From pre-Columbian ceramics of processions, to abstract early 20th century canvases inspired by rhythms, to contemporary activist choreography, Histories of Dance illuminates the potential of dance to express physical joy and desire—and also collective anger—in the face of oppression and crisis. By looking at how bodies move together within specific political, historical, and economic contexts, the exhibition reflects how dance functions as exuberant resistance.

Approaching dance in its broadest understanding as socially constructed and codified movement, Histories of Dance includes gestures not necessarily associated with dance: transgressive expressions by marginalized subjects, multi-sensory pleasurable encounters, coordinated and disciplined locomotion, insurgent gestures, and the subversive occupation of public space. Looking within and beyond the strictly “fine” arts, it includes vernacular, street, and protest actions that circulate as viral YouTube videos. The exhibition also highlights the importance of Latin American kinetic and Brazilian neo-concrete art within these debates, investigating what happens when sculptures or abstract paintings “dance.”

Rather than an encyclopedic or chronological history, Histories of Dance poses key questions about the interlocking relationships between visual culture, art, politics, and dance. Previous exhibitions have surveyed historical moments in which dancers and artists closely collaborated, such as the Ballets Russes or the Judson Dance Theater. This show takes a more metaphoric approach, asking how dance and its intrinsic characteristics of dynamic movement have been translated across a range of diverse practices. Histories of Dance is structured around the vocabulary of dance itself, such as improvisation, tension, composition, and gravity, using dance as an expanded framework for motion of all kinds.

While traditional representations of dance histories frequently focus on ethnographic depictions of spectacularized, exoticized Others, this show emphasizes self-invention and the assertive claiming of territories of Black and indigenous people moving together in space. In addition, Histories of Dance foregrounds the contribution of women, with special attention to feminist and queer work, Chilean women mourning the disappeared under Pinochet with la cueca sola, and research around pioneering female dancers, such as Brazilian Analívia Cordeiro and African American Josephine Baker.

Central to the show is an open space, or arena, commissioned by Carla Chaim, that will host a rotating series of live performances, presentations, rehearsals, and workshops by local dancers, choreographers, artists, and performers. Placing active bodies at the heart of the exhibition allows us to critically question the possibilities, dialogues, and disruptions that may arise from the presentation of movement and bodies in motion in the museum.

CURATED BY Adriano Pedrosa, Artistic Director, Julia Bryan-Wilson, Adjunct Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Olivia Ardui, Assistant Curator, and is contextualized within a full year dedicated to the Histories of Dance at MASP in 2020. The exhibition program in 2020 includes solo shows of Hélio Oiticica, Trisha Brown, and Edgar Degas, among others.