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We Tried It: The Museum Workout With Monica Bill Barnes
I was doing jumping jacks in front of a sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this morning when a security guard's face caught my eye. He was grinning from cheek to cheek. And his smile reminded me, Oh right, this isn't normal.
The Museum Workout. Photo by Paula Lobo, courtesy Met Museum.
For the next four weeks, Barnes and her longtime performing partner Anna Bass will lead small groups of visitors on a 45-minute, two-mile journey through the museum in the hours before it opens to the public. A score of disco and Motown hits plays out of a speaker strapped to the back of Barnes' creative producing director, Robert Saenz de Viteri. Barnes and Bass wear their signature sequined dresses and sneakers; the rest of us wear our finest athleisure outfits.
Photo by Paula Lobo, courtesy Met Museum
The two dancers greeted us on the grand steps just off The Great Hall. After a short introduction (and, of course, a warning not to touch the art), de Viteri hit play, and the sounds of the Bee Gees filled the atrium.
We followed Bass and Barnes as they jogged, marched and power walked through galleries until reaching, for example, John Singer Sargent's "Portrait of Madame X," which we'd face for a minute while doing something like squats. There was no commentary or time to read any explanation about the works. But it felt oddly reverential, like we were doing some ritual movement to honor the art gods.
No, it wasn't exactly bootcamp. But my calves did feel the burn, and my overpriced moisture-wicking garb came in handy as I quickly started sweating. There were no movements that all ages in the group couldn't handle, though. We were basically doing a better-choreographed version of your mom's low-impact aerobics class. While surrounded by fine art.
But why were we working up a sweat in a museum, of all places?
Clips of recorded conversations with illustrator Maira Kalman, who curated the route and chose each piece we visited, offered some insight. She explained that when we work out in nature, rather than trying to understand everything we see, we just observe. The implication was that there might be a benefit in taking that same approach to art. She also spoke about how much she personally hated having to talk to people at museums, how you were expected to comment on the work—something we didn't have to do while jogging.
Paula Lobo, courtesy Met Museum
"The Vine," via metmuseum.org
The workout ended with us all lying down on the floor of the American Wing. (Meanwhile, outside the large windows, cyclists and runners were doing their workouts in Central Park.) Looking up from the floor, I saw Harriet Whitney Frishmuth's "The Vine." And for the first time, I noticed just how beautiful it was: The line of her cambré arches back gloriously; her outstretched fingers would even make Balanchine proud. I don't know anything about this work or the artist's intention, but I couldn't help getting swept up in its dancer-like beauty.
Who knows if I would have noticed the same thing had I not just been following along with two dancers for the past 45 minutes. But I realized that I loved being in a museum without having to stand around so much, the way you usually do. Being able to really move through it felt, if not exactly natural, at least more comfortable.
Not that I plan on doing squats in front of my favorite paintings during my next visit. But I might be tempted to walk around a bit more. And maybe sneak in just a couple jumping jacks before the security guards catch me.
My dance coach wants my word that I'll keep competing under his school's name for the next year and not audition. I'm 18 years old and already doing lead roles and winning medals. I love his teaching, but shouldn't I be ready to go out and get a job?
—Gil, Las Vegas, NV
How do we make ballet, a traditionally homogeneous art form, relevant to and reflective of an increasingly diverse and globalized era? While established companies are shifting slowly, Richard Siegal/Ballet of Difference, though less than 2 years old, has something of a head start. The guiding force of the company, which is based in Germany, is bringing differences together in the same room and, ultimately, on the same stage.
Before she became the 20th century's most revered ballet pedagogue, Agrippina Vaganova was a frustrated ballerina. "I was not progressing and that was a terrible thing to realize," she wrote in a rough draft of her memoirs.
She retired from the Imperial Ballet stage in 1916, and for the next 30-plus years, devoted herself to creating a "science of ballet." Her new, dynamic teaching method produced stars like Rudolf Nureyev, Alla Osipenko, and Galina Ulanova and later Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And her approach continues to influence how we think about ballet training to this day.
But is the ballet class due for an update? Demands and aesthetics have changed. So should the way dancers train change too?
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
Claude Debussy's only completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, emphasizes clarity and subtlety over high-flung drama as a deadly love triangle unfolds. Opera Vlaanderen and Royal Ballet of Flanders are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the composer's death with a new production of the landmark opera that is sure to be anything but traditional: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet are choreographing and directing, while boundary-pushing performance artist Marina Abramović collaborates on the design. Antwerp, Feb. 2–13. Ghent, Feb. 23–March 4. operaballet.be/en.
Black History Month offers a time to reflect on the artists who have shaped the dance field as we know it today. But equally important is celebrating the black artists who represent the next generation. These seven up-and-comers are making waves across all kinds of styles and across the country:
When a new director began transforming Atlanta Ballet a couple of years ago, longtime dancer Alessa Rogers decided to finally explore her dream of dancing in Europe. "I always had this wanderlust," she says. She wasn't set on a particular city or company, but thought learning French would be fun. She began her research that September, making note of repertoire and the number of dancers as well as which companies employed foreign, non–European Union dancers. "I saw that Ballet du Rhin was looking for dancers," says Rogers. "They also had a new director coming in, so I thought it could be an opportunity." After sending a video, Rogers traveled during her layoff week to take company class. She was offered a job on the spot.
Uprooting and moving out of the country, far away from your support system, language and customs, is not something to take lightly. While it can push you as an artist and be an exciting opportunity for personal growth, working as a dancer in a foreign country comes with its challenges. Lots of research and an adventurous spirit are required.
Justin Lynch is surprisingly nonchalant about the struggles of being a full-time lawyer and a professional dancer. "All dancers in New York City are experts at juggling multiple endeavors," he says. "What I'm doing is no different from what any other dancer does—it's just that what I'm juggling is different."
While we agree that freelance dancers are pro multitaskers, we don't really buy Lynch's claim that what he does isn't extraordinary. In fact, we're pretty mind-boggled by the career he's built for himself.
At the annual Gala de Danza in Los Cabos, Mexico, the lineup of performers is usually pretty typical gala fare: You can expect celebrity performers like Lil Buck, reality stars like Ballet West's Beckanne Sisk and "So You Think You Can Dance" finalist Tate McRae, plus principals from top companies like New York City Ballet's Tiler Peck and Daniel Ulbricht.
What's absolutely not typical? The venue.
At 5'10" I felt like an ant in the studio with Alonzo King LINES Ballet. The San Francisco-based company is full of statuesque dancers whose passion is infectious. Every story was told not only through their movement, but through the expression on their faces and their connection to one another.
We talked to artistic director Alonzo King about his love of collaborations and why he thinks politicians need to dance more.