Review: Solange Turns the Guggenheim Into a Sanctuary for Dance
When the choreographer Trisha Brown died in March, Solange Knowles posted a tribute on Twitter: “Rest in movement, Trisha Brown. Seeing ‘In Plain Sight’ gave me so much confidence in the power of peace through dance.”
Below was a video of the Trisha Brown Dance Company in Donald Judd’s light-filled SoHo studio, performing one of Ms. Brown’s spare early works, “Figure 8,” as part of the company’s site-specific initiative “In Plain Site.” Four dancers in white stood in a line, their arms raised like goal posts, tapping the tops of their heads with one hand, then another — back and forth, unrushed — to the sound of a ticking metronome.
That measured energy and minimalist movement often came to mind on Thursday at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, where Solange turned Frank Lloyd Wright’s building into her sanctuary for “An Ode To,” a sublime reimagining — with her own choreography and reconstructed musical arrangements — of her 2016 album, “A Seat at the Table,” presented with the Red Bull Music Academy.
The project was something of an experiment for Solange, who returned after a grand finale to say a few words of gratitude for having “the space to grow and evolve and explore new mediums.” She also spoke about “being a black woman of color, and not just settling for being allowed in these spaces but wanting to tear the walls down,” adding an expletive before “walls.”
“We built this,” she said, adding a different expletive after “this.”
The opening sequence said “step aside,” literally, as a single-file line of dancers, with Solange at its center, walked matter-of-factly down the building’s spiraling tiers to the opening notes of “Scales.” Audience members on those upper levels, peering down into the rotunda — where the band was stationed and more viewers sat on the floor — were swiftly ushered back to make way for the procession.
Solange had asked that the audience wear white, one way of visually organizing a vast, crowded, potentially chaotic space. But she was also commenting on another kind of whiteness. To fill the museum with the sounds of an album that celebrates black womanhood and black manhood — sung, played and channeled into movement by black women and men — was its own symbolic retort to the art world’s (and the dance world’s) histories of exclusion.
Like the dress code, her choreography — for herself, two backup vocalists, six musicians and a core group of eight dancers — had an orderliness, anchored by simple geometric formations that echoed Julia Heymans’s set of spherical and rectangular sculptures. Drawing our attention to the height and circularity of the space, a 13-member horn ensemble popped up on two levels of the museum’s spiral ramp, joined later by the dancers and 32 additional performers in a snaking descent toward the rotunda for a voluminous final section.
The core performers (who included some familiar faces from the modern dance world, like Kristen Foote of the Limón Dance Company and Davalois Fearon of the Stephen Petronio Company) often escalated from composed to wild, repeating the same movement with mounting energy. Folding forward became thrashing forward; swinging the arms became flinging the arms, the physical manifestation of lyrics like “you’ve got the right to be mad.”
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