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“It wasn’t supposed to happen,” says Washington-area sculptor John Dreyfuss. He had long hoped to collaborate with a dancer, just as one of his greatest influences, Isamu Noguchi, had worked with Martha Graham. He found the perfect partner in local choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess but never expected that lighting designer Jennifer Tipton and costumer Han Feng would sign on. The group’s project, Helix, runs Feb. 1-16 in the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s Hemicycle Gallery.
“You have to understand that Dana assembled a wish list of people he thought we could get the best advice from,” says Dreyfuss. “The shocking and wonderful thing is that those masters, who we went to for advice, have chosen to become a part of the collaboration.”
Known for her innovative lighting designs for choreographers such as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Twyla Tharp, and Paul Taylor, Tipton is internationally regarded as one of the best in her field. Tipton suggested they tap fashion and costume designer Feng, whose work is hailed regularly in the pages of Vogue and Elle.
“Jennifer was supposed to say, ‘I don’t have time.’ Han was supposed to say, ‘Well, maybe if you were in Manhattan,’ or, ‘I haven’t seen you on the cover of ArtNews,” says Dreyfuss. “But these people are the real thing. They are about excellence in the arts.”
The process of creating Helix began two years ago, when Dreyfuss first invited Burgess into his studio.
“When I saw his work, I was completely blown away,” says Burgess, who selected his favorite sculpture for the installation. Dreyfuss enlarged it several times, until the carbon-fiber form stood 12 feet high. Its clean, sensuous curves recall the natural patterns of sand dunes or flowing water, motifs that occur often in Noguchi’s work.
During nonperformance hours, an original score composed by Christopher Nickels, resident composer for Burgess’ dance company, will play along with a video installation by Marianne Richards. During the 45-minute performances, Burgess will dance around the sculpture, his stark gestures casting shadows against its white contours.
“Dana has extraordinary elegance and restraint,” says Dreyfuss. “But he has an acute, intuitive understanding of space and a marvelous sense about sculpture.”
Both men say the creative process, though complicated by the collaborators’ hectic schedules and geographic separationas well as a lack of fundinghas paid off in unexpected ways.
“I think my work has changed a lot,” Burgess claims. “As a dance artist, I’ve been opened up to how a visual artist looks at space and a lighting artist works with form and space. It’s expanded my ability to work with my own medium.”
“This collaboration has given us enormous confidence.We’re more than we would have been if we had taken separate journeys,” says Dreyfuss. “For Dana and me, it’s been a confirmation that if we just do the work, good things will happen.”Holly Bass
Performances are Thursday, Feb. 5, and Saturday, Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 8 at 5:30 p.m. in the Hemicycle Gallery. Call (202) 639-1770 for ticket information.