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Heaven for Art Lovers - Xavier Le Roy: A Retrospective
I hear “retrospective” and I imagine a standard chronological exhibit with the work presented on the wall alongside an annotation. But this was definitely not that. I should have known, given MoMA PS1's mission to exhibit the most experimental contemporary works in the world, but it still took me by surprise. I stayed until the museum closed - a total of 6 hours.
When you walk in, one of the dancers makes a mechanical buzz sound and three of the dancers scatter out of sight. They crawl back into the space, zeroing in on you as they stand. They say some years like 2005, 1994, 2011, then each steps to their designated spot against the wall and they start performing separate choreographies. After a minute, the dancer nearest to you will introduce themself and describe the piece they just performed and tell you why they chose it. If no one else comes into the space, they will tell you more, but it is very likely that too soon one of them will initiate a buzz again, and it will all restart. This is the first station.
It feels very uncomfortable to be confronted one on one, and even more jarring to have the art talk back. Many people leave immediately. The way the exhibit works is not obvious; to get the most out of it you have to talk to the dancers and figure it out for yourself. This takes time, but your curiosity will rejoice.
In the second station, there is a dancer doing a 30-40 minute retrospective of their life - what they believe, how they first began to relate to dance, a conflict they experienced – tied to similarities with Xavier Le Roy’s timeline and ideology. They will burst into dance to show what they’re referring to. The dancers rotate stations so after a story ends, another dancer will come and you can listen to more. The retrospectives I heard referred to experimentation with Contact Improv in the 60s, breaking a vow to never sing again, working on a piece to reimagine a sacred Mexican dance they had performed when younger, deciding to quit dance in pursuit of stability for their family, how an accident as a child changed the way their body could move, 80s aerobics, and much more.
The third station is a room in the back with computers and books where you can do research on your own and talk to the dancers. The latter element was my favorite part! The dancers were wondrous resources. Through them I learned about dance history and art theory, interesting performances that impacted their life, and festivals and venues around New York City. I analyzed the effect of the exhibit, and the meaning of the choices, with them in a way that allowed me to fully appreciate how brilliant it was. I love talking about art. I was in heaven.
The fourth station is a dark room. That is all I can say, the rest is for you to figure out.
The stations are not linearly explored. You move in and out of all of them at will.
I stayed for 6 hours because I never stopped learning and I never stopped having fun. I learned, and retained, a lot more about Xavier Le Roy’s works, process, and approach because the information was immediately interconnected in my brain through conversation to meaningful concepts, personal experiences, and storytelling. I made it my aim to talk to all the dancers, of which there are a total of 16, in two shifts. I didn’t succeed, but I shall return. The dancers asked me to! They said I had a “very generous energy.” Next time, I shall lose my shyness as a spectator and challenge the dancers with little tricks to their planned interactions, because that is also an element of fun in interactive art.
I cannot recommend this exhibit enough. Go. MoMA PS1 is free for students with CUID and semester validation sticker. The exhibit ends December 1st. Take advantage of the wondrous privilege of living in a city with such exciting taste in art!