DIA invites people to ‘Dance!’ at the museum

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published April 12, 2016

 Traditional and ceremonial dances by Native American tribes are depicted in dance-related artwork in the new exhibition at the DIA, including “The Harvest Dance,” an oil painting from the late 1800s by Joseph Henry Sharp.

Traditional and ceremonial dances by Native American tribes are depicted in dance-related artwork in the new exhibition at the DIA, including “The Harvest Dance,” an oil painting from the late 1800s by Joseph Henry Sharp.

Photo provided by the Detroit Institute of Arts


DETROIT — The grace and beauty of dance have inspired artists for centuries, but the Detroit Institute of Arts is zeroing in on a particular time and place to explore the connections between these art forms in a new special exhibition.

“Dance! American Art 1830-1960,” which is on display until June 12, explores the role of dance in American culture in over 90 sculptures, costumes, paintings and photographs that DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons said “come from the most important museums in the United States.” Works are also on loan from private collections.

But because organizers didn’t want to present a static show about such a dynamic art form, “Dance!” comes alive in the galleries with video presentations featuring historic footage and contemporary dancers demonstrating and explaining the significance of American ballet, Native American dances, tap and more. For example, old film footage of the great Spanish dancer Carmencita from 1894 accompanies paintings of her by William Merritt Chase and John Singer Sargent. 

“They bring a liveliness to the room,” said Thomas F. DeFrantz, a dancer and professor of African and African-American studies, dance and theater studies at Duke University, of the videos.

Other famous works in the show include “The Jolly Flatboatman,” by George Caleb Bingham; “Silver Clouds,” by Andy Warhol; “Bacchante,” by Mary Cassatt; “Summer Night,” by Winslow Homer; and costume sketches by Diego Rivera for “H.P. (Horse Power),” an American ballet. 

Famed dancers such as Josephine Baker, Fred Astaire, Ruth St. Denis and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson are represented in photographs, but many of the paintings depict ordinary people engaging in folk, celebratory and popular dances, including the Lindy hop. Detroit’s dance history is captured as well.

“Dance is amazing because it … allows us to move our bodies to something that’s ineffable,” DeFrantz said. “There’s no end to dance … (and) it’s open to interpretation. … Our stories that we tell with our bodies are maybe the most nuanced and fantastic stories that we have to tell.”

DIA Interpretive Planner Megan DiRienzo said the museum dropped the usual audio tour for this exhibition, going with videos that share insight into dance instead. Based on feedback from real-life DIA visitors, she said they learned while planning “Dance!” that “people wanted to see people moving in the space” of the galleries.

Also unusual for a fine art show is the fact that the DIA is encouraging people to take photos.

“We want people to record their experiences and share those through digital means,” DiRienzo said.

Related programming during the run of the exhibition, both at the museum and at partner institutions — the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township and the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Detroit — will feature dance performances, demonstrations and films.

In addition, “We will be presenting a number of opportunities for (visitors) to dance in the museum,” said DIA Director of Public Programs Larry Baranski. “There will be programs for all ages.”

Those will include movement classes for very young children, he said.

The galleries were purposely kept spacious because DiRienzo said the DIA wants visitors to feel free to do some dancing of their own, if the mood strikes them. That’s another thing that museum officials hope visitors will capture and share on social media.

“We invite people to dance with us,” DiRienzo said.

Show curator Jane Dini, the former curator of American art at the DIA and now associate curator of painting and sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, first came up with the idea for this show. Salort-Pons said “Dance!” is the first exhibition of its kind, and it demonstrates how dancers and artists related to one another, how dance has functioned in society, and how artists have depicted dance.

“This is a show that celebrates artists that were inspired by dance, and therefore it raises dance to an art form like painting or sculpture,” Dini said.

Because dance is something that happens in the moment, these artists, she said, captured and forever memorialized “the most ephemeral of (art) forms,” which would have otherwise been “lost to history.”

To make the exhibition more accessible, admission is free for the general public every Friday. Student groups in kindergarten through 12th grade will be admitted free with advance reservations.

“It’s really a fantastic show, and I’m very grateful and thankful to the exhibition team,” Salort-Pons said. “They put together a wonderful display and a great interpretive plan.”

Regular admission tickets to “Dance! American Art 1830-1960” cost $14 for adults and $7 for kids ages 6-17. For residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, tickets cost $10 for adults and $5 for kids ages 6-17. The DIA is located at 5200 Woodward Ave. in the Cultural Center. Visit www.dia.org or call (313) 833-7900 for more information.