If you head to New York’s Lincoln Center and look hard enough, you’ll see ballet dancers headed to and from from their jobs at the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. But come February, you won’t have to squint to see what could become the performing arts complex’s most striking ballerina. After all, she’s over 15 feet tall, is dressed in bronze and copper and weighs in at 2.5 tons. Oh, and she’s a hippo.
Her name is Hippo Ballerina, and she’s headed to Dante Park across from Lincoln Center on February 7, 2017, as part of an art installation by Danish sculptor Bjørn Okholm Skaarup. Skaarup specializes in bronze sculptures of animals—what he calls a “contemporary bestiary” of intricate creatures with tight connections to human culture.
If Hippo Ballerina reminds you of something, she’s supposed to. Not only does she harken back to the “Dance of the Hours” sequence in Disney’s Fantasia, which featured dancing elephants, crocodiles and, yes, hippos, but she’s also partially based on a much-talked about sculpture from the late 19th century. Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen incensed critics when it was unveiled in 1881, in part because of its realistic not idealistic depiction of its bony, almost impossibly young subject. The sculpture was put in storage after it was panned and was only rediscovered after Degas died 36 years later.
Skaarup’s sculpture is simply too big to suffer that fate, but it’s likely to inspire similarly outspoken feelings. And that’s the point: In a press release about the installation, plans for a hashtag and Instagram contest to let people air their feelings about the unusually graceful mammal are outlined.
If you can’t get enough of the dancing hippo, don’t worry. Other examples of Skaarup’s bronze animals will be on display at Manhattan's Cavalier Gallery from February 8 through March 17. They include The Majestic Lion, a 2008 sculpture that depicts a bronze and black granite lion complete with colorful crown and lifelike hobby horse.
This isn’t the first time artistic ballerinas have invaded New York’s shrine to the arts: In 2015, for example, 15 colorful glass ballerinas filled the promenade of the David H. Koch Theater as part of an art installation commissioned by the New York City Ballet. But Hippo Ballerina is so big—and so whimiscal—that she simply has no parallel. Think of her as a dancer who might just give Misty Copeland a run for her money.