Trajal Harrell: In one step are a thousand animals

September 1, 2014–October 25, 2015

Part of the MoMA Performance Program

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In one step are a thousand animals is the title Trajal Harrell (American, b. 1973) has given his two-year Annenberg Research Commission Residency project. One of the most prominent choreographers and dancers of his generation, Harrell confronts the history, construction, and interpretation of contemporary dance. Starting from the premise that history is always partly a fiction, Harrell works with historical imagination as a way to rethink how to process and interpret our pasts.

While working on Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at The Judson Church, which is an exploration of a hypothetical hybrid movement drawing both from postmodern dance and voguing, Harrell began investigating the history of butoh, a dance form created in part to resist the conservatism permeating postwar Japanese choreography. As Harrell learned more, the project transformed, focusing on the life and work of Japanese choreographer Tatsumi Hijikata (1928–86), a butoh pioneer. Hijikata situated butoh as an outlaw, literary, and surrealist dance form, activating themes of death, criminality, abjection, and corporeality. Harrell’s research culminated in Used Abused and Hung Out to Dry, which was commissioned by MoMA as part of Performing Histories: Live Artworks Examining the Past, in connection with the exhibition Tokyo: The New Avant-Garde 1945–1970, and was performed in The Agnes Gund Garden Lobby in 2012.

In one step are a thousand animals will include further in-depth exploration of Hijikata's work and the aesthetic possibilities of butoh. Inviting Harrell to pursue his research at MoMA represents a significant continuation of the initiative to involve artists in rethinking the Museum’s performance program. Through a series of performances and discursive events, including the creation of a new piece, Harrell will focus on the conditions of museum space and the involvement of the spectator. He is particularly interested in investigating movements that could derive from butoh, a “slow” movement, touching on perceptions of time and uses of music.

In one step are a thousand animals began in September 2014 with The Practice, in which Harrell offered insights into his working methods for Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at The Judson Church, inviting participation from internationally renowned musicians, composers, DJs, singers, and dancers. The working process was made visible to spectators over two days in three two-hour sessions.

For the second iteration, in January 2015, Harrell engages in a conversation with Eiko Otake, Japanese choreographer and dancer, who works primarily with her partner Koma. Both Eiko and Koma have studied with Kazu Ohno and Hijikata, and moved to New York in the 1970s, developing their own choreographic practice. Eiko & Koma were also part of MoMA’s performance series Performing Histories: Live Artworks Examining the Past in January 2013 with The Caravan Project. Together with Sam Miller, the President of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the two artists, in their first public conversation, will talk about the artistic legacy of avant-garde dance forms in 1960s Tokyo, Eiko’s integral participation in that scene, and the parallel aesthetic threads in their work.

In October 2015, for the next part of this project, Harrell performs The Return of La Argentina, a fictional archiving of Kazuo Ohno’s (1906–2010) renowned solo piece Admiring La Argentina, directed by Hijikata and dedicated to the famed Spanish dancer Antonia Mercé (1890–1936), who was known as “La Argentina.” In addition to this new work, Harrell will once again present The Practice to reveal new developments in his working process. Performances will take place during Museum hours.

Organized by Ana Janevski, Associate Curator, with Martha Joseph, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Media and Performance Art.

The project is made possible by MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art through the Annenberg Foundation.

Trajal Harrell. The Practice. 2014. Photograph © 2014 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Trajal Harrell. The Practice. 2014. Photograph © 2014 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Julieta Cervantes

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