‘Gallery +’ merges dance, visual arts

“Gallery + Dance” will showcase dancers in the context of the iconic Louis Kahn building of the Yale University Art Gallery.
“Gallery + Dance” will showcase dancers in the context of the iconic Louis Kahn building of the Yale University Art Gallery. Photo by Kamaria Greenfield.

On an average museum visit, there is a strict boundary between your body and the art — stand too close and a watchful guard will appear at your side to scold you. But tonight, a group of Yale dancers will break that boundary.

“Gallery + Dance” — the latest installation of the “Gallery +” series — will be performed by 10 undergraduate and graduate Yale dancers, all with professional or pre-professional training, in the Louis Kahn building of the Yale University Art Gallery. Between two dancing segments, organizers Elena Light ’13 and the gallery’s Education Fellow Elizabeth Manekin will discuss the driving concepts behind the event. Light said she hopes Gallery + Dance will alert students to how deeply dance and visual art are connected.

“A lot of people don’t realize that art and dance go together at all,” Light said. “So many people who do it do it for the physical activity, because it is fun and beautiful. But there is a whole other aspect to dance.”

The dancing will take shape through “structured improvisation” — certain movements are premeditated and rehearsed, while others are decided by the individual dancers on the spot, Light said. Both kinds of dance relate directly to the art, in opposite ways: the structured part is conceptual, and it operates under a thematic and art historical knowledge of the works; the improvisational part is more of an impulsive response to the aesthetics of the pieces. The spectators are encouraged to walk among the dancers, getting as close to them as one could approach a piece of art on the wall.

Light said she is also excited by the “recent explosion in the art world of dance being performed in museum spaces,” pointing to recent exhibitions in the performing arts spaces of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Tate Modern in London as examples of increased institutional attention to the importance of dance in the canon of art history.

“The presentation of dance in museum galleries is utterly of the moment — one of the most philosophically important and perplexing developments in contemporary art today,” said Emily Coates ’06 GRD ’11, Yale Dance Theater program director and theater studies professor, in an email. “I’m delighted to see dancers working on questions related to the interaction between visual art and choreography here at Yale.”

And while much of the dance currently being performed or exhibited in museum spaces has no correlation to either the art collection or the museum’s architecture, Light said she wanted to be sure that this performance was site-specific. The dancing will respond directly to four works of art displayed in the lobby of the the Gallery — two Sol LeWitt Wall Drawings, “Pan North XI” by Al Held and “Three Bowls” by Ursula von Rydingsvard — as well as Louis Kahn’s iconic modernist style. Manekin said that Kahn used fairly cold industrial materials to emphasize humans’ role in making a space come alive. In this sense, Manekin explained, this gallery is a very fitting space for a dance exhibition.

“What about our bodies?” Light said. “We are people looking at works of visual art, and when I approach a work of art it’s not like suddenly my body is not there and it’s just my mind.”

Light said she sees this collaboration as different from other dance events at Yale, such as Yaledancers performances, which tend to be less conceptual and more about the thrill of seeing bodies in motion on a stage.

Manekin explained that the Gallery + series began three years ago under her guidance and provides an opportunity for students of different disciplines and backgrounds to interact with the Gallery. She added that while she loves art history majors, she hopes that the series will encourage other students to use the Gallery as an educational resource. Gallery + has previously collaborated with radio, music, theater and comedy groups.

Gallery + Dance will begin at 5:30 PM tonight in the Gallery’s lobby.

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