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Q & A: Dance museum assistant director organized Jackson exhibit

Sunday, September 26, 2010
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Sarah Hall Weaver, assistant director of the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, stands in the new Michael Jackson exhibit area.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Sarah Hall Weaver, assistant director of the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, stands in the new Michael Jackson exhibit area.

When Michael Jackson was dancing, there were moments when he believed he was touched by something sacred.

“I felt my spirit soar and become one with everything that exists,” he wrote in his 1992 book “Dancing the Dream.”

That quote from the legendary King of Pop appears on the blue, 5-foot-tall plaque that marks his Aug. 15 induction into the Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Spa State Park.

Honored by the museum 14 months after his death, Jackson is the 44th member of its 33-year-old Hall of Fame, joining Martha Graham, Fred Astaire, Paul Taylor, Igor Stravinsky, Peter Martins, George Balanchine and Suzanne Farrell and other luminaries of the dance universe in the room of plaques, photographs, costumes and memorabilia.

Exhibit unveiled

Jackson’s induction was closed to the public, but the very next day, as it does for each inductee, the museum unveiled an exhibit about Michael Jackson, which will be on display until next August, when the next ceremony is held.

Designed and mounted by Sarah Hall Weaver, the museum’s assistant director, the small exhibit next to the Hall of Fame features a glittery timeline of Jackson’s life and four items of clothing: a pair of jeans, a fedora and two concert jackets.

The main sights and sounds are film and music videos from Jackson’s four-decade career: Jackson Five cartoons from the 1970s, the 2009 documentary “This Is It,” the 1991 music video for “Black or White” from his “Dangerous” album and the ground-breaking, 14-minute “Thriller” music video from 1983.

For the kiddies, there’s a Jackson Five mini stage, where they can don Afro wigs and groove to their favorite tunes.

Hall Weaver is still fine-tuning the exhibit. A light-up “Billie Jean sidewalk” is under construction, and a back-stage pass from “This Is It,” Jackson’s farewell show in London that never happened, will be added soon.

An exciting job

Hall Weaver, who grew up in Greenfield Center, was a serious dancer during her college years at Alfred University, where she trained in various modern techniques.

“I got a job here, and two years later, I still haven’t been able to tear myself way. There isn’t much time for training anymore, . . . but I love what I do here and wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Q: While putting together the exhibit, did you learn something about Michael Jackson that you didn’t know before?

A: I was actually really surprised by how much I learned. I was an ’80s baby, I grew up knowing him as a social icon, so my initial designs for the exhibit came from my gut instinct and lifelong awareness of his work, but as I did background research and re-familiarized myself with his videos, songs and career, it was a real shock as to how prolific he really was as a dancer. I certainly wasn’t aware of how involved he really was in the commercial shaping of early hip-hop dance. I don’t think I understood how many opportunities he had opened up for urban dancers [and professional dancers alike]. Sure, hip-hop dance would have found itself regardless, but the way Michael Jackson used it in his videos and performances brought an incredible amount of attention to something that otherwise would have had limited appeal and exposure. . . . He brought it to the attention of the public and to other artists.

Q: What do you know about the jeans in the exhibit?

A: The pair of black jeans are from a charity event that Elle Magazine sponsored in 1996 called “Get Your Jeans Off.” The event was designed around the auctioning off of celebrity-owned and autographed jeans. Michael was well-known for his charitable efforts.

Q: Are you a Michael Jackson fan? If so, what do you admire about him?

A: I’ve always been a fan of Michael’s work. There’s something hypnotic about his music, and it’s always driven my instinct to dance. I think that’s the case for most people that grew up with him. It’s amazing how many people he inspired. There are a lot of people out there that credit his music and artistry as primary sources of inspiration. He was also an amazing philanthropist. He never seemed to abandon his causes and integrated them into his art in a way that I don’t see many other celebrities do.

Q: What kind of response has the museum gotten to the induction of Michael Jackson into the National Dance Hall of Fame?

A: We’ve had a fantastic response. It’s been a great opportunity for newcomers to experience the museum, and it’s also been a great opportunity for dance lovers to experience a different genre of dance. I’ve been amazed to see how long guests linger in the exhibit, really devoting themselves to investigating each video, each text board, and each piece of memorabilia. I think people are really excited to see something so familiar in a new light. It’s welcoming to people that enjoy dance but are foreign to the high art of ballet and modern.

Q: What is happening with the Michael Jackson tribute garden planned at the museum?

A: The tribute garden is on hold right now. There were some complications with the organizers from the fan club and the landscapers, but it will hopefully be sorted out soon.

 
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