backdrop of MoMA, Levée invites itself to be seen in the context of Greenbergian modernism and abstraction, and the medium-specific, intrinsic qualities of dance. Is dance gesture itself, or the contextualization of one gesture amongst many others? The amplification and transformation of gesture? Or is dance something far beyond the singularity implied by “gesture”? Regardless of what answers come from these questions, Charmatz has a vested interest in art history, particularly when it comes to the premise of the museum. Musée de la danse is Charmatz’s take on what he calls, in his “Manifesto for the Dancing Museum,” the “itinerant museum,” a museum that responds to the immediacy, variety, and agency of performance art. Whether this museum is a building, an event, or the memories inscribed in a dancing body, Charmatz’s Musée invites a new interpretation of the body as a fluid archive, and repositions dance as an art form as timeless as any other on view at MoMA.
Levée des conflits extended/Suspension of Conflicts Extended continues Sunday, October 27th at MoMA from 12:00pm-5:00pm.
Musée de la danse – Three Collective Gestures continues next weekend, Nov. 1, 2, and 3 with its third and final installment, Flip Book.
All photos ©Katherine Bergstrom.