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A Review of the National Museum of Dance’s Current Exhibits

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Saratoga Spring’s National Museum of Dance, Review of Current Exhibits

From Celestial Bodies/ Infernal Souls by Lois Greenfield. Courtesy National Museum of DanceWhen you first walk into the National Museum of Dance you are struck by the beauty of the building itself. The foyer of what used to be the Washington Bathhouse is a massive pillared open area with large windows across the back wall allowing sunlight to stream into the space. What you do not notice right away are all the pictures on the far-away walls, which are part of the annually rotating Art in the Foyer series of fine art inspired by dance. While the art will soon be changed out for a new season featuring photography by Rose Eichenbaum, the current photographs are the work of Lois Greenfield in an exhibition titled Celestial Bodies/ Infernal Souls. Greenfield, who began her career as a photojournalist before realizing the artistic possibilities in dance photography, has worked with some of the most talented dancers in the world to create images that appear in countless major publications. Each photo is an awe-inspiring look at the beauty of a split second dancer’s movement. A viewer could stare for minutes marveling at the athleticism of the dancers and the sheer talent in Greenfield’s creative eye for capturing moments lost in the larger dance.

Prying yourself away from Greenfield’s images is difficult, but there is a lot more to see. In the left wing of the museum you’ll encounter a large retrospective of Michael Jackson’s career. Guests are met with a large chandelier-like structure made entirely out of sparkling white paper gloves in the spirit of the iconic performer, below which is stamped a timeline of Jackson’s life from his birth to his untimely death. The ensuing hallway is filled with plaques dissecting Jackson’s success in the entertainment industry, interactive exhibits complete with afros to try on and zombies to escape from, and a case full of albums and personal effects from Jackson himself. Last August, Jackson was inducted into the C.V. Whitney Hall of Fame, which honors artists who have made major contributions to the world of dance. The Hall of Fame is one of two permanent exhibits at the Museum and can be found by walking through the circular hallway that houses Jackson’s exhibit. Here guests can read short bios and quotes and see pictures of all the Hall of Fame members.

The Museum’s right wing brings more guest interaction to the world of art with its Postage Paid: Dance Around the World exhibit. Postage Paid houses a large stamp collection donated to the museum by Lois R. Gaylord, depicting dance cultures from all over the world. Amusingly large magnifying glasses are available for viewing the stamps up close and personal, but even if you’re not excited by the idea of a stamp collection, the exhibit has a lot to offer. Artifacts including Japanese kimonos, African tribal masks and bongo drums, and woven Thai tapestries depicting adorned dancers, are strewn throughout the hall. A long mirrored section offers three beautifully detailed kimonos for guests to try on. The exhibit continues into another room where more cultural costumes, headdresses, masks, figurines, and instruments related to international dance customs are displayed.

Just off of Postage Paid is a tribute to the hit ABC show “Dancing with the Stars.” Over fifty costumes from the show glitter from the walls with a colorful stack of shoes by Worldtone Dance, the official shoe designer of both “DWTS” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” The costumes include a stars and stripes Republican and Democrat couples’ duds, a frothy full white feather skirt, and a flamenco style gold lamé top with a ruffled petal-like pink and gold skirt. The intricate beaded and draped costumes are from designers Maria McGill and Randall Christensen.

Move to the right after the “DWTS” exhibit and you’ll come across the massive National Museum of Dance 25th Anniversary showcase. For this exhibit the museum broke out hundreds of costumes, photographs, and memorabilia that have accumulated in its archives over the past 25 years. Autographed pointe shoes sit next to vintage dance accessories, such as “walrus” leather shoelaces and Dr. Scholl’s Lambs Wood, tiaras from the New York City Ballet, costumes from every kind of dance imaginable, and autographed photos of Ginger Rogers, Patricia McBride, and Peter Martins.

Further down this hallway, you’ll find a permanent exhibit holding the remnants of the Washington Baths. One room retains the stark whiteness and Arts and Crafts styling of the original Washington Bathhouse, with a minimalist two beds and end tables as the only furniture, along with a sign instructing Bathhouse visitors to get plenty of rest and solitude after visiting the baths. The second room houses originals baths, bathhouse controls, a steam room, and other bathhouse amenities, with a video outside explaining the relevance of each piece.

If you head to the left instead after leaving “Dancing with the Stars,” you’ll walk into the eerily absorbing In a Labyrinth: the Dance of Butoh exhibit featuring the photography of Michael Manheim. Manheim’s black and white photographs focus on blurred dancers in each and every contortion possible of the human body, with indefinable backgrounds of what seem to be leaves and trees. Butoh, the dance featured in the photographs, is a Japanese theatrical dance popularized in the post-War period. The complete picture is one of wildness and joy. But in the dark room with an equally blurred video of dancers essentially getting up and falling down on a back drop comparable to a rain-soaked forest, the mood is eerie in an almost supernatural sense. The history of Butoh can be found in literature accompanying the exhibit, so that guests can get a better sense of this unique art form.

While these exhibits are definitely spectacular, some will not be up for long. Besides the permanent C.V. Whitney Hall of Fame and the Washington Bathhouse exhibits, the museum is set to change things up for the new season. Eleo Pomare: The Man, The Artist, The Maker of Artists will premiere soon, showcasing the career of the Columbian-American choreographer as a black dance pioneer. American Ballet Theatre: Then & Now will feature the company’s evolution through the dancers it has employed and the ballets it has premiered. The exhibit will include photographs, programs, and costumes dating from American Ballet Theatre’s earliest days to its current incarnations.

–Jessica Nicosia is an Assistant Editor for The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our new City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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