The Arthropologist

Dancing the alphabet: Two art exhibits influenced by movement of the human body

Dancing the alphabet: Two art exhibits influenced by movement of the human body

News_Nancy_Dance in Unlikely Places_Katja Loher, Multiverse Installation and Supper for Two, 2011
Katja Loher, Multiverse Installation and Supper for Two, 2011 Courtesy of the artist
News_Nancy_dancers in unlikely places_Hugo Boettinger Studie aktu Milčí Mayerové (Nude Study of Milča Mayerová), 1925
Hugo Boettinger, Studie aktu Milci Mayerove (Nude Study of Milca Mayerova), 1925, graphite on paper, gift of Eva Matĕjková-Willenbrinková, 1998 Photo by Paul Hester
News_Nancy_dancers in unlikely places_Hugo Boettinger Studie aktu Milčí Mayerové (Nude Study of Milča Mayerová), 1929
Hugo Boettinger, Studie aktu Milci Mayerove (Nude Study of Milca Mayerova), 1929, graphite on paper, gift of Eva Matĕjková-Willenbrinková, 1998 Photo by Paul Hester
News_Katja Loher, Videostill from RGB Planet, 2010, 5 min 40 sec loop
Katja Loher, Videostill from RGB Planet, 2010, 5-minute, 40-second loop Courtesy of the artist
News_Katja Loher, Videostill from Timebubble, 2011, 3 min loop
Katja Loher, Videostill from Timebubble, 2011, 3-minute loop Courtesy of the artist
News_Nancy_dance in unlikely places_Nezval_Abeceda_detail D
Vitězslav Nezval, Abeceda, (Alphabet), 1926; cover and typography: Karel Teige; choreography: Milča Mayerová; Photography: Karel Paspa; Prague: J. Otto; Collection of Roy and Mary Cullen
News_Nancy_dance in unlikely places_Videostill, Sculpting in Air, Katja Loher_2010
Katja Loher, Videostill from Sculpting in Air, 2010, 3-minute, 10-second loop Courtesy of the artist
News_Nancy_Dance in Unlikely Places_Katja Loher, Multiverse Installation and Supper for Two, 2011
News_Nancy_dancers in unlikely places_Hugo Boettinger Studie aktu Milčí Mayerové (Nude Study of Milča Mayerová), 1925
News_Nancy_dancers in unlikely places_Hugo Boettinger Studie aktu Milčí Mayerové (Nude Study of Milča Mayerová), 1929
News_Katja Loher, Videostill from RGB Planet, 2010, 5 min 40 sec loop
News_Katja Loher, Videostill from Timebubble, 2011, 3 min loop
News_Nancy_dance in unlikely places_Nezval_Abeceda_detail D
News_Nancy_dance in unlikely places_Videostill, Sculpting in Air, Katja Loher_2010

They don't call me the dancehunter for nothing. I'm a walking motion detector with a first class antenna for dance. Whether it's spotting a dance version of duck, duck, goose, or a senior line dancing class, my radar for dance is always in the "on" position. 

So my ears perked when Cinema Arts Festival Houston artistic director Richard Herskowitz told me,  "You have to see this show," referring to Katja LoherMultiverse at Anya Tish Gallery, through Dec. 2

And, he was right, I had to see this show.

Imagine looking down at a dinner plate and seeing a mini Busby Berkeley movie, which is exactly what happens in Loher's Supper for Two. In Multiverse, Loher projects intricate kaleidoscopic choreography on gigantic, white weather balloons, with delicious dance patterns wrapping around the surface of the spheres. The big show happens at the bottom of a hand blown, glass jar sculpture in Toybubble.

I've always suspected that dance looked good in places beyond the stage, and I'm not alone in this thought.

 Filmed from above, giving a bird's eye view, the movement sequences create vibrant geometric patterns. Think June Taylor, but way more surreal. 

Loher collaborated with choreographer Saori Tsukada for Multiverse. "I direct and she translates my ideas into movement, so she is between me and the dancers," says Loher, via email on her way to Sao Paulo, Brazil for a solo show at Museu Brasilerio da Escultura.

The NewYork-based Swiss artist has a theatrical flair, to say the least. These are full out production numbers, with engaging choreography, lights and costumes, which allow the body's contours to construct elaborate designs.

Filmed from above, giving a bird's eye view, the movement sequences create vibrant geometric patterns. Think June Taylor, but way more surreal. It's a marvel that something that feels so large can become so tightly contained. Her pieces feel like worlds captured and put on view in an alterior realm existing between performance and the visual arts.

Dance is an ephemeral art form. It's there, and it's gone. Not so much under Loher's hand, as she attempts to contain dance in these delicate and whimsical structures. I plan on going back over and over, because I can revisit it. Perhaps the most striking piece is Supper for Two, where the dancers mold themselves into the letters of the alphabet forming words using a process the artist calls a "videoalphabet." It's as if they are trying to send a  message. I like art that talks back, in this case, dinner talks back.

Dancing the alphabet

Several decades earlier in 1926, Czech dancer Milča Mayerová danced the alphabet, too. Teige and the poet Vítězslav Nezval collaborated with Mayerová to create Abecedo (Alphabet), considered a masterful example of Poetism in book form, which is included the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston exhibit New Formations: Czech Avant-Garde Modern Glass and Art from the Roy and Mary Cullen Collection, through Feb. 5.

Nezval wrote this collection of poems as a response to Arthur Rimbaud's reflections on the colors of vowels. Mayerová created a pose for each letter of the alphabet, but if you look closely (and you can because the book has been digitized and is hanging on the wall of the MFAH), you can see that her interpretations of the letters go way beyond the expected.

"G" has a cowboy touch. "T" suggests the crucifixion. "Y adds drama, "W" goes Eygptian, while "U" feels submissive. Her "C" takes my breath away; Mayerová sits in repose, letting her spine gently curve. "C" takes on a pensive quality, unlike "V" which explodes on the page.

Linking dance, typography, photography, conceptual art and design, Nezval's book is a beauty, and back in print. In 1926, Abecdeo was performed by Mayerová while Jarmila Horokova recited the poems. It would have been amazing to see her alphabet in action.

After paging through the book, I was left with one question. Why have I never heard of Mayerová? A student of movement theorist Rodolf Laban, she may have been left out of dance history books because she never left Czechoslovakia. We know that she started a school. And it's clear from these images that she understood the power of the body to communicate from the page, and did so with great expression.

Both Loher and Mayerová dwell in the paradox of motion, as they suggest the body as object, archetypal form and kinetic language, while maintaining an expressive human quality, be it held captive in a sculpture or a book.

There you have it, dance in unlikely places, separated by decades, yet on view for you to see right now, less than a mile from each other. Just another day's work for the dancehunter.

Watch the alphabet transformed into dance by Milca Mayerova.

Katja Loher's Multiverse

Multiverse, Solo Show at Anya Tish, 2011 from Katja Loher on Vimeo.