Dance: What’s the Art About? The Ekphrasis Project at the Bass

By Miguel Angel Estefan, Jr., artburstmiami.com

On May 6, Dance Now! Miami and the Bass Museum of Art will present their third annual collaboration of The Ekphrasis Project: Art From Art. Ekphrasis, the Greek term for the graphic or dramatic description of a visual art work, is used here by co-directors Hannah Baumgarten and Diego Salterini, to illustrate how varying mediums of art react, define, describe, interpret, and transform each other. Their previous two presentations proved to be a marriage of the traditional with contemporary and a combination of still work and sculpture with sound and movement.

This daytime event promises another marriage of dance, design, architecture, and art in a unique migrating site-specific experience that guides the audience in an artistic pilgrimage through the Bass Museum’s collection as they venture to see three new premieres.

The opening piece, “The Climb,” choreographed by Salterini, is a quartet with two men and two women; live music performed by Vanessa Torres; and original score composed by Federico Bonacossa who collaborated with the company in “Six Characters.” The piece takes place in the heart of the museum near the west entrance on the ramp between floors designed by architect Arata Isozaki. Whereas the previous two years the ramp has been a mode of egress from one piece to another, Salterini has been inspired by this pedestrian superstructure to challenge himself and his dancers.

As Salterini describes it: “We often find ourselves in an uphill battle, struggling to reach a goal that seems unattainable, pushing to climb to the top only to lose our footing and find ourselves right at the bottom again. Relying on the strengths of the people we are sharing this journey with, we find that the top is not so far or high, and the insurmountable mountain can indeed be conquered.”

From the ramp, the audience will find their way to the Gertrude Silverstone Muss Gallery on the second floor to experience a yet untitled piece, taking inspiration from sculptor Charles LeDray’s fabric based work, “Men’s Suits (2006-2009).” After three year’s work, LeDray’s three-room installation premiered in London and has toured in galleries in the United States such as the ICA in Boston and the Whitney in New York. The installation is composed of three tableaus of a men’s clothing store filled with hundreds of textured items for sale, including men’s suits, shirts, ties and gloves — all sewn by the artist himself down to each button, cuff, and collar.

Once again composer Bonacossa adds his talents, though this time with an overlapping soundtrack of sounds and voices for an ensemble piece of six dancers choreographed by both artistic directors.

The two have this to say about the work, and their interaction: “The work of Charles LeDray stimulates us at many different levels; the first instinctive reaction is to kneel down and look closer, discovering that from an initial sense of chaos emerges an obsessive research for detail and a clear order. The perfectly tailored clothing seems to imply an underlined commentary on fashion, and the organized display of a department store is juxtaposed with a ceiling of dust and dirt.

“We, as choreographers, decided that the first important element in our work was to pay attention to the attire worn by the dancers; with a miss-match of colors and styles the ‘thrift-store chic’ fashion of the ‘80s is dusty yet trendy. Delving deeper into our own artistic research, we immediately worked on accumulating dance phrases that replicated the detailed and orderly sense of LeDray’s work — then, letting our imagination fly free, we layered the work with a subtle irreverent meaning, inspired by the significance of the clothing: First, fashion as status; second, Boys will be Boys; and third, Boys versus Girls.”

The final piece takes place in the Taplin Gallery that houses some of the museum’s 15th and 16th century Christian iconic artwork and the ever-impressive Flemish tapestry, “The Tournament.” Juxtaposed against these early works, the museum has installed Swedish born Année Olfsson’s still photographs of women from her work, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. With music by Pink Martini, Amy Winehouse (after the Shirelles), and Billy Joel — and with text by the choreographer — Baumgarten has choreographed Every Modern Woman Needs Her Own Plastic Surgeon, a duet with contributions from the four other dancers of the company.

Says Baumgarten, “The moment I saw [Olfsson’s] work — these portraits — I knew that I had something in common with these women. I feel that the stern portraits reflect a sad reality for modern feminism, the fear that the opportunities we have today for egalitarian success is always contrasted with the threat of growing old alone.

“There are endless remedies for the undeniable decay of the body, and I have tried to cast a humorous light on our never-ending struggle for youth, while predicting a possible happy ending?”

On their own Dance Now! and the Bass Museum each add a layer to the cultural richness of South Florida. But together in this ongoing collaboration, they allow for further exploration on the nature of art.

The Ekphrasis Project: Art From Art” on Sunday, May 6, in two performances at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m., at the Bass Museum of Art, 2100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; free with $8 admission to the museum; dancenowmiami.com; bassmuseum.org.

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