The Korea Herald


NY's Met Museum offers exercise amid world-class art

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 20, 2017 - 13:38

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“This offers you amazing moments,” said participant Oliver Ryan, who runs a New York corporate wellness company. “We did our first stretch, and there in the vast gallery was Perseus holding the head of Medusa. What hit me was this was the TV of ancient times, a frozen moment from a story everyone knew.”The Met commissioned the innovative Monica Bill Barnes Dance Company for the project. It was choreographed by the two women leading the workout -- Monica Bill Barnes herself and her dance partner, Anna Bass -- along with Robert Saenz de Viteri, the company’s creative producing director.

Bass said the team worked “obsessively” calculating how to keep a safe distance from the artworks. That means no wild swinging of arms or legs, and exercising a minimum of 1 meter or so from any treasure.

Leading scantily clad, pumped up bodies around the artworks “really runs against the culture of being in a museum, being quiet and being still and walking slowly,” said Barnes. 

An exercise group stretches amongst ancient statues in the American wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on Feb. 10. (AP-Yonhap) An exercise group stretches amongst ancient statues in the American wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on Feb. 10. (AP-Yonhap)

“We’re in the business of making strange things,” she added with a wry smile, “bringing dance where it doesn’t belong.”

De Viteri helped guide the workout session in a vintage tuxedo and sneakers, holding a laptop attached to a speaker that channeled music and recorded narration by artist and author Maira Kalman, who selected the art and gallery route.

“Something very physical happens to me when I’m in a museum. I get this rush of excitement, this kind of tingle of mad, passionate arousal,” Kalman’s recorded voice said as the group did side-stretches in front of a stern-looking bust of American founding father Benjamin Franklin.

The workout ends with everyone lying on their back, eyes closed, on the floor of the Met’s luminous American wing. This yoga pose, called savasana, is meant to release tension from mind and body while absorbing the benefits of the dynamic exercises. Rising over the human stillness is Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ ancient goddess -- the resplendent, gilded Diana, about to release her arrow.

The first sessions, from Jan. 19 through Feb. 12, were sold out months ago. The interest was so intense that more were added, through March 9, and they’re also sold out. Participants, both men and women, have ranged in age from 13 to 85.

Museum officials say there are no immediate plans for a future staging of what is essentially a “performance piece” that took three years to create, with each participant movement matching music and visuals moment by moment.

“The Museum Workout” was commissioned by the museum’s MetLiveArts performance series and partly funded by the Jerome Robbins Foundation and One World Fund. (AP)