Friday, October 3, 2014

A Mighty Merger

Merger isn't the most apt word. since what's happening is more of a temporary partnership between two leading arts institutions in the most institutionally minded city in the country. To wit, the National Gallery of Art and Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts have combined forces to celebrate  Edgar Degas' iconic sculpture "Little Dancer Aged Fourteen." An original musical based on the piece debuts in Washington (at Kennedy Center) Oct. 25 at the same time on ongoing exhibit is open at the former big league venue.
What lay behind the collaboration is a sequence of largely unheralded events, beginning with director/choreographer Susan Stroman  asking the show's writer Lynn Ahrens "What was she thinking, do you suppose?"
That was five years ago. The woman these two Broadway power women had in mind was the teenage ballerina named Marie van Goethem who first posed for the artist in 1878. The statue (or statuette, the Gallery's term) that Degas labored over for many years may be the only one of his works that never travels, its unorthodox materials a mix of beeswax, clay, metal armature, rope, paintbrushes, human hair, linen, silk and rubber, cotton and silk. She might be brooding or bored but the low forehead, jutting chin, outstretched leg, arms behind her back is a compelling stance.  Stroman and Ahrens couldn't let go of their question. (Marie was dismissed from the Paris Opera Ballet in 1882 and her fate is unknown; long live American musical  as a revival forum.)
Deborah Ziska, NGA's press head, one year ago broached the possibility of timing the current NGA exhibit ('Degas's Little Dancer")  with the  world premiere of the musical (which the Kennedy Center is producing) and rallied the gallery's marketing team along with Dodge Thompson, the chief of exhibits who oversees gallery curators.  Deborah Rutter, Kennedy Center's new president, in describing the musical as "a little bit of history and a little bit of magic,"  hailed the cooperative effort  as "an example of what institutions ought to do."
Let's have more.
The gallery's exhibit runs from Oct. 5 to January 11 and is presented with several other objects from their collection, including an oil painting and a pastel from the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
October 5, 2014–January 11, 2015

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