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Performance/Art

October 16, 2009
Yinka Shonibare, MBE, Un ballo in maschera, 2004

Yinka Shonibare, MBE, Un ballo in maschera, 2004

Amid Dallas Arts District excitement last Thursday, the DMA opened Performance/Art, an exhibition featuring works of six contemporary artists who respond to and reshape ideas about performance, theater, and opera. 

 Argentine artist, Guillermo Kuitca, uses the seating chart from the Dallas Opera House as inspiration for several artworks—digitally altering seating chart colors, printing them on photo paper and spraying them with water—creating beautiful, diaphanous abstractions that resemble watercolor paintings. (Kuitca will visit SMU next week to discuss his works.)  Also featured in the exhibition are pieces by David Altmejd, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, and Dallas artists Frances Bagley and Tom Orr.

 My favorite work is by British-born, Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare.  Shonibare’s Un ballo en maschera (A Masked Ball) is a film based on Giuseppe Verdi’s opera of the same name.  The opera combines true and fictionalized elements of the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden, at a masked ball. In the piece, Shonibare merges his African and European roots; dressing the film’s dancers in stunning Roccoco-inspired costumes made of Dutch Wax cloth, a colorful, patterned trade cloth sold by the Dutch to West Africans. He also plays with narrative in his re-imagining of the story: once the King has been assassinated, the story plays in reverse, and (amazingly!) dancers perform choreography backwards. The film has no music or dialogue, but other sounds have a powerful presence; dancers whisper gossip that fills the ballroom and punctuate their movements with quick, sharp inhalations (which also get reversed!). 

 I asked fellow educators to share a word or phrase that captured their experience of Un ballo en maschera.  Below are their thoughts—we’d love to hear yours, too!

Striking—vivid—breathtakingly beautiful—colorful action—swirling drama—heartbeat—intense

Amy Copeland
Coordinator of Learning Partnerships with Schools and the Community

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