curatorial essay from Wrapped & Wrought

from the Spring 2015 exhibit at Arlington Arts Center

Wrapped & Wrought

Curated by Ellen Chenoweth


Know the river has its destination.

The Elders say we must let go of the shore, and

Push off and into the river, keep our eyes open, and

our head above the water.

See who is in there with you and Celebrate.

Alice Walker (from We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For)

Each work in Wrapped & Wrought suggests a journey. The artworks are rooted in a particular landscape, or set of landscapes, inviting an imagined mobility on the part of the viewer.

You may be traipsing through abandoned refuse sites in Fairfax, Virginia with Olivier Giron, carefully collecting samples of trash that will then be cultivated into suspended glass terrariums in Something out of Nothing.

You might be hearing Annie Wilson recount an episode from the streets of her Philadelphia neighborhood following an Eagles football game, as told to us in her performance work At Home With the Humorless Bastard.

While viewing Goat, Lamb, Serpent and Beast, you might picture yourself side by side with Roberto Lugo in Hungary, learning ceramic techniques used to fashion royal china, or immersed in North American graffiti culture.

You might imagine slipping into Nicole Salimbene’s canoe in Knowing Your Water, surrounded by photographic negatives of friends and family, held aloft on a river of familiar waters.

Or you may be ready to take a trip with Jacob Rivkin and his traveling suitcase, The Cheese Is Made of Moon, filled with a mix of rarefied ground-up moon meteor and mundane yet comforting milk.

Any good journey changes the traveler and provokes self-reflection. Some questions that might arise through this particular set of journeys could include: what are your sustaining waters? What are the landscapes that have shaped you, and how is this reflected? Where are the patches of land that might need reclaiming, nurturing or transforming?

The body of the artist is alluded to in each of the works in Wrapped & Wrought. This may be felt most acutely and obviously in Annie Wilson’s work, in which the choreographer and performer was physically present during the exhibition opening, and has left behind in the space a video recording of the performance (an eternally, hopelessly pale imitation), along with the remnants of the set and costuming materials. And even though unseen, the fragile package of the body exists for the visual artists as well, rendering their environments and materials into these remarkable objects, imbued with human histories and desires.

Wishing you a safe journey as you keep our eyes open and push off from the shore….

curatorial essay from Wrapped & Wrought

public / private

I’m teaching a dance history course this semester at Temple University, and have been trying to help the students find primary sources for an assigned research paper.  So I’ve been thinking about how future scholars will be able to access the primary sources that we’re currently creating and have been worrying about how much happens in private or semi-private spaces, tucked away in undocumented discussions in the studio, or in personal emails, or on Facebook.  I’d love to get more of these fascinating and useful sources around the creation of contemporary performance work and associated discussions on the public record, and able to be accessed by others!  There may be a trend in this direction afoot at the moment…

Sarah Anne Austin’s recent article for Dance/USA provocatively posed the question, ‘is modern dance a pyramid scheme?’  I saw an enormous amount of debate and response on Facebook, but there are only 3 comments on the initial article on the Dance/USA site.  Future scholars, who most likely will not be our Facebook ‘friends’, will have no idea of the magnitude of discussion generated. One particularly insightful response came from Tere O’Connor on Facebook, but the smart folks at Culturebot framed the debate and included Tere’s essay on their public site.

Similarly, Jonathan Mandell’s New York Theater blog ran a response to Melissa Hillman’s popular essay The Lies We Tell About Audience Engagement, and then included comments and debate taken from Melissa’s Facebook page.

Baywatch is a new online forum for dance in the Bay Area, and I’m heartened to see a dialogue-based approach to discussing contemporary work.  In this post, two dance writers, Marie Tollon and Kate Mattingly, discuss their impressions of a recent performance with the choreographer, Alma Esperanza Cunningham, over email.  The resulting discussion was posted on Baywatch, accessible to all.


I just finished reading Brenda Dixon Gottschild’s Joan Myers Brown and the Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina: A Biohistory of American Performance and one of the elements that I love the most is that Dr. Gottschild includes wonderfully rich quotes from both company dancers and Joan Myers Brown.  She observed Philadanco rehearsals and would then include quotes from the studio.  So much brilliance is transmitted in the rehearsal room and I’m glad that there are occasionally scholars like Dr. Gottschild present to capture, record, and transmit reports.

public / private

binge-reading the internet

I’ve been binge-reading the internet recently.  There are so many good things to read!  There are so many brilliant artists!

Here are some things I’ve enjoyed recently:

–Keith Hennessy on his experiences at American Realness.  From 2014 but still feels timely and relevant.  (We watched a small piece of Bear/Skin from AR2015 in my dance history class last week, although this video feels maybe not so sanctioned?)

–Philadelphia-based duo Chelsea and Magda have a show this weekend at FringeArts.  I love their thoughtful blog and this remarkable interview that they completed independently but manage to echo and reinforce each other in almost every answer.

–Aaron Landsman has a performance opening at The Chocolate Factory next month.  I can’t make it, but have been happily perusing his lovely blog, which mixes a parody piece about pancakes with analyses of race, place, equity and access.

–I’ve raved about Merritt Tierce’s book Love Me Back before, and my mom sent me this excellent article Tierce wrote and referenced at a reading.  “Has My Husband Read It?” calls out folks who raise that question (which inevitably comes up), pointing out that people are “less likely to ask questions that subsume the man’s creation under the realm of his partner’s consumption and/or approval. … It’s as if I’m being asked, “By whose authority does this telling take place?” and all I want to say is, “Mine, and mine alone.”  Yes ma’am!

binge-reading the internet

Wrapped & Wrought, Arlington Arts Center

I’m making a maiden voyage into the world of curating in a visual arts context.  It’s been a fascinating learning experience, and I hope you’ll come check out the results if you’re in the DC area.  There are 5 artists in my show, entitled Wrapped & Wrought, and their work is transporting.  The opening is on Saturday, January 24, from 6-9pm at Arlington Arts Center.  Live performances by Annie Wilson at 6:30 and 9:30pm.

Here’s the official announcement:

Four rising curators, sixteen artists, four shows…Join us as we welcome the curators and artists of the inaugural Emerging Curators Spotlight: Instigate. Activate | new curators, new ideas

Also on view: Resident artist Dawn Whitmore presents GUN LOVE a solo exhibition in the Wyatt Resident Artists Gallery on our Upper Level. Meet Dawn in her studio during the reception.

Opening night will feature performance art by Annie Wilson at 6:30 PM and 8:30 PM. Each set will last about 20 minutes, and space is limited, so first come, first served!

Curators/Artists include:

Curator Ellen Chenoweth
with artists Nicole Salimbene, Roberto Lugo, Jacob Rivkin, Olivier Giron, and Annie Wilson

Curator Danielle O’Steen
with artists Krista Caballero and FreeSpace Collective’s Billy Friebele and Michael Dax Iacovone

Curator Megan Rook-Koepsel
with artists Mariah Anne Johnson, Joseph Hoffman, Ron Longsdorf, Maggie Gourlay, and Marian April Glebes

Curator Caitlin Tucker-Melvin
with artists L.E. Doughtie, Phaan Howng, and Samantha Rausch

Opening nights always feature open studios with AAC’s group of Resident Artists, so go upstairs, sip some wine in the studios, and check out some works in progress!

Wrapped & Wrought, Arlington Arts Center


I want to be in a hopeful place for a few minutes.  With the bombing of the NAACP in Colorado and the shooting in Paris, and police turning their backs on an elected leader in our largest city, it’s a hard time to be hopeful.

But I wrote about some events last month and they’re still providing solace.  Every time I pass City Hall in Philadelphia, I remember the circle we made there.  I remember the ritual of mourning.  I can’t see any difference in the landscape, and all those families are still grieving their missing members, and the killings continue, but I still feel that we changed something that day, by moving our bodies together, by singing together.  I can’t tell you what it is, but I know that I’m still drawing from that well, and I know we’re not done.

Here’s a written reflection from our Dancing for Justice – Philly action on thINKingDANCE, and a piece on Wilmer Wilson IV teaching at UArts (good art also provides hope).


thINKingDANCE needs you

I trudged up the stairs to <fidget> space and entered a space so beautiful that I had a hard time believing it was real. There were a dozen or so dance writers gathered, a dozen informed, passionate souls who cared enough about dance, writing, and Philadelphia to spend 6 hours for no pay on a cold Saturday in dialogue with a visiting guest writer, struggling with how to make their writing more vibrant, how to be responsible within a community, and how to promote engaging dance discourse. Stunning!

One reason I love thINKingDANCE is the chance to work with generous and brilliant editors.  Each piece that goes online goes through an extensive editing process with two different editors. (We know how rare this is in the digital world, right?)  Somehow these editors know exactly what I might be avoiding or elements that I’ve overlooked or forgotten about.  I’m grateful for their keen eyes each time I send over a first draft.  They help ensure that the site’s content is high quality and they are amazing.

Ours is a multi-generational group, with writers just out of college to a former Trisha Brown dancer, all working towards the same goals. There’s a sense of hope that the group provides. Each time I read a dance review that is overly snarky, under-informed, or otherwise infuriating, I take comfort in the work that TD is doing: building a group of trained writers with keen powers of observing our art form.

And I’m proud of what we make together.  Where else are you going to get an insightful interview with PA Ballet’s Angel Corella, a smart take on Trajal Harrell’s recent performance at FringeArts, and a poetic meditation on Eiko at the 30th Street Station? (all published in the same week!)


We’re doing a fundraising campaign right now in an attempt to pay the writers and editors a modest stipend for their work.  I donated because I love being a part of TD and I love the work that we do.  If you’ve enjoyed any of our recent articles, or think that lively, informed press coverage is good for our dance community, please consider a donation.

thINKingDANCE needs you

farewell Fringe

The FringeArts fall festival is officially over now, even the extraordinary postscript finale of Rosas Danst Rosas.


Some things I loved:

the sense that there was a critical mass of people experiencing and engaging with the same work
the feeling that the festival was a big deal in the cultural life of the city
seeing artists perform one night, and then seeing them in the audience the next night; the sense that artists in Philly are interested in and in dialogue with each other

And I saw a ton of interesting work that I’m still chewing over!

Check here for some tweet reviews that Becca Weber and I did from the festival for Thinking Dance.  And here for my review of Tina Satter’s In the Pony Palace/FOOTBALL.

farewell Fringe