Free entry to Washington’s wealth of Smithsonian museums is a luxury of which I’ve never tired, or taken lightly. This summer — hurrah — the free art fix isn’t limited to static works on walls or pedestals. Starting June 20, the Hirshhorn Museum unveils the first exhibition in its history to focus on performance, and guess what’s among the works on display? Live dance performances.
The exhibition, titled “Does the Body Rule the Mind, or Does the Mind Rule the Body?,” features new and recent works by performance artists with .ideas about the body and identity. Five dancer/choreographers will present free performances in the galleries, offered throughout the summer. They are: Jen Rosenblit, who embodies five characters, including Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz”; Mariana Valencia, who incorporates songs and monologues; Morgan Bassichis, with stand-up comedy and live music in the mix; Will Rawls, musing on the computer cursor as a kind of mini-body; and Moriah Evans, who aims to coax audience members into her dance.
The Hirshhorn isn’t the first Washington museum to embrace live dancing as part of a more traditional exhibition. The National Portrait Gallery recently extended choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess’s residency through 2022. Burgess is the Smithsonian’s first choreographer-in-residence, and his company regularly performs works in the Portrait Gallery’s courtyard that are inspired by the collections. In a twist on this, on June 15 and 16, three of those works move to the proscenium stage, when the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company wraps up its 25th anniversary season at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater.
The program includes “I Am Vertical,” inspired by the exhibition “One Life: Sylvia Plath”; “After 1001 Nights,” a response to the psychological effects of war on veterans that was depicted in the gallery’s “The Face of Battle”; and “Confluence,” which Burgess created as a companion piece to the gallery’s “Dancing the Dream” exhibition, on dance as part of the American identity.
The Terrace Theater program, titled “Portraits,” isn’t free. But it’s reasonably priced, with tickets starting at $30.
The Portrait Gallery residency, Burgess says, “continues to push me to explore stories of individuals and history, and to turn those into movement, which allows me to show an emotional place that often is beyond words, or that we don’t talk about often within our society.”
“The portrayal of American stories is what I’m looking at,” he says, “and the personal story, and how that can be a universal.”