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Elledanceworks Brings Live Movement to DMA's Silence and Time

by Danielle Georgiou 26 Jul 2011 11:56 AM

Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou looks at how dance complements James Lee Byars’ sculptures in the Barrel Vault.


Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is the Artistic Director and Choreographer of DGDG: Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. She also serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble.

On Saturday, Elledanceworks Dance Company showed off its take on the “Silence and Time” exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Physically portraying the present themes — silence/sound, movement/stillness, solitude/support, presence/absence and the passage of time — the dancers moved throughout the space and around the work. Choreographer Tiffanee Arnold’s best interpretation of the themes came with her solos and duet, all inspired by the anchoring work in the Barrel Vault, sculptures by James Lee Byars.

Which makes perfect sense. Byars (1932-1997), the American sculptor and performance artist, adapted a highly sensual and symbolic practice that combined art and philosophy, specifically the ideas of Japanese Noh theater, Shinto rituals and Western ideas of science, religion and the arts.  Byars’ work understands the concept of happenstance, or of a happening — a moment in time and space where culture meets humanity. The three works at the DMA illustrate that idea and Byars exploration of the ritual acts of body, speech and mind.

Melissa Bjork in "Prisoners;" Inspired by James Lee Byars' Is and Eros.

The audience was introduced to the exhibit by the first soloist, Melissa Bjork in “Prisoners.” Sandwiched between two of Byars’ floor pieces — Is (1989), a gilded marble orb, and Eros (1992), two suggestive slabs of conjoined Thassos marble — Bjork wrestled with herself, the space available to her and the silence and sound of the chosen music, “De Profundis (Psalm 129)” by Arvo Part. An athletic piece that combined juicy, fluid movement with sharp-hitting accents, it ended with Bjork frozen as an upright, complimentary statute to Byars’ pieces.

Similarly inspired by Eros, the duet between Bjork and Amy Dillard explored the suggestive quality of the sculpture. The intimacy of the spatial relationship between the layers of marble was personified in the movement between the dancers. Both the sculpture and the dance were so delicate, it was almost as if the audience was a voyeur intruding upon this personal moment.

Tracy Kennedy in the shadow of Byars' Figure of Death.

The second solo, “A Widow’s Offering,” performed by Tracy Kennedy, was set against Byars’ colossal Figure of Death (1986), a 23-foot tower of basalt. Calling forth a simultaneous image of devout religiosity and the philosophical concepts of being and time, the rigidness of the structure and the choice of material (basalt is volcanic rock that is quickly produced and is commonly used as the building block for major construction projects) was juxtaposed by the feeling of isolation and despair exuded by the structure and the dancer. The coldness of the massive gray rock structure was illustrated by the sole dancer; yet, that feeling was overtaken by the warmth gained as the audience involved itself into the dance by moving closer to the dancer and following the height of the statue to ultimately gaze up to the ceiling, to the sky, to God, to faith.

While the movement and concepts of Arnold’s choreography suited the space and complimented the works, the transitions from each section of movement and structure needed further exploration. While they illustrated an example of how you can play with space, the dancers moved predictably (and safely); albeit they had to maneuver around some pretty impressive (and expensive) art. Still, an exploration of more inventive transitions would have been interesting to see in the cavernous hole of the vault at the DMA.

Elledanceworks will return to the exhibition space on Saturday at 5 p.m. 7 p.m. with selections from their current repertoire, as well as pieces from the reviewed performance.

  • Danielle Georgiou

    Correction: Elledanceworks will be performing at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 30 in the Barrel Vault as part of the “Silence and Time” exhibit.