Professor Jim Coleman describes a recent student dance performance at the Museum inspired by the artworks of Judy Pfaff. Three art majors, three experienced dance improvisers, and 20 beginning dance students participated in the performance.
I’ve been a big fan of Judy Pfaff’s work for a long time, especially her large installations. Her dazzling spatial scale, myriad textures, convoluted pathways of color and space-sculpting designs are so kinetically alive. Both visually and viscerally, they remind me of the complex "blooming, buzzing confusion" of life. They’re also wonderfully musical and rhythmic. Who would imagine that so much action and sound could come from visual art? For me, as a choreographer, her installations are big group dances, a crazy-quilt of ballet, hip hop, tap and ballroom, flung up and frozen mid-action into the surrounding space.
Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to create a dance event to precede her lecture on September 24 (the Fifth Annual Louise R. Weiser Lecture in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership Through Art) and the formal opening of the exhibition betwixt: Judy Pfaff 1985/92 at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum.
It was a bit unnerving to hear that Judy Pfaff would be arriving in time to see the piece, especially since we would only have one rehearsal to put it together! But this also upped the ante in an exciting way for all of us involved in the dance. In recent group works, I’ve been experimenting with improvisational performance and mixing in other media, including paint, with dance. For this event, I knew that I wanted layers of action, a collage of sound, different kinetic textures and vibrant colors. I enlisted three student artists to paint the bodies of three experienced improvisers, while they danced in front of a moving backdrop of 20 beginning dance students, many of whom had never performed before. The final piece, set outside the Museum entrance, was a beautifully messy, visual-kinetic romp, layered with a jumbled sound collage. From the absorbed and delighted response of the viewers, it seemed a fitting prelude to the beautiful cacophonies of Judy Pfaff’s work.
-Jim Coleman, Professor of Dance
Dancers and artists, left to right: Qanitah Malik, Joy Davis, Gabby Kruczynski, Shaina Cantino, Luna Lopez, and Jen Polins (Photo Credit: Jim Coleman).