In an effort to liven up its Department of Arms and Armor, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has invited 29 freestyle dancers from the South Bronx to perform in replica battle gear at the museum throughout the first half of the year.
The dancers hail from It’s Showtime NYC!, a group made up of artists who cut their teeth performing on New York City subway trains and platforms. As part of the commission, members of the troop will don traditional chain mail, leather and armor while dancing to their own selection of beats and music. The goal, according to museum curators, is to reveal “unexpected parallels” between historical combat tradition and hip-hop dance culture. Of course, the series also highlights the ways in which armor moves with and protects the body.
Pierre Terjanian, the curator in charge of the Department of Arms and Armor, told ALL ARTS that the idea for the series originated out of a desire to showcase the armor’s full merits. After all, armor is kept in glass cases at museums for preservation, but the stationary setting does little to reveal the core functions that make the gear special or powerful. Dancing and movement is a test of armor’s adaptability and flexibility — both important traits while fighting on battlefields.
“A mail shirt will amplify the motions of the body within, like drapery would, not to mention the ability for the metallic links to catch and reflect light,” Terjanian said. “Beyond the viewers’ ability to witness the workings of the pieces, the performances show how armor can transform the body and even possibly the dancer’s behavior.”
Dancer Christopher Brothwaite, who goes by the stage name “Venxm,” confirmed that it did, in fact, influence his dancing — but only at first.
“The armor was heavy, but the more I danced with it the lighter and more manageable it became,” he said. “Eventually I found my own movement with my choice of armor.”
Upcoming performances will take place on Feb. 8, March 22, April 12 and June 5-8 in Gallery 371 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.