1518, Dance Fever: Unmovable Feast

 Off with your head!

Dance till you’re dead!

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs issued their thumping pop edict a decade ago. However, dancing has been a matter of life & death for centuries. In mid-16th century, the awe-full-some Dancing Plague shocked the medieval Rhine region. Its first cases were reported in Strasbourg. During my recent press trip to Strasbourg Biennale, I visited the commemorative exhibition 1518, La Fievre de la Danse at the Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame. Given that this Plague/Fever was a major milestone for the development of European performing arts, medical sciences and Christian practices, I expected the exhibition to be epic… I was not moved. Here is how my Love of the Dance collided with my Museum Fatigue. First,  I’ma let History Channel sensationalize it:

I recognize both the general lack of 500-year old artifacts and more specific absence of tangible evidence when it comes to cultural practices like music, dance, any ritual. How do you put together an exhibition without much to exhibit? Attending 1518, Dance Fever was kinda like walking through (brilliantly colored and dramatically lit) Wikipedia pages. Except, if you couldn’t follow French or English… you’d have to contend with some wall stencils, a couple sculptural fragments, a few faded pages. It was the case of packaging out-valuing its contents. That said, if you could read the accompanying text (the lots and lots of it), the curators had done a great job narrating this fascinating story. The “book” was better than the adaptation, again 🙂 In the quiet stillness of the space, I needed something, someone, somehow to move-move-move. So much for Dance Fever…

At the end, there were several videos… A freestyle performance in the Strasbourg Cathedral square with dozens of dancers re-interpreting the historic scene; a 1960’s short film by Gianfranco Mingozzi documenting La Taranta, the famous faith-adjacent practice of the Italian ecstatics; etc. What was missing was the nod to the YouTube generation. Five hundred years ago they called it the Dancing Plague. These days, we call it a viral challenge. Or, a Feist music video 🙂 I actually enjoyed [reading] the 1518 exhibition and look forward to experiencing dance performances with renewed appreciation next!

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