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Performing Arts

Sparling to explore the moving body on stage, screen and canvas for DUP lecture

Photograph of Jack Kevorkian, taken in front of his painting "The Gourmet (War)" at Ariana Gallery in Royal Oak, Michigan. Courtesy the University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library.

By Sydney Hawkins

Back when Peter Sparling began dancing 46 years ago, the concept of creating and performing across media wasn’t widely accepted or practiced.

He began to challenge this notion as a young violin student at Interlochen Arts Academy, when he decided to take a dance class during his sophomore year.

“I fell in love with dance right away,” said Sparling, who went on to graduate from Interlochen and The Juilliard School before becoming a member of the José Limón Dance Company and principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company.

“For me, this medium resides at the intersection of music and visual art—a reimagining of the body as architecture in motion—which resonated with me because I’d always visualized music as I played it,” he said.

As part of his inaugural lecture as the Rudolf Arnheim Distinguished University Professor of Dance, Sparling will demonstrate how he has continued blur lines between disciplines through his evolution as a dancer, educator, choreographer and multimedia artist.

Distinguished University Professor is the highest professorial title granted at U-M. Sparling’s lecture, “To See is to Believe: The Body Made Visible,” is at 4 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Duderstadt Video Studio, followed by a reception.

Sparling, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of dance at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, will deliver a precisely choreographed talk alongside a 52-minute, non-stop video stream where viewers will watch him experiment with abstraction and motion as projected onto the mesh walls of his Pop-Up Projection Pavilion (PUPP) installation.

The PUPP setup serves as a viewing platform or laboratory that “demonstrates how we see bodies in motion in space,” Sparling said. By “abstracting” the figure from live (stage) to digital (video), he explores a “new poetics that makes the body visible within multiple frames and clarifies what dance is and can be.”

The video-projection aspect of the lecture will include many of his “screendances” that have been selected for film festivals in New York, Scotland, London, Paris, Lisbon, Riga and Cannes.

In addition to his multimedia presentation, an exhibition of 26 recent acrylic paintings by Sparling will be on view at the lecture as well. Described as “self portraits in motion,” the paintings are an extension of the work that he creates on screen and on stage.

“I am finding that I can no longer work within silos of specific media,” he said. “For instance, as I paint, I am reawakening all of the channels of motion and visceral muscular movement that inspire my dancing.”

Sparling hopes that his audience will gain a greater understanding of the multifaceted aspect of creative work.

“Over my 30 years at the university, I’ve witnessed a gradual shift toward interdisciplinary arts promotion and collaboration. We used to be the dilettantes, the wannabes, the delusional ones,” admitted Sparling. “With the importance that has been placed on visual media in recent years, we’re spending a lot less time having to explain ourselves using only words. This is a great time to be an artist in kinetic media.”

Visitors will be able to view the PUPP installation at his lecture, and from noon-6 p.m. Feb. 23-26 at the Duderstadt Video Studio.

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