DC at Night

DC at Night

Friday, August 3, 2012

Politics and the Dancing Body

Dance as art. Dance as entertainment. Dance as an expression of beauty. But what about dance as a means to protest injustice or advocate reform?

Politics and the Dancing Body, a recent exhibit at the Library of Congress, showcased ways that American dance choreographers used dance to celebrate American minority culture, voice social protest, and raise social consciousness in the period between World War I and the end of the Cold War.

Many of the great choreographers of that time were featured including Isador Duncan, Lester Horton, Martha Graham, and Alvin Ailey.

The exhibit was divided into 4 sections. They were:
  • exploring natural roots 
  • finding a political voice
  • domestic projects for import
  • turmoil at home and the Cold War protest
Included in the exhibit were photos and memorabilia for dances aimed against Fascism, the Nazis, and the atrocities of the Holocaust and similar performances created in support of the Communist Revolution and the uniting of impoverished workers around the world.

American minorities were represented by works celebrating Native American culture and black innovations such as the blues and jazz.

The spirit of the theme of the exhibition was captured in the words of Yuriko Kikuchi, who designed a dance focusing attention on the plight of the thousands of Japanese-Americans wrongfully detained in camps during World War II. Her work, according to exhibit notes,  was "an expression of a bewildered woman - one among millions unjustly uprooted - to regain her place in society and rediscover her human freedom and dignity."

Another thematically powerful work presented was Mary Anthony's "The Devil in Massachusetts," which the choreographer called "a parable of our time." Like Arthur Miller's famous play The Crucible, Anthony used the Salem witch hunts to speak out against the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.

"When men live by fear instead of trust, the devil will have his way," Anthony said at the time.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Politics and the Dancing Body is closed, but there is still much to do and see at the Library of Congress, which I think is one of D.C.'s  too-often neglected attractions. Click here to see how you might spend a few hours at the library with its breathtaking architecture, enlightening exhibits, and vast collection of materials.

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