Fans of the moving arts will have plenty to do and see during the Grand Opening Festival. After you reserve your new building ticket online, pack an extra bottle of water and a few new art supplies (crayons, magic markers) to donate to N.C. public schools before you head out to the festival (leaving plenty of time for parking). This itinerary works for both days.
11 am: Meet your friends at Rodin’s The Thinker in the middle of the Plaza, and move toward the new building, where you’ll see Mark Dendy’s Dendy DanceTheater performing an outdoor site-specific work that celebrates the connection of art and nature and includes more than 40 guest dancers from the N.C. School of the Arts. No worries if you arrive late; Dendy DanceTheater will be performing throughout the day.
11:45 am: Enter East Building (the “old” building), and take a left into the Museum Auditorium to see the world premiere of Robert Weiss’s Moving Life, presented by the Carolina Ballet. Stick around for an insightful conversation with Weiss after the performance.
Lunch: light and vegetarian options are provided by the Whole Foods vendor.
After lunch: Hit a few highlights in this Dance Lover’s Tour of West Building:
As you enter West Building, look straight ahead, and you can’t miss El Anatsui’s monumental hanging metal sculpture. Take a peek behind it, where you’ll find a quieter but no less intriguing work by Michal Rovner called Tfila (Prayer, in Hebrew). From a distance what at first looks like an ancient stone tablet inscribed with mysterious calligraphy gets even more mystifying as you approach the case: the glyphs or “letters” on the stone are actually moving (via DVD projection): each character dances, and the dancer is the artist herself, dressed in black robe, curling up and bowing down in supplication to, we’re not sure what. The effect of all the “letters” moving at once but not in unison is mesmerizing.
From Tfila anyone can point you in the direction of the NCMA’s first Picasso painting. Seated Woman, Red and Yellow Background portrays a psychologically charged figure “in repose,” while the rest of this gallery features strong images of the body in motion. The ecstatic rites performed in Maurice Sterne’s Dance of the Elements, Bali contrast sharply with the high-stepping cakewalkers in Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Panama Dancers on the opposite wall, but the stars of this gallery might be the neighboring illustrations by American artist Aaron Douglas. You be the judge.
“There was no tribal box office,” remarks choreographer Mark Dendy. “You didn’t get up in the morning and go down to the box office and get your tickets for the rain dance.” Dendy says he’s drawn to creating site-specific works because “it gets back to the original function of dance, which is public ritual.” Perhaps no better evidence of the purpose of communal dance can be found in the NCMA’s collection than the gorgeous Yoruba Egungun Masquerade Costume at the front of the African Gallery. Curator Kinsey Katchka tells us the masquerade dancer, in a ceremony venerating his ancestors, is hidden from the onlooker but can see out through the net face panel, adorned with cowrie shells, beads, and coins. When dancer-priests perform this ceremony that continues today, they spin rapidly so the fabric panels fly out, “revealing the colorful layers of the costume.”
Choreographer and former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, Robert Weiss says he loves still lifes for their “juxtaposition of shapes,” “arrangement of objects,” and interesting sources of light. To Weiss still lifes are “like a frozen moment of choreography.” Wander through these galleries and find a few new favorites. Ballet fans should not miss the small Raphael in the first European Gallery: nearly every foot in St. Jerome Saving Sylvanus and Punishing the Heretic Sabinianus is properly turned out, even the executioner’s!
Black Mountain Connections
Modern dance pioneer Merce Cunningham’s name is often associated with the adventurous Black Mountain College near Asheville, N.C., where he formed his first company. In the American Galleries, you’ll find work by two of Cunningham’s fellow Black Mountain colleagues, Josef Albers (Homage to the Square) and Jacob Lawrence, whose Migration series has inspired several modern choreographers, including Rennie Harris and the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. (On your next visit, view the work of more Black Mountain artists in the Contemporary Galleries: Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Lyonel Feininger, and Franz Kline.)
Rodin Court And Garden
Like Rodin, she influenced everyone who came after her. You may see the choreography of Martha Graham in some of the dramatic angles of Rodin’s bronze figures. Both artists claimed their work expressed the language of the soul. Strike a similar or contrasting pose at the Picture Yourself station in the garden, and take home a souvenir photo of your trip to the new NCMA.
Before you leave: be sure to drop off your donated art supplies at the upper lawn of the Museum Park Theater, and thanks for your contribution!