Like a Phantom Near or Far (An Occasional Figure Moving)

dancers circle in swirling skirts in a large hall with colorful tiles, viewed through a door frame
Mariam Ghani & Erin Ellen Kelly, Like a Phantom Near or Far (An Occasional Figure Moving), live performance, RT 60 min, 2024


Commissioned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and devised for and in the museum with local performers, Like a Phantom Near or Far traces a choreographic journey throughout SAAM’s National Historic Landmark building. Known in the 19th century as a “temple of invention,” it is one of the oldest federal buildings in Washington, DC. The title references one of Walt Whitman’s Civil War poems, inspired by his experiences tending to wounded Union soldiers when this building (at the time the federal patent office) served as a makeshift military hospital. Traveling through the interstitial spaces of the building, the performance melds sound and movement to evoke the past moments, haunting resonances with the present, and material realities that make up this building as we experience it today. Using the architecture of the building to frame a series of vignettes, Like a Phantom moves viewers through both space and time, from the quarrying of the sandstone for the building’s first wing to the fire that nearly destroyed it, and from the chaos of Lincoln’s second inaugural ball to the generations of civil servants who have passed through these halls.

The live performance was presented twice on the evening of January 11th, 2024 – once while the museum was still open to the public, and once after it closed for the day. We filmed both the final tech rehearsal and parts of the live performances, and will begin editing the footage in summer 2024.

Zo Williams in Like a Phantom Near or Far



Directed by Mariam Ghani & Erin Ellen Kelly

Performers: Holly Bass, Charlene Cowan, Erin Ellen Kelly, Sarah Laughland, Stephen Lyons II, Gabriel Mata, Aadya Sharma, Sonja Stahl, Chitra Subramanian, Zo Williams

Sound design/score: Booker Stardrum

Production manager: Faryn Kelly

Event sound: Silo

Lighting: 4Walls

Cinematography: Adam Hogan

Sound recordist: Jim Choi

AC: Jess Y. Lee

Thanks to: Lindsey Canas, Zawadi Carroll, Alex Cooper, Natalie and Dan Campbell, Tarek Ghani, Saisha Grayson, Gloria Kenyon, Shantelle Jones-Williams, JoAnn & Bob Laboy, Mary Lesher, Richard MacPike, Tim Nielsen, Sarah Beth Oppenheim, Beth Pearson, and all the in-gallery volunteers