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No accident: Maria Hassabi falls down gracefully at MoMA

Don’t call 9-1-1 if you spot one of the Cyprus-born choreographer’s dancers tumbled on the ground

If you see someone sprawled across a staircase at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) next week, do not panic. It is all part of a work by the New York-based, Cyprus-born choreographer and artist Maria Hassabi. Plastic, which comes to MoMA from the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, features a rotating cast of eight dancers moving at a glacial pace through the museum’s atrium and two stairwells. The work, which the artist describes as a “live installation”, will run continuously in a choreographed loop during opening hours.

Hassabi’s work forces people to slow down. In Premiere (2013), which debuted at the Kitchen in 2013, five dancers did nothing but rotate 180 degrees. The performance lasted 75 minutes. Translating her work to a museum context has brought additional challenges. “People don’t really know how to react,” Hassabi says. When Plastic debuted in Los Angeles and Amsterdam, “almost every day, people called 9-1-1”, she says. “There are people who kneel next to us and start praying. One woman told us we need a therapist.”

Do Hassabi and her fellow dancers ever reply to their interlocutors? “We don’t say anything,” Hassabi says. One older man, concerned about her well-being, “was insisting, and I felt I had to do something, so I just smiled.”

• Maria Hassabi: Plastic, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 21 February-20 March