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Dancers in Brendan Fernandes' exhibit "The Master And Form," shown here at the Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. Photo by Brendan Leo Merea, courtesy the Whitney Museum of American Art.

It sounds like a ballet dancer's worst nightmare: hold extensions and splits for a prolonged period, improvise in a cage and on a rope, and execute a ballet barre to performance standards. Do it with no music, wearing just a leotard and tights for an audience that's only two feet away, staring at every move.

Scary as that may sound, that's what the dancers in "The Master And Form" are doing in nine shows a week through September 22 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. The exhibit, by Chicago-based artist Brendan Fernandes, is part of the Whitney Biennial 2019, which showcases the "latest developments" in American art.

"When dancers are performing, the feats look effortless," says Fernandes. "But it's labor, and dancers are masochists. I wanted to show the pain and the pleasure."

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Rant & Rave
Ahmaud Culver, Jasmine Hearn and Anna Witenberg in "Transmissions." © Paula Court.

Dancers are more than just vessels performing set material. We make contributions to creative processes all the time. Some of these are obvious: We often improvise material or generate entire phrases to be incorporated into a work. Others are more innocuous: Dancers are sometimes asked to give feedback that ends up shaping the composition of a work.

This is choreography.

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