All art is, on some level, about people, about ourselves. Art objects are the remains of human activity. Yet the art of dance leaves no remains. What then, asked French choreographer Boris Charmatz, might a dance museum look like? Musée de la danse – a two-day transformation of Tate Modern that continues with performances at Sadler’s Wells – is his answer. Several answers, in fact.
Perhaps least revelatory are stage pieces reworked for the Turbine Hall, yet they still offer marvels: unexpected angles on image and action, haunting choral effects in the “mouth choreography” of manger; above all, the cumulative force of <a “http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/performance-and-music/levee-des-conflits-extended”>Levée des conflits, a bruisingly physical work, based on crowd dynamics, that lasts for hours. It’s also curiously uplifting to see the circulating audience – ourselves – in constant social motion. Indeed, Charmatz invites our unforced participation several times, in warm-ups, in structured choreography and in a free-for-all rave. There’s also an “exhibition without objects”‚ formed solely by designated performers, and us.
But for sheer vision, surprise and delight, nothing tops 20 Dancers for the XX Century, a takeover of galleries by dancers who form a living dance archive. We see the art of Cunningham and Forsythe embodied in Julie Cunningham and Yasutake Shimaji. Ailey comes alive in the expressive arms of Asha Thomas. We feel the feral force of Samuel Lefeuvre, interpreting Platel; the introspection of Chrysa Parkinson, channelling De Keersmaeker; the charismatic command ofGermaine Acogny, mother of contemporary African dance. And more: Balanchine’s jazzing of ballet, amazing lost dances from the 30s, the 20s, a consideration of Charlie Chaplin as dancer. And all serendipitously set against visual art by Beuys, Twombly, et al.
In taking dance out of the theatre, Charmatz has taken a lot of theatre out of dance
In taking dance out of the theatre, Charmatz has taken a lot of theatre out of dance. What remains are bodies, actions, people, presences – life. Musée de la Danse has its flaws and frustrations, but in flushing the galleries with choreography and performance it exhibits an art history that lives and breathes, made of dancers and made by dancers. It’s heaven – and it’s human.