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New MoMA Modern Dance Performance Surprises Patrons

By Della Hasselle | January 12, 2011 8:40pm | Updated on January 13, 2011 6:40am

By Della Hasselle

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN EAST — Visitors to the Museum of Modern Art Wednesday were wowed by a performance that placed a dancer on every level of the museum.

The dance piece, performed in the halls and atrium of the museum by the Trisha Brown Dance Company, was the first live performance installation in conjunction with the group exhibition, "On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century." The exhibition, which brings together about 300 works from 100 different artists, aims to challenge the conventional definition of drawing as just a work on paper.

As part of the dance exhibition, the performance offers two separate pieces in different settings. The first examines the definition of a line, treating the human body as part of a larger sketch in the large atrium of the museum.

Using poles and straight-lines formed by their bodies, the dancers encompassed the square space by moving along all four of its edges and crossing it while dancing, without music.

"It's nice that they're utilizing the space," said PhD student and Queens resident Erik Pierce, 23, when he stumbled upon the performance. "There's a lot of controversy about this architecture, but I'm glad they're using its unique potential."

In the second part of the performance, the dancers appeared in every entranceway in the museum viewable from the atrium, at every level of the museum.

For this section, the company performed a 1970s piece called "Rooftops" that not only challenges the audiences' perspective concerning space, but also challenges perception about leadership. It's clear that the dancers are following one another in movement, without music, but it's not clear who is following who.

"For me, it challenged some of my assumptions about hierarchy," said Doug Merritt, 66, a Lutheran pastor visiting from San Francisco. "I was trying to figure out who was the first, or who was the person in charge. I think I know but I don't."

"It was kind of delicious," he added.

While many were curious about the performance, which continues through the weekend, not everyone found it as delightful. Several audience members left the atrium area well before the performance was over.

This isn't the first modern piece in MoMA to receive mixed reviews. In May, a marathon MoMA exhibition featuring nude performers brought some audiences to tears, and even made one sick.

But different reactions are all part of the point, Trisha Brown dancer Tamara Riewe said after Wednesday's show.

"It's interesting to see how people watch and wonder, and who is left watching at the end," said Riewe, who has been in the company for five years.

It was also refreshing for the performers to be in a museum, where dancing is brought to people in a less formal way than in a concert environment, she said.

"The key to modern dance surviving in the future is bringing it to the people, allowing them to come upon it instead of them having to choose it," she added.

"Plus, it's amazing to dance among all these fantastic works of art."

On/Line: Trisha Brown Dance Company continues through Jan. 16 at the Museum of Modern Art, located on 11 West 53rd Street. For a full schedule, click here.