- 'Bouquet of Concaves,' the work that inspired Contradiction Dance, as photographed by David Smith at Bolton Landing, 1959
Artist David Smith found ballet to be superficial. His interests in dance extended only to modern dance, and by extension, to Martha Graham. "What must have drawn Smith to Graham were the forceful lines and counter tensions that her body imprinted on space," wrote Deborah Jowitt in Tate Etc. "It's interesting to consider that when she was searching for new ways to present the female form on stage, one of her sources may have been sculpture."
And just as Smith took inspiration from modern dance, modern dancers are inspired by Smith. Tomorrow at the Phillips Collection, Contradiction Dance will present a new work based on the museum's current show, David Smith Invents. Artistic director Kelly Mayfield and her company have been collaborating since January to interpret Smith's weighty, lyrical sculptures into movement.
"Dancers rarely get to make shapes for shapes' sake," says Mayfield. "We're usually trying to tell a story or there's an narrative. It's been lovely that the shapes themselves are important."
- Kelly Mayfield (Photo by Paul Frederiksen)
The choreographer and dancer says that she and her company were particularly inspired by Smith's sculpture "Bouquet of Concaves." At Thursday's performance, she says that audience members can expect "a lot of sculptural moments with the dancers themselves, either individually or as a group. There will be a quintet of dancers, sometimes creating one big shape together, or a collage of shapes as an ensemble."
This is the second time Mayfield has performed art-inspired works at the Phillips Collection (previously, her company has choreographed a response to the Phillips' Paint Made Flesh exhibition). The cross-genre collaboration has been a fruitful one for her and her dancers, who have learned new approaches to visual art and movement.
"I think dancers have inspired other art forms and other artists, but for us, as dancers, we tend to get stuck searching for the deeper meaning," says Mayfield. "We have a discomfort and insecurity sometimes about how we look at visual art, and there's a little tongue-in-cheek fun in this piece ... It's great to acknowledge that inspiration to other art forms."
"Making Shapes in Space: David Smith and Dance," will be performed at the Phillips Collection Thursday, March 24, at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $20, or $8 for members.