Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Experiencing Modern Art

September 7, 2010 · 1 Comment

As most of the group made their plans to attend Notting Hill Carnival, I was feeling a little tired of crowds. I like cities, but in moderation, and after about a week in London I did not feel up to spending an afternoon shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers. So I decided to go over to the Tate Modern, which I had been curious about since our arrival.

The Tate was a mixed experience. I enjoy certain modern art, but usually only when it portrays something relatively concrete, and when I can still see the artist’s method.  I love looking at post-impressionist art from the beginning of the twentieth century, but I feel less inspired when it comes to newer “modern” art. So I had trouble connecting with the majority of what the Tate had on display, which fell into a more abstract category.  Still, the museum managed to hold my attention throughout, partially, I think, because of the layout: I never knew what I would find in the next room.

When I was nearly ready to leave the museum, I walked out into the hallway between the exhibits, in which big glass windows overlook a central lobby area.  Visitors were gathered around the windows, looking down at something.  I found an opening between the masses of onlookers, and down through the window myself.  I saw that the floor of an enormous space in the lobby that had been empty earlier in the afternoon was now covered in black and white shapes, arranged like an abstract painting.

I went downstairs and made my way through the crowd to get a better view.  I discovered that the installation was actually an enormous stage for a modern dance performance, and I was lucky enough to find a seat near the perimeter.   Upwards of fifty dancers moved across the stage dressed in black and white, to expertly blended electronic and rock music.  I noticed however that while the dancers who were featured were clearly professionally trained, and mesmerizing to watch (one stood on her head with only one hand on a ballet barre for support while moving her feet through the air perfectly in time to the music), others who moved in large groups performed only simple dance steps.

I later looked up the performance on the Tate Modern’s website to learn more.  I found out that Michael Clark, the choreographer included seventy-five non-dancers in the performance (while also including his dance company- responsible for the acrobatics).  This explained the disparity in skill level within the performance, but I still marvel at how small an impression that disparity made on me at the time.  The parts of the dance that included the non-dancers were beautiful because of the sheer number of individuals moving in unison, so I was able to gloss over (I guess as Clark intended) any roughness in the individual dancers’ movement.

I still question however, why Clark would make the effort to train non-dancers, when more dancers (who I assume he could find) could have performed the same piece with greater grace and fewer rehearsals.  I guess the aims of modern art and explains how the dance performance fits with the Tate Modern’s collection.  Modern art consistently challenges whatever conventions come before.  When we look at works of art in the Tate Modern, we ask ourselves (among other questions like, what’s a black square on a canvas doing in a museum?)  whether the ideas behind them are original.  So following a long tradition of ‘challenging,’ Clark challenged the convention that only highly trained dancers should perform in a large scale, professional level performance.  There’s nothing more modern than that.

Dance Performance (personal photo)

Categories: 2010 Emily · Uncategorized
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1 response so far ↓

  •   Karl // Sep 8th 2010 at 04:42

    You never know what you’ll find in London. Clarke is known for using untrained dancers. It is also a way to show that dance is more accessible

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