Saturday, 19 November 2016

Dancing Museums

Last week I went to a lunch time talk at the National Gallery about the conservation of a painting.  The talk was by the conservator and, while he jumped straight in without introduction to the painting or the painter and lost me a bit, it was an interesting talk about a painter I knew nothing about.

National Gallery

The really interesting bit, however, came next.  Dancing Museums are currently working at the National Gallery and a dancer, Carl Shumacher, walked into our space in the gallery and performed a piece of work in response to the talk on conservation.

When I was planning on going to this event, I had expected the dancer to respond to the painting but he actually responded to the concept of conservation.  He performed to a piece of music with spoken word over the top, which added some clues about what he was thinking.

Carl Schumacher of Dancing Museums

The piece responded to the concept of dancers' bodies degrading at a different rate to the paintings that surround them and who would conserve their bodies as the paintings were being conserved.  One line in the piece stated that Schumacher was validating the existence of the museum by dancing in it and we were validating the dance by watching him and he is validating us by the crumbling of his body.

Carl Schumacher of Dancing Museums

I can't tell you that I understood what was happening or that I would have been able to deduce all of that had there not been a mostly helpful narrative.  But does it matter if I didn't get it?  I found it really peaceful to watch him dance and use his whole body to express his feelings about conservation.  I don't think that it helped me understand the paintings but this event got me into the National Gallery voluntarily for the first time since I moved to London and that's worth something, isn't it?  On the way back to the office, I was talking to someone who knows a lot about contemporary dance and I asked her what I was meant to have understood from the dance.  After a long conversation, I realise that I am so used to thinking critically about theatre shows that I find it really difficult to watch something for the feeling it gives me.  Maybe I need to relax more when I'm watching something and listen more to myself than to what everyone else says about a performance.  I think that's quite a valuable lesson.

There is a really interesting area, where one art form meets another, that is worth keeping an eye out for.  At the NT we are curating exhibitions of archive content front of house in a theatre.  How does our current exhibition on adaptations affect your understanding or enjoyment of the adaptation The Red Barn, which is on in the Lyttelton at the moment?  What else could we be doing?  It would be great to be able to bring in a different audience to the theatre through our front of house activities as I was a newcomer to the National Gallery.  Secondly, if we could provide a different route into our content for those who might not want to engage with stories in theatre in a traditional way then we might be able to deepen people's understanding of a production and the meaning behind it.  I'm looking forward to thinking more about this and continuing to look out for cross-media events like the one at the National Gallery.

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