In a truly inspired strategy for demonstrating how their collection looks in action, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has invited dancers from the organization It’s Showtime NYC! to do a series of performances in their Arms and Armor gallery.
The Met sent us some footage from a recent rehearsal, which you can see above. The collaboration melds two New York institutions—perhaps the city’s most famous museum, and tradition of subway performances that begin with the loud announcement that “It’s SHOWTIME!”—and the result really does give you a new appreciation for what these pieces looked like in their original context. It’s an infinitely better way to understand armor than slowly circling a fully-assembled suit muttering “now how in the hell...” like some of us have found ourselves doing.
In a piece for the New York Times on the project, Sarah Maslin Nir explained how it came about:
The collaboration was the brainchild of Pierre Terjanian, the curator in charge of the arms and armor collection, who was trying to figure out how to show the collection as its craftsmen intended — in motion.
He found there is precedent: In 1924, the Met produced a silent film about a suit of armor that posits the question, “Does your knight ever come to life in ghostly moonlight?” (Spoiler alert: It does, stepping forth from its display case to ride a horse around Central Park.)
He presented the idea to Limor Tomer, the general manager of MetLiveArts, the museum’s performance branch, who hit upon the Showtime dancers, with the joust-like pomp of their public dance battles, as the perfect vehicle.
The dancers immediately took to the parallels, too. Christopher Brathwaite told Nir that he immediately saw the similarity between knights’ rituals around suiting up and his fellow dancers practice sessions: “We don’t know what the opponent was preparing or putting on, or getting ready to do,” he said, adding, “But we would put our best out, as they would put their best out.”
If you are local and interested in finally learning how the showtime dancers do their thing, November 9 will be “Teens Take the Met,” a free evening at the museum for the 13 to 18 set with special, teen-only programming, and the dancers will be doing a workshop for the teens. If you cannot convincingly approximate a teen, you can still watch the performance that evening—or catch one in January or February.