As I mentioned some time ago, when I wrote about Rambert's performance of Rainforest, dance has entered the museums and exhibitions spaces more and more, not as entertainment or a one off event, but rather as the object exhibited. And this isn’t a UK exclusive either, but a real international trend. Besides several national examples, you are bound to find a dance exhibition in each of the major European cities.

Matthias Sperling in Table of Contents © Siobhan Davies Dance
Matthias Sperling in Table of Contents
© Siobhan Davies Dance

I first noticed this locally some years ago, with Move: Choreographing You (2010-11) at the Hayward gallery, that attracted the entire who's who of choreography, promotion and research to the Southbank. In the same period, the Tate Tanks, a fifteen week festival dedicated to performance art, culminated in Tino Sehgal 2012 (part of the Unilever Series). More recently in London, Wayne McGregor’s Thinking With the Body for the Londoner Wellcome Collection (2013). Internationally, to mention only a few, the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin presented a retrospective on Valeska Gert, representative of the German expressionist and Dadaist current (2010-11). The Pompidou in Paris explored the relationship between dance and visual art in Danser sa vie (2011-12). 

Honestly, at the beginning, I was skeptical. I thought dance does not belong in the museum circuit and would quickly exhaust the possibility of being exhibited. Images of dancers, frozen like statues, covered with dust and spider webs pervaded my mind. Galleries or museums are notoriously places where things are collected and labeled, thus clashing with the living performing body, which is always in the here and now.

Sasha Waltz: Installations Objects Performances © Bernd Uhlig
Sasha Waltz: Installations Objects Performances
© Bernd Uhlig

Until recently, my imagination could not exit a typical museal display like the one used for the V&A’s Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes, where all material objects relating to the productions were shown. It was all backdrop and costumes, with no trace of the performer nor of the dance moves. Somehow, the dance could but remain invisible for me. A dancer has heard it a thousand times: dance is transience, it only leaves traces, it is a physical and oral tradition that passes from one generation to the next. Video can capture dance but it only gets distorted.

But some more recent examples changed my view on things. Firstly, Installations Objects Performances, a retrospective on the poetics of the Berlin-based choreographer, Sasha Waltz, who is known for her site specific pieces and impressive staging of operas with her company Sasha Waltz & Guest. It is rated the best exhibition of 2013. Secondly, Table of Contents by Siobhan Davies Dance, which was at the ICA, London, until last weekend and is now on tour. Thirdly, Danced Creation: Asia’s Mythical Past and Living Present in Vienna, which offers an ethno-choreological exhibition of Asian dance in collaboration with six contemporary choreographers and a major European Dance Festival, ImpulsTanz.

Charlie Morrissey and Helka Kaski in Table of Contents © Pari Naderi
Charlie Morrissey and Helka Kaski in Table of Contents
© Pari Naderi

Walking into Table of Contents at the ICA, it hit. Everything opened up. The key was the living body at the centre. Here, the dancer's body is the exhibit. A body that, through years of performance, has become a living archive in action. Extracts and tasks allow the viewer to experience the rehearsal and restaging processes. How many ways is there to get up from the floor? How do I articulate what I feel while moving in such a way that another person can replicate what I am doing?

If McGregor’s Thinking With the Body focused on the brain and cognitive processes in the mind of the viewer, Sasha Waltz’s exhibition is only completed by the performances alongside the objects presented, which put them into context. In Danced Creation in Vienna, works of contemporary choreographer expand the usual format of museal displays. Not only has dance entered the museum circuit, it has created its own concept for exhibition. This is much more than putting one foot in front of the other. This is interest in the human body and individual experience.

The catalogue introduction to the Vienna exhibition, says: "More than ever we want to put human beings at the centre, as the museum should no longer be a place where knowledge on others is produced, but much more a point of contact between people and cultures."

Continu by Sasha Waltz © Sebastian Bolesch
Continu by Sasha Waltz
© Sebastian Bolesch

You can see Installations Objects Performances now until February 2nd, at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, and Table of Contents is at the Tramway, Glasgow from January 29th - February 9th. Danced Creation: Asia’s Mythical Past and Living Present is open at the Museum of Ethnology, Vienna, until October 2014.