Ernesto Neto’s interactive installation anthropodino, currently on display at the Park Avenue Armory, is a massive sensual playground that invites viewers to touch the various fabrics, lie down on a large purple beanbag, walk through the womb-like structure, and smell the aromatic fabric tubes dangling from above. After exploring anthropodino last week, I returned this past Tuesday evening to watch Shen Wei Dance Arts perform a site-specific response to the exhibit. It’s fascinating to see a choreographer respond to a visual artist’s work, especially in an interactive setting. Sometimes the response enhances and builds upon the first artist’s vision. In this case, eerie sounds and cold creatures challenged Neto’s warm, embracing structure.
As hundreds of people wandered through the space waiting for the performance to begin, faint music could be heard. Everyone scurried about in search of the source, and there was soon a gathering in the center of the large yellow, translucent dome – the heart of anthropodino. A cellist played soft, eerie music as dancers in long grey dresses emerged in slow, meditative walks. With white paint covering their skin and hair they were statuesque, stiff, and cold, sharply contrasting with the earthy, inviting installation. Although they often collapsed to the floor and interacted with one another in a variety of lifts, they never explored some of the most welcoming aspects of anthropodino, such as the pool of blue plastic balls or the gauzy red tent filled with lavender-scented pillows and cushions. Perhaps these stoic, unfriendly creatures couldn’t be tempted.
Their behavior seemed to affect the way viewers were absorbing the exhibit, as well. Groups hurriedly backed away as dancers neared them (although this is a frequent occurrence at interactive installations), and the performers’ wide-eyed stares suggested that they were equally intimidated by the viewers. Would Ernesto Neto agree with Shen Wei’s response to anthropodino? Neto hoped “to touch you with the smell”, but Wei’s dancers were detached and distant from the installation’s fragrances, textures, and sites. They cast a mysterious, haunting spell over the space, which felt warm, inviting, and relaxed until their appearance.
As the dancers shed their clothing near the end of the hour-long performance and stretched out on the floor, they finally gave in to the maternal embrace of the exhibit. But their attempt at becoming one with anthropodino seemed too forced, too late. The dancers looked more comfortable – and more intriguing – as unfeeling statues.
The performance by Shen Wei Dance Arts was a one-time event, but anthropodino is on display at the Park Avenue Armory through June 14.
Photos courtesy of This Week In New York