If you visited the “Eye Pop: The Celebrity Gaze” exhibit at the Smith-
sonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, you probably
noticed photographer CYJO’s portrait of choreographer Dana Tai Soon
Burgess. It’s a lovely image, but it doesn’t show his work in motion.
That will change. Earlier this year, the Smithsonian named Burgess its
;rst choreographer in residence. Over the coming three years Burgess will create new works inspired by and in collaboration with the
museum’s exhibitions, and participate in public discussions and open
rehearsals about dance, art and portraiture.
For National Portrait Gallery associate curator
Dorothy Moss, the objective of incorporating dance
and other performance arts is to bring new audiences
into the museum and catch visitors off-guard. “They
come to visit, and ;nd motion and music and all sorts of
lively action in the museum,” she says. The Smithsonian
is one of many museums exploring live performances.
“These are not spontaneous performances,” says Moss.
“They are put together the same way an exhibit is,”
with intensive research and collaborative partnerships.
“The intellectual framework must be there to ensure
that the art and performance ;ts with our mission.”
This is not Burgess’ ;rst foray into the museum
and gallery world. The son of two artists, he grew up
amid galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and has previ-
ously worked in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery and
the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum. “What’s interesting about
portraiture is that there is the subject, the portrait, and then there’s the
psychology of the portrait itself,” says Burgess. “And that psychology
relates really well to the world of dance because it allows the inner ter-
rain to be explored through movement.”
The ;rst of Burgess’ new museum collaborations
takes place in October in the museum’s Robert and
Arlene Kogod Courtyard, a soaring space with a glass
ceiling. Drawing from works in the triennial Outwin
Boochever Portrait Competition, Burgess will explore
identities and personal stories through modern dance.
The images he chose all feature youths and young adults
Prodigy, Renegade, DANCER
as subjects. “One of the main themes of the exhibit is the
question of what’s facing our young people today—gen-
der, ;nding a sense of place, immigration, cultural iden-
tities, questions that are at the forefront of our American
dialogue right now.”
Burgess and his 10 company dancers will also rehearse in the galler-
ies of the Outwin exhibit, where patrons can observe and ask ques-
tions when the performers go on breaks. “Rehearsing right in front of
the portraits is so inspiring. If there is a question or the dancers need
to examine a posture or observe how people are responding, it’s right
there.” —Lisa Traiger
Sergei Polunin made headlines in 2012 when he walked out of his
Royal Ballet contract mid-season. DANCER, a new ;lm about the
controversial artist, may shed some light on what he was thinking.
The documentary, ;lmed over a three-year period following Pol-
DANCER is in select theaters starting September 16.
unin’s departure, is a sympathetic portrait of the dancer. “When we
started the ;lm he was 23 and mired in controversy,” says director
Steven Cantor. “He’s a very gentle, complex and enigmatic soul,
not deserving of the bad reputation he had garnered.”
In the ;lm, Polunin speaks candidly about feeling both elated
by and enslaved to ballet—a marked contrast to the passionate
young boy who stars in a treasure trove of home videos and ar-
chival footage. Interviews with close friends, family, early teachers
and Polunin himself feature throughout, as does an impressive
selection of clips from his explosive performances.
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Dana Tai Soon Burgess is the
National Portrait Gallery’s first
choreographer in residence.
Dances at a Gallery
Dana Tai Soon Burgess
Dana Tai Soon
Polunin in a still from DANCER