Trajal Harrell: In one step are a thousand animals

Sep 1, 2014–May 8, 2016


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

Trajal Harrell’s (American, b. 1973) In one step are a thousand animals is a two-year artist residency at the Museum of Modern Art that culminates in the commission of a new work. 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 his 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, dealing with themes of death, criminality, abjection, and the body. 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.

In one step are a thousand animals includes further in-depth exploration of Hijikata’s work and the aesthetic possibilities of butoh through a series of public events including performances, conversations, and open rehearsals.

I. The Practice

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.

Guest collaborators: Rob Fordeyn, Megan LeCrone, Alex Mugler, Susanna Sloat, Stephen Thompson, Ondrej Vidlar, Sandy Williams
Sound: Selvin Mizrahi, Imani Uzuri
Costumes/styling: Stephen Galloway

The performance took place in the fourth-floor Werner and Elaine Dannheisser Gallery, September 4–5, 2014, 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m., 1:00–3:00 p.m., and 3:30–5:30 p.m.

II. Trajal Harrell, Eiko Otake, and Sam Miller in Conversation

For the second part of his residency, in January 2015, Harrell engaged in a conversation with Eiko Otake, Japanese choreographer and dancer, who works primarily with her partner Koma. Both Eiko and Koma 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, talked 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.

The panel took place in The Roy and Niuta Titus Theater 2, Thursday, January 15, 2015, 7:00 p.m.

III. The Return of La Argentina and The Practice

In October 2015, for the next part of this project, Harrell performs The Return of La Argentina, a solo exhibition that serves as 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.

Dancers (La Argentina): Trajal Harrell
Dancers (The Practice): Trajal Harrell, Thibault Lac, Ondrej Vidlar

The Return of La Argentina took place on Saturday, October 24, 2015, 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m., and Sunday, October 25, 2015, 12:00, 3:00, and 4:00 p.m. The Practice took place on Friday, October 23, 2015, 11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. and 2:30–5:00 p.m., and Saturday, October 24, 2015, 2:30–5:00 p.m.
Both performances were in the second-floor Paul J. Sachs Prints and Illustrated Books Galleries.

IV. In the Mood for Frankie

As the culmination of his residency at MoMA, Harrell continues his exploration of Tatsumi Hijikata in the new commissioned performance In the Mood for Frankie. In this work, Harrell turns toward the figure of the muse, both in Hijikata’s work and in Harrell’s personal influences. This performance draws upon a diverse set of inspirations, including butoh dancer Yoko Ashikawa, modern dancer-choreographer Katherine Dunham, filmmaker Wong Kar Wai, fashion designer Rei Kawakubo, singer Sade, dancer and choreographer Kazuo Ohno, and Harrell’s own working relationships with dancers Thibault Lac and Ondrej Vidlar. In the artist’s words, “In the Mood for Frankie spills out like a park of muses settled and unsettled between history and the imagination.”

Choreography: Trajal Harrell
Dancers: Trajal Harrell, Thibault Lac, Ondrej Vidlar
Set design: Trajal Harrell
Lighting design: Stefane Perraud
Soundtrack: Trajal Harrell
Costumes: Comme des Garçons, Ann Demeulemeester, Jean Paul Gaultier, and the performers
Production manager: Bob Bellerue
Technical director: Alexander Symes
Company manager: Michael Hart
Managing director: Catherine Levine

The performance took place in the first-floor escalator corridor, May 7 and 8, 2016, 10:00 a.m.–11:30 p.m.

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.


Installation images

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