Alexandra Bachzetsis’s Massacre: Variations on a Theme

The Museum of Modern Art presents Alexandra Bachzetsis’s Massacre: Variations on a Theme, a new performance commission consisting of a video installation on view during regular Museum hours, and four ticketed live performances on the evenings of January 24, 25, 27, and 28. Comprising choreography for three dancers and a musical composition for two pianos, Bachzetsis’s performance takes the form of a feverish interchange between violent physical movement and excessive mechanical repetition, with a physical and visual vocabulary drawn from a variety of sources, including Tarantism, classic Northern Soul dancing, and Surrealist imagery. Tickets for the performances are $12 and can be purchased on ShowClix beginning December 16. 

The work of Alexandra Bachzetsis (b. 1974) frequently brings together the tropes and gestures of popular culture with ancient rituals and the choreographic language of landmark figures in dance such as Trisha Brown. In Massacre—literally a “ballet mécanique,” with nods to the brutalistic, industrial rhythms and Dada sensibility of Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy’s landmark 1924 film—three female dancers perform to a live score for two pianos, one of which is an automatic player piano. The performance alternates between the spasmodic gestures of Tarantism, a dancing mania that appeared in medieval Europe and was believed at the time to be caused by the bite of a tarantula; the circular, up-tempo rhythms of Northern Soul dancing; and the tentative, instinctive cavorting typical of primates. Each sequence of movements is transmitted, almost virally, from one performer to the next.

The images, gestures, and sounds that form Massacre also draw on many precedents from Dada and Surrealism—notably representations of the female form within the work of Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Hans Bellmer—as well as a fascination with the formation of gender and sexuality within a culture increasingly shaped by technology.

Massacre: Variations on a Theme is commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Organized at MoMA by Stuart Comer, Chief Curator, with Giampaolo Bianconi, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Media and Performance Art, and produced by Lizzie Gorfaine, Performance Producer, with Kate Scherer, Assistant Performance Coordinator.

Generous funding for the exhibition is provided by The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art and by The Modern Women’s Fund.

Pianos provided by Yamaha Artist Services, New York.

Additional support is provided by the Annual Exhibition Fund.