Review: If Tate Modern was Musée de la danse? - Musée de la danse in London

Performance: 15 & 16 May 2015
Reviewed by Philippa Newis - Thursday 21 May 2015

Musée de la danse dancers performing in the Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, May 2015. Photo: Bettina Strenske

Last weekend Tate Modern gave itself up to a 48 hour dance takeover. If Tate Modern was Musée de la danse? was a collaboration between the gallery, the Musée de la danse in Rennes, France and Sadler’s Wells (where further Musée de la danse in London performances and talks were presented this week), directed by Musée de la danse founder, dancer and choreographer Boris Charmatz.

In the cavernous Turbine Hall, a giant glitter ball glints playfully in the afternoon sun. Each day this cathedral-like space plays host to a variety of large scale performances choreographed by Charmatz and starting with a warm up audience session led by the choreographer himself. Performances include À bras-le-corps, Levée des conflits (with professional dancer solos and visitors versions), Roman Photo (performed by a group of London based volunteers) and manger (performed amongst the audience) and Adrénaline – a dance floor for everyone where visitors were free create their own dances in a club atmosphere. Here I meet Pam, whose 4 year-old daughter is happily “smashing a crocodile” (a dance move, not a form of animal cruelty). “My kids have loved it, especially the dancers in the upper galleries.” Pam tells me. “It turns the experience of going to a museum on its head. Normally, a visit to a gallery is very insular and internal, it is about you looking at art.” With events live-streamed on the Tate website and a Twitter feedback loop, the dancing museum invites global participation and democratises a shared experience.

In the labyrinth of galleries and concourses visitors encounter 20 Dancers for the XX century – a series of pop-up performances by 20 dancers (including François Chaignaud, Julie Cunningham, Colin Dunne, Antonia Franceschi , Ko Murobushi and Chrysa Parkinson) each illustrating in their own way an aspect of the story of 20th century dance.

In the Poetry and Dream gallery Vera Mantero performs her 1991 solo Perhaps she could dance first and think afterwards. She pops and fizzes to the rich tones of Thelonious Monk, with gestures of cut glass that echo the intricacy of a fine line drawing. “I’ve enjoyed dancing in the museum with people so close, it’s a wonderful project” Vera says. “You can follow people’s gaze and the children are so attentive to the articulation of small gestures.”

What strikes me about Charmatz’s dancing museum is that it invites a conversation – not about preservation as one might expect – but how we engage with dance as a lived experience.

In a traditional black box theatre, there is a clear divide between the audience and the performers. There is a stage with a “front” to which the movement is orientated and seating is designed to provide the best view possible. In contrast, the dancing museum, has no seating plan, no “front”, and no designated performance space or performers for that matter. Visitors merrily trespass through the choreography, sight lines are interrupted by shopping bags and cameras, and choosing to watch one dance means missing out on another in different part of the gallery.

Museums capture art or objects in their original “finished” form, suspended in time and preserved. But dance’s relationship to time is slippery – movement is fleeting, it is experienced in the moment and then it’s gone. It’s not possible to revive an original dance work. Pieces can only ever be re-created and treated as a new experience, not a repetition of the past. A recreation of an art work is a forgery, but a re-imagining of a piece of dance is both authentic to the intentions of its creator and redrawn afresh.

For me the magic of the dancing museum is hidden in the interactions between the visitors and the dancers. It is up close and personal, shattering the illusion of the ethereal dancer. You can smell the sweat, witness the physical effort of moving and hear the breath of the performers. The opportunity to informally chat to them and ask questions is an absolute gift.

Charmatz’s project is a creative interruption to business as usual in London’s flagship gallery of modern art and is beautifully curated to re-create and remember dance. There’s an edge to it, an undercurrent of unpredictability and a hint of revolution. In my imagining, anarchic creativity is unleashed from the Tate and waves of dancing people ripple contagiously through the streets of London. Bring it on!

The Musée de la danse season in London concludes this weekend with Boris Charmatz performing alongside Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker in Rosas’ Partita 2 , a collaboration between De Keersmaeker, Charmatz and violinist Amandine Beyer, Fri 22 & Sat 23 May at Sadler’s Wells:

Philippa Newis took part in this year’s Resolution! Review, the programme in which emerging and professional writers together review every work in The Place’s annual platform for new choreography. Find her on Twitter: @PhilippaNewis

Photo gallery: Bettina Strenske

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