Sarah Michelson, Devotion Study #1-The American Dancer, February 2012, during the 2012 Whitney Biennial. Photograph © Paula Court.

 

Choreographer Sarah Michelson will return this month to New York's Whitney Museum, where she won the Bucksbaum Prize in the 2012 biennial, to culminate the four-part "Devotion" series that first bulldozed audiences with its rigorous dancing at the Kitchen in 2011.

The British-born, New York-based choreographer will unveil 4 on Jan. 24 as part of the Bucksbaum award. The first three parts of the series appeared at the Kitchen in 2011 (Devotion); at the 2012 Whitney Biennial (Devotion Study #1-An American Dancer); and in 2013 at New York's Museum of Modern Art (Devotion Study 3), respectively. 4 will be at the Whitney through February 2.

Little is known about what 4 will entail, since Michelson declined to comment. Whitney curator Jay Sanders could tell A.i.A. that 4 will contain another collaborative text with New York theater director Richard Maxwell, and that Michelson has promised that the whole affair won't run over three hours. According to Sanders, there will also be a major scenic element created with an unnamed collaborator.

Sanders describes Devotion Study 1 as "a zooming in on, an intellectual unpacking of [Michelson's] own history." That piece examined Michelson's original work, Devotion, performed at the Kitchen in 2011. For the Whitney performance, Michelson telescoped in on a single three-step phrase, commonly known as a "triplet," that had appeared in the original Devotion choreography. This simple gesture, repeated ad infinitum, filled an entire evening-length work.

Even without these literal, choreographic relationships to her own oeuvre, the punishing nature of Michelson's steps implies the choreographer's driving force. Known for creating choreography that pushes performers to complete exhaustion, in Study #1, Michelson loomed quite literally behind her work, too: a blue neon outline of her face hung glowing at one end of the gallery. In Study 3, Michelson controlled musical cues from the cockpit of a DJ's table wearing a white lab coat. In Devotion, she read a script co-written with Maxwell, her voice booming over the crowd.

Devotion Study 1
was also a consummate partnership between Michelson's choreography and the Whitney's architecture. Michelson "uses space eccentrically, almost like a visual artist," Jay Sanders told A.i.A. "The room itself is her material." The dancers in Study 1 performed on top of a room-size blueprint of the Whitney museum, carving loops and lines over the architectural diagrams. Michelson's deep attention to the architectural specificities will no doubt be a fitting goodbye to the Whitney's Upper East Side location, as the museum prepares to relocate downtown.