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Ekphrasis in the Monastery: Art on Art on Dance


Photo: Previous Ekphrasis performance with art from Dance Now!
Written by: Diana Dunbar
Article Rating

Hidden behind a busy street in North Miami Beach is the Ancient Spanish Monastery, where Dance Now! Miami will bring the past into the present – and back into the past. Ekphrasis describes the process of examining one form of art through the use of another. “Dance is an ekphrastic art form largely inspired and driven by music,” explains Hannah Baumgarten, co- artistic director, along with Diego Salterini, of Dance Now! Miami.

The Ancient Spanish Monastery was completed in 1141 in Sacramenia, near Segovia, Spain. That was just the beginning of its story. Originally named The Monastery of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels, it was occupied by Cistercian monks for almost 700 years. In 1925, William Randolph Hearst purchased the Monastery and had it dismantled and sent to the United States. Eventually it ended up on Dixie Highway in North Miami Beach. It is the oldest built structure in the Western Hemisphere.

Entering the Monastery is a trip back in time. It’s a Medieval masterpiecewith a chapel and cloisters surrounded by a secluded garden. Monks prayed and lived here. Many marriage ceremonies have been performed here, life and death honored here. The Monastery is surely a keeper of tales and a few of these stories will be performed on Thursday night.

Ekphrasis is a Greek term usually associated with literary and visual works. Many examples abound throughout history -- Miguel de Cervantes utilized many Renaissance frescoes and paintings in Don Quixote; Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec employed it with his painting, “At the Moulin Rouge: The Dance;” and choreographer George Balanchine drew on Greek and Roman mythology for his Apollo.It enables one art form to reflect on another and to illuminate it. The architecture and rich environment of the Monastery were the source of much of the inspiration for the latest Dance Now! piece.

Baumgarten and Salterini began working on this Ekphrasis almost a year ago. Even though Dance Now! Miami is a concert dance company, they have also performed many site-specific works in museums and galleries. “It’s [Ekphrasis] an avenue to venture into a different direction, more avant-garde,” says Baumgarten. “We lead the audience on a little journey, going from one station to another. Each station is encapsulated by whatever piece of art or architecture or element…it’s a full art experience. We were inspired by the place as a whole.”

There are five sections to the piece and the audience is guided from station to station with the opportunity to become fully immersed in art happening around them. Baumgarten and Salterini have developed characters who travel through time, “much as the Monastery has traveled through time,” comments Baumgarten.

Completing choreography for the Monastery was both challenging and inspiring at the same time, she says. The challenge was the space, which differs in size, but that meant the choreographers were liberated from the traditional stage.

Stories are buried within the walls of the Ancient Spanish Monastery. Some of these will live once again, in the rich ekphrasis of art on art.

Dance Now! Miami; Thursday, April 12, 8:00 p.m.; The Ancient Spanish Monastery Foundation,16711 Dixie Hwy, North Miami Beach; tickets: Free (donations accepted); dancenowmiami.org , 305975-8489.

 


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