Angels, Demons and Savages: A Valentine's Trilogy

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Editorial Review

PREVIEW: A creative approach to Valentine’s Day
By Jess Righthand
Friday, February 8, 2013

For lovers of the arts, there may be no better Valentine’s Day stop this year than the Phillips Collection, where a new exhibition about the relationships among three abstract expressionists has inspired an original, one-night dance performance.

The exhibition, “Angels, Demons and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet,” which opens Saturday and runs through May 12, looks at how the three artists -- two American and one French -- influenced each other across continents after World War II. The show displays 55 works from 1945-58, focusing on the interchange of techniques and visual motifs.

For Valentine’s Day, the Phillips Collection commissioned CityDance to choreograph a series of vignettes loosely based on the art. The event, which builds on a similar collaboration last year, also takes romance and relationships into account.

“Actually, angels, demons and savages are part of any relationship,” says Lorraine Spiegler, CityDance artistic director. “Maybe somebody kind of coming in and saving you when you need to be saved. And maybe somebody vetting the demons with you when they need to be vetted . . . and the sort of wonderfully beautiful, maybe savage moments when it’s just full of passion. So it’s an initial experiment with some of these ideas.”

The performance is divided into the three segments of the exhibition’s title, with a prelude by electric cellist Wytold. (Wytold is an artist in residence at Strathmore, where CityDance’s conservatory is housed.)

Spiegler took on the “Angels” segment, and Christopher Morgan and Robert Priore choreographed “Demons” (renamed “Brutal Beauty”) and “Savages,” respectively. The performance features 11 pre-professional dancers and is preceded by specialty cocktails in the museum’s cafe, as well as a guided tour of the exhibition.

The choreographers took their cues from the basic imagery of angels, demons and savages, but also looked to the artworks and techniques. Morgan, whose work was showcased last year at the Phillips, says he was inspired in particular by Pollock’s thrown paint and Dubuffet’s “art brut,” a collection of works mostly by patients in insane asylums. Morgan says his work involves one dancer moving against the current of a larger dance corps, symbolizing an individual’s struggle with internal demons.

In contrast, Spiegler choreographed a solo for the “Angels” segment. Spiegler, who was primarily influenced by Ossorio’s “The Helpful Angels,” describes her piece as ethereal and more balletic than the other more modern pieces. She says she took an organic approach, allowing the dancers to respond to the art and inform her choreography.

“I think that’s the power of the arts,” she says. “When you get artists -- dancers and musicians -- together in the same environment, and you bring in somebody’s artwork, the possibility for cross-fertilization, for cooperation and collaboration, increases rapidly. Artists are always inspired by each other.”