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La Biennale di Venezia

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Historical Archives

The Idea of the Body

Merce Cunningham, Steve Paxton, Julian Beck, Meredith Monk and Simone Forti from the Archives of the Biennale 1960 - 1976

The virtual exhibition is a replica of the exhibition curated by Virgilio Sieni – Director of the Dance Department from 2013 to 2016 – and held in 2014 at Ca’ Giustinian: a leap into the Historical Archives of La Biennale with over 200 photos as well as posters and sketches from the time when dance was “hosted” by the other departments, Music and Theatre, which featured the most advanced experimentation in this field as well. 

Paolo Baratta

We dive back again into the Historical Archives to bring more of its treasures up to the surface. The Dance Department pursues its course with Virgilio Sieni who curated the exhibition Riapparizioni. Corpi, gesti, sguardi dai palcoscenici della Biennale. Album dal 1934 al 1976, and now presents The Idea of the Body. Merce Cunningham, Steve Paxton, Julian Beck, Meredith Monk and Simone Forti from the Archives of the Biennale 1960 - 1976.
The quality of the material distinguishes these exhibitions as particularly relevant research opportunities, which highlight significant moments in the history of dance, many of which have been forerunners or sources of inspiration for the generations after them.
To us, this is again the most vibrant and vital use that can be made of the Archives, to bring them to light in small parts, yet dense with meaning, essential elements for understanding and orienting ourselves in the present.
The ASAC is increasingly validating its role as a centre of research.

Virgilio Sieni

The different experiences of the body documented in this exhibition are metaphors for the different ways that the city opens to the body. The visual material found in the Archives of La Biennale documents fundamental experiences which took place outside of theatres, and which drew the attention of performers and spectators to the urban design and the geography of places in the city. These artists not only chose spaces that were alternative to traditional venues, but most of all they made the nature of place the keystone of their dramaturgy, in a process that is well documented in the selection of photographs and videos. Starting, above all, with the memorable Event held in Saint Mark’s Square by Merce Cunningham’s company on September 14th, 1972, a guest in the programme of the Biennale Musica, which astounded the viewers and generally baffled the critics.
The materials on display document artists who experimented across the spectrum, demanding from their audience an attention and reading of their art that had never been seen before. Merce Cunningham sought to break open the code by turning the structure, i.e. the frame, into an explosion of minimal elements, like loose molecules: a choreographic construction based on the liberation of the structure while remaining within the structure. Steve Paxton on the other hand worked within the cosmos of man to try and make a figure ‘fall’, continuously forcing the boundaries of the senses and of feeling. In the video presented in the exhibition, Simone Forti incarnates the idea of a nomad who pursues the idea of body with its immediate physicality, and the idea that thought can even materialize through the flesh.
The political and prophetic power of the bodies of Julian Beck and The Living Theatre, like the ritual vocals of Meredith Monk, draw our attention back to a new concept of spectacle, which in those years explored the idea of happenings and performance art, to achieve a hard maturity of the body which was transformed into a way of life.

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