Shall we dance ?
From Wednesday 23 January 2019 to Monday 20 May 2019
Shall we dance?
Yes, Let's dance. We may not necessarily be Nijinski, Beyoncé, or Fred Astaire, but this does not matter as long as that at some point we dance: at a party, in a nightclub, at a concert, or just on our own in our living room. Dance is not for virtuosos; we all know how to do it and how to create it. This is the thinking behind the exhibition "Shall we dance?", organised by the Mucem: a shared social activity, that creates bonds and is present throughout our lives and societies.
From the human body, dance's primary area, to Trance that makes us forget it, the exhibition is an invitation to discover dance in places we are not used to seeing it and to realise how much it changes how we relate to self and others.
In a scenography that invites movement, visitors are free to come and go, sit down, have a stretch, lie down or lean back, all in a discovery of films, audio clips and extracts of texts. These works are organised in a six-hour audiovisual flow for a timebound visitor experience.
Visitors are free to move from one screen to another and to experience and choose how they observe and listen, given the exhibition space's area, curves and materials ... So, shall we dance?
—Head curator: Émilie Girard, Head curator for Heritage and head of the collections department and documentary resources of the Mucem
—Associate curator: Amélie Couillaud, Independent exhibition curator and performance programmer
—Scenography: Cécile Degos
With sponsorship from Aix Marseille French Tech and les Terrasses du Port
Interview with Émilie Girard and Amélie Couillaud, exhibition curators
“Shall we dance?”, the title of exhibition sounds like an invitation …
Émilie Girard (E.G.) et Amélie Couillaud (A.C.)
That is indeed the primary meaning of the title. The aim of this exhibition is not to create a historic or encyclopedic vision of the subject "dance", but rather to take inspiration from the teachings of modern and postmodern choreographers, with a starting point based on the premise that dance does not just concern virtuosos. The inclusion of "we" in the title is not trivial: it is to underscore a broad inclusion and to highlight how the act of dancing creates bonds.
If the wording sounds like an invitation, the question mark at the end also refers back to a question that initiated our thinking: "Where does dance begin?" Isn't walking its very first step? Can we not discern a dance in how a crowd moves? It is perspective that "determines" whether something is dance. All these questions led from one to the next to another: "Towards whom are we dancing?"
You wanted to create a unique type of scheme based on the three constituent parts of dance: the body, space and time.
Yes, upon entering the exhibition, there is a space with screens of different sizes, from tablet to cinema screen, that display the same work at the same time, and inside of which one is completely free to come and go. This can, at first, feel a bit bewildering.
In fact, our aim was that the exhibition space be the most comfortable possible to afford visitors the opportunity to take their time, get comfortable and test out different ways of looking. One can sit down or lie down on carpet, lean against something, and even stop to sit on a swing: the idea is to experience the different ways we relate to the space that surrounds us. Cécile Degos, the scenographer, understood exactly what we wanted and knew how to achieve it.
The programme is a six-hour flow, made up of works that highlight the body, its internal mechanics, its strangeness sometimes, and what dance produces in very varied geographic, political and social contexts. Thus, one moves surreptitiously from one state to another, both physically and mentally.
Video makes up the majority of the museography. What types of films are displayed during this long audiovisual flow that is projected in the exhibition space?
Indeed, very quickly we saw that the media of video was the best choice. It has this capacity to reveal a body in movement that is not there and makes for a kind of proof. We selected some sixty films and clips: films by artists, cinema films, documentaries, ethnographic films, ... as many different perspectives on the act of dancing, the body, movement, and the relationship between time and space that, sometimes with humour, make for an answer to the multiplicity of points of view that we are aiming to highlight.
Other medias such as sound content by Dominique Petitgand, and even literature in the form of extracts from texts, are an integral part of the flow: these two elements also bring a form of very strong physicality even though no body per se is "visible".
A few objects, although not many, are also on show. Some of these are sourced from the collections of the Mucem ...
We chose to display a small number of material objects, actual physical testaments to dance. These objects, from very different registers, are dancer accessories and extensions of a dancer's body: a Lappish shaman's tambourine used to bring on a trance state and to contact the spirit world; a pair of shoes and a large ostrich feather fan that belonged to the revue artist Mistinguett; and a ghetto-blaster collected from the graffiti artist Hondo, who is also a hip-hop dancer. This sample allows us to convey very different types of dance that are represented in the collections of the Mucem. Visitors will discover them during their progression through the exhibition. Other items items include two contemporary works that invite movement: a hyper-realistic sculpture by Tomoaki Suzuki that is a third of the size of the model and greets visitors, inciting them to line themselves up to it; and a "choreographic object" by William Forsythe that incites one to test one's capacity to stay immobile ... which is much harder that one would imagine!
Dance is a field of research that has been explored since the 1930s by teams from the musée national des Arts et Traditions populaires (MnATP) and, closer to home, by the Mucem ...
And even before then by the musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro! That shaman’s tambourine we just spoke of became a part of collections towards the end of the 19th century. Thereafter, it is the case that it was a field of research from the very first campaigns carried out by the MnATP, where dance was considered as a social fact. In 1939, just two years after the creation of the museum, the campaign dedicated to Lower Brittany would allow for notes, interviews, and films depicting dance, to be brought together. In the 1960s, a "dance department" entrusted to Jean-Michel Guilcher would be established further to a request from Georges Henri Rivière. The audiovisual funds that the Mucem today preserves would also be enriched, notably with films that show dance customs from the different regions of France, often in a festive context (marriages, village fetes, etc). Two of these in fact are displayed in the flow of the exhibition. More recently, this interest in dance is maintained via the campaign dedicated to graffiti and hip-hop, which once again allowed for the collection to be increased around this subject with dancers' outfits, contextualised with interviews of the wearers; competition posters (notably the famous hip-hop battles); and some ghetto-blasters such as the one that is on display in the exhibition.
Lastly, this exhibition is set within the context of a exceptional season for the Mucem, given its collaboration with the choreographer Boris Charmatz as guest artist. What will he be creating for this exhibition?
Within a very rich programme that goes beyond the confines of the exhibition (danced lectures throughout the museum, conferences, performances, etc), every weekend Boris Charmatz invites visitors to “Shall we dance?” to move on to a “warm-up studio”. This warm-up is led by a professional dancer and was devised to be either an introduction or an extension to the visit. These workshops, approximately 30 minutes long, are aimed at everyone, dancers and non-dancers alike, the very supple and the very stiff, extroverts and shy types. We felt it was important that this opportunity should be open to everyone, in all simplicity and with no prerequisites. Thus suitably warmed up, we heartily hope that some visitors will stay on for the entire duration of the six-hour exhibition programme.
Partners and sponsors
With the support of Aix Marseille French Tech
And Les Terrasses du Port