See the Art of Pole Dancing at the New Museum With Gerard & Kelly

Artists challenge traditional notions of pole dancing. No dollar bills required.

Photo: Instagram/@regangrusy

Dancing on a pole isn’t just for the strip club (or the subway) anymore. Need proof? Check out Gerard & Kelly’s “P.O.L.E (People, Objects, Language, Exchange),” an installation and live performance that opened yesterday at the New Museum.

The exhibition, produced during the pair’s six-month residency at the museum, uses sculpture, video, and choreography to consider different kinds of kinship—from familial and platonic love to political and national allegiance. The notion of threats to such bonds plays a role as well, evidenced by a video made in the aftermath of the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

But the centerpiece of the exhibition is the pole routine, Two Brothers. Gerard & Kelly installed two 16-foot copper poles in the museum’s lobby, which involved actually removing ceiling tiles. The 20-minute routine begins with two dancers playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” and then turns to running between and swinging on the poles. This part is almost childlike, but that quickly changes when one dancer strips off his sweats and climbs the pole, perching elaborately atop it. When this dancer says “rest,” the other supports him from below, allowing a moment of relaxation before they must return to their posing.

Photo: Instagram/@medikateny

Photo: Instagram/@medikateny

After this, the second dancer takes the opposite pole, choosing a person from the audience to play a song from their smartphone (which is a funny, curious way of engaging the audience, given that the songs played directly before and after this are played using a speaker). This part is extremely athletic, and the audience watches in awe as the dancer climbs the pole, poses, swirls, and slides down.

Finally, the two dancers join again at the same pole, and walk around it in a circle, weaving through each other as they talk about their (real life) siblings. “Lots of moles,” and “great smile” and “Rihanna chin” are descriptors two of the dancers used last night.

The performance changes in both small and large ways, depending on which two of the six dancers involved in the project are performing. It is for this reason that Johanna Burton, the museum’s curator and director of education, recommends seeing the dance performed at least twice. Part of the value of the project is watching how multiple sets of people perform the acts differently, and yet the same.

The dancers, TyTy Love, Roz “The Diva” Mays, Forty Smooth, Tatyana St. Louis, Justin Tate, and Tyke Turner, hail from a variety of backgrounds, including urban subway dance, exotic dance, fitness, and contemporary art.

There are two subway dance crews involved that were using the space to practice during Gerard & Kelly’s residency, when they would frequently have people there for workshops and dance classes. Choreographer Ryan Kelly recalls a moment in which a museum curator was riding the subway and ran into some of the guys from one of the crews, who proudly announced to the train “we don’t just do this on the subway anymore!” to which the curator happily attested.

Photo: Instagram/@regangrusy

Photo: Instagram/@regangrusy

“P.O.L.E” is not about cultivating the stereotypical museum-going environment where everyone is silently contemplating. People in the audience, especially the other dancers and their friends, cheer and yell and gasp in awe at the physical feats before them. The dance itself is about human connection—the chemistry between the two dancers mimics that of brothers or friends, and the connection between the dancers and their audience mimics that of compatriots.

Gerard & Kelly: P.O.L.E (People, Objects, Language, Exchange)” is on display at the New Museum until February 15. Two Brothers is performed daily at 1 PM, 3 PM, and 5 PM.

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