Where movement makes connections


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Asadata Dofora performs his "Ostrich Dance" in ostrich feathers, arching his bare shoulders like wings.

Across the hall, the animated ostriches in "Fan tasia" leap en pointe to Amil care Pohchielli's "Dance of the Hours."

Movement at the National Museum of Dance is funny and humbling at the same time.

Here, in movement, Eleo Pomare's choreography tells the heartache of the Civil Rights movement; the American Ballet Theatre's glimmering costumes follow the history of the last century; and the Hall of Fame gives tribute to Ben Vereen, who originated roles from the psychedelic "Hair" to "Jesus Christ Superstar."

Assistant Director Sarah Hall Weaver wants to make dance feel familiar.

Ballet can seem intimidating and elitist, she said, but any culture around the world dances, in faith and in fun.

So she begins her tour of her museum with "Tails and Terpsi chore," where sea horses swim in synchronized rhythm, and a flamenco dancer matches footwork with a black stallion. The woman and the horse move to the quick-strumming guitar with clear energy and enjoyment.

"You can see the connection -- they're making eye contact," Weaver said.

Animals also dance with each other, as people do, for love and connection and to impress each other, she said.

In this show, Weaver explores natural movement. Honey bees direct each other to pollen by dancing in zig-zag patterns. Scientists have found different bee dances in different parts of the world, Weaver said, and they communicate different things.

And across the world, dancers often watch the movements of animals closely and bring the movements into dance. When Weaver teaches, she likes to see how excited children can get at playing "how can you move like an animal" games. They relax in the movement.

As the exhibits move toward professional dancers, they move between playful and insightful.

American Ballet Theatre's rich array of costumes illustrate the company's nearly 80 years of history in sparkling colors.

"It's the oldest active Amer ican Ballet Company," Weaver said, and the first company that inspected American voices and themes. Their dances explored the news of the day, even the Lizzie Borden trial, and artists of the day, from Oliver Smith's modern, almost surrealist backdrops, to a costume honoring photo-realist Chuck Close.

And when contemporary choreographers choose their themes from the events around them, more than from Cinder ella and the Firebird, dance may reveal the time they live in -- and, maybe, change it.

Though Weaver talked over all of her exhibits with excitement, she spoke with special warmth about a retrospective of choreographer Eleo Pomare, who made an international name for himself in the 1960s. He is important, she feels, and powerful, but not well known now.

"He's almost famous for not being famous," she said. "He is to Alvin Ailey as Malcolm X is to Martin Luther King."

Pomare was born in Colombia and came to the United States as a child in 1947. As a black dancer in the Civil Rights movement, he spoke plainly about his life.

"I'm labeled undiscplined, angry ... because I will not do what they want from a black dancer," he wrote. "... I have something to say, and I want to say it honestly, strongly, and without having it stolen, borrowed or messed over."

"A lot of artists in dance do not want to apply an assertive, clear voice to their dance," Weaver said. "He is very clear. Bill T. Jones is the same way. I'm always in awe of what he has to say."

He was a painter, a visual artist, and Weaver has displayed several of his paintings, including one he translated into a dance called "Hushed Voices" -- a dance about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King's assassinations, about losing the Civil Rights leaders. It shows Po mare's courage, she said.

And "Roots," a solo he choreographed to honor African- Amer ican women, show broad-minded strength. In this dance, the woman enters the stage in a crimson costume as an Arfican matriarch in feathered crown. She removes the robe and feathers to become a slave in a white shift and kerchief. And then she sheds the slave's dress to appear as a Civil Rights leader in resilient green, and she dances to the spoken-word poetry of Nikki Giovanni, Kathleen Cleaver and Ntozake Shange.

Pomare designed costumes and sets and taught the dance company to design them; he wanted to give his dancers independence, Weaver said.

He and his company toured across the world. They also toured on a flat-bed truch through the boroughs of New York City to give free performances in poor neighborhoods.

"I learned how to be what I want to be, and I have achieved that. I am who I wanted to be," Pomare said in a 2006 interview for the Law and Policy Group in New York City. "I am not measured by someone else's fame."

What: National Museum of Dance

Exhibits include: ‘Tails and Terpsichore' animals and dance; Eleo Pomera choreographer's retrospective; ‘American Ballet Theatre' costumes and history; ‘En Pointe'; Hall of Fame with show on this year's inductee, Ben Vereen; photography from Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival by Christopher Duggin

Where: 99 South Broadway, Route 9, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

When: Regular fall hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., through Nov. 18

Admission: Free on Saturday with Museum Day tickets

Regular admission is $6.50 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, $3 for ages 4 to 12, and free for children under 3.

For a free ticket on Saturday: www.smithsonianmag.com/museumday

Information: www.dancemuseum.org, (518) 584-2225


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