Blog / Act and react: dancers meet The uncertain museum


We were not sure what to expect when we invited New York dancer and choreographer Gwen Welliver and her students to visit our Olafur Eliasson installation, The uncertain museum.

It was magical!

We gave them two rules: Don’t stare into the light and don’t touch the large, rotating glass discs.

The purpose of the visit was to introduce Gwen, a faculty member with the American Dance Festival, and her composition lab students to Eliasson’s walk-in installation. The circular, translucent room is the sole work of art in our largest gallery pavilion. Next Thursday, the students will present three informal showings of work in and around The uncertain museum. The dancers will move inside the installation and interact with patterns of projected light and shadow that visitors will see from outside the space. In between dances, visitors will have the chance to step inside the installation and take part in interactive activities.


Our observations from the rehearsal session follow:

Shannon: This light art exhibition will, without a doubt, give people something to talk about. The tricks of light are examined by expressing beauty and encouraging viewers to create their own unique experience, comparable to beauty. Creatively, the Nasher Museum added a twist to the beauty by bringing in the student dancers. Watching the dance class brainstorm and practice with the Uncertain Museum was very entertaining. The graceful body movements around the installation’s rotating discs along with the black and white shadows from the performers left me wanting more. The relationship between the dancers’ techniques and the art installation was so intriguing, mainly because I did not know what was going to happen next.

Isalyn:  When the dancers first engaged with The uncertain museum, their movements were timid.  Told to avoid touching the discs and to not look directly into the bright light, these instructions consumed their focus and limited their movements.  Minutes later, however, as the dancers became familiar with the work, there was a change in their body language.  No longer scared of harming the installation, they began to move more freely, changing their points of balance and the pace at which they moved.  They ducked as the discs swung, and tested their eyes against the light.  Taking turns dancing in and around Eliasson’s work, the dancers made the transformation from mere viewers of the installation to parts of the installation itself, as was Eliasson’s intent for the piece.

Wendy: It was fascinating watching the 15 or so dancers react to the glowing installation. Tentative at first, they sat in a group on the floor and watched each other take turns flitting in and out of the space. Black silhouettes came sharply into focus as dancers moved close to the thin plastic wall; their shapes blurred as they stepped into the center of the space, toward the light. In groups of two and three, dancers melted into multi-headed creatures with tentacle arms. “Where you get overlay like that,” Gwen told them, “we are seeing partnering that you’re probably not even doing.”

Isalyn:  The ADF students were surprised by The uncertain museum.  Knowing little about the work other than its interactive component and modern design prior to visiting the museum yesterday, most of the dancers expected to be doing very “sharp and static movements” around the piece given its geometric elements, but instead found themselves taking on more fluid and organic forms.  One dancer described the experience of dancing inside the installation as “other worldly.”  Another said she felt like she was “floating in a dream space.”  Watching the dancers twist and turn amongst the moving spiral discs had a hypnotic effect on us as audience members as well.

Shannon: I noticed there was a change in the atmosphere, it was quite interesting. When the dancers first walked into the pavilion it was quiet with little whispers in the air. As the hour progressed the pavilion was filled with unique choreography and tons of laughter. Once the dancers became comfortable their imagination took them on a journey through the installation. There were shadow puppets, partnered silhouettes, and acrobatics all taking place inside and out of The uncertain museum. It’s amazing how a room can be so silent and end up being filled with laughter and applause.

Wendy: When I walk inside The uncertain museum, I am aware that people on the outside can see me as an anonymous, featureless body shape. Still, my instinct is to freeze and then run back outside. The dancers, on the other hand, were certainly not self-conscious. After a while, their bodies reacted so that they were dancing with the to the glowing, spinning discs, not against them.

Shannon: The correlation between The uncertain museum, the guests and performers is amazingly different. The ADF students and the Nasher Museum have really created an out-of-this world experience by combining two different forms of art and making it into one with Eliasson’s installation. I strongly encourage the visitors to participate and practice with Eliasson’s tricks of light. The use of artificial light passing through the quality of natural light will definitely play a role with human perception.

Thursday, July 26, 2012
Olafur Eliasson and American Dance Festival
6:45, 7:15 and 7:45 PM

Photo by J Caldwell.

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