Rhythm & Roots: Denver Art Museum Explores American Dance History

The Denver Art Museum presents “Dance!” this month, a summer-long program celebrating dance history in the United States. Dance-focused exhibitions, local artist collaborations and interactive installations are all designed to create an immersive experience. Activities are built around two major exhibits, and the museum has worked with the local dance community to make them come alive.

Beginning July 10, visitors will be able to trace a sequence of dance steps inspired by iconic American dance films in the installation #dancelab, choreographed by local dance company Wonderbound. Participants’ steps will be projected and combined with others taking part and shared via social media.

Visitors can also explore different dance techniques and mediums in Movement Studio, which has three separate hands-on activity areas for experimenting and hosts demonstrations each weekend, beginning June 4.

Mohawk artist Alan Michelson’s Round Dance video art installation will bring participants into a dancing circle as social protest for a tribe’s right to govern itself without U.S. government interference. It’s part of the larger resident exhibit “Why We Dance: American Indian Art in Motion” (May 29–August 15), which showcases works that present the motives behind Native American dance.

“Dance is essential to native people; it is one of the universal cultural expressions that we all share,” says guest curator Russ Tallchief, great-nephew of Osage ballerinas Maria and Marjorie Tallchief. Paintings and drawings illustrate animal dances, healing dances and rites of passage primarily found in the Plains region and the American Southwest. Native dance regalia on display, Tallchief says, “provide the visitor with a deeper understanding of the symbolism in the construct, design and adornment of what the dancers wear and why.”

From top: Denver-based company Wonderbound; Allan
Houser’s Apache Crown Dance; William H. Johnson’s Jitterbugs.

The other major exhibit spanning the summer, “Rhythm and Roots: Dance in American Art” (July 10–October 2), illustrates how American dance evolved from the private sphere to the public stage. About 90 paintings, photographs, sculptures, costumes, video, music and interactive spaces relate to American dance from 1830 to 1960.

The traveling exhibit was organized by and had its premiere at the Detroit Institute of Arts. “The opportunity to host ‘Rhythm and Roots’ is what inspired us to activate the whole campus around the theme of dance and explore the different ways artists respond to this creative artform,” says Angelica Daneo, curator of painting and sculpture.

Free dance performances will also be held during the summer on Martin Plaza outside the museum. DT

For more: denverartmuseum.org

Hannah Maria Hayes is a frequent contributor to Dance Teacher.

Wonderbound photo by Amanda Tipton; all photos courtesy of Denver Art Museum

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