Unreal Nature

July 24, 2016

This Way of Seeing

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… he has the professional experience which turns dancing from a thing you buy readymade into a thing you make yourself.

This is from ‘Ashton’s “Devil’s Holliday” and More Monte Carlo’ [1939] found in Edwin Denby: Dance Writings, edited by Robert Cornfield and William MacKay (1986):

Ghost Town won an ovation. Rodger’s music is Rodgers at his own best; it is catchy and unpretentious and keeps going, and I enjoyed the clarity of it. It also sounded repetitious and orchestrally sour and melodically saccharine, but that is not the point; it does say something of its own. The set and costumes (du Bois) too are musical comedy, and yet they have a callow freshness that isn’t fake.

[line break added] The Picasso, the Derain, the Berman or Bérard decorations [of other productions] all have space under wonderful control; and their colors even during dancing stay in place, so to speak, and don’t mess up the stage. There is nothing of that in this du Bois, which is obviously awkward and keeps going all the time all over the place, without rest or coherence; but it’s not an imitation any more than the Rodgers is. You can call it vulgar, but in its own way it is sincere.

The choreography, which is Platoff’s first work, strikes me as much more interesting than either the music or the décor, although it is even less orderly. It too keeps going all over the place, messes up dances by realistic gestures, by awkward spacing and operatic arm waving. But there is an exuberant energy in it.

Next is from ‘Lifar as a Writer’ [1940]:

… He is the best dance critic living. It isn’t that I subscribe to his decisions. To be sure, it’s fun when he demolishes a stage rival with a few appreciative words; but I often violently disagree. No, it’s not Lifar’s opinions I stand up for; it’s his attack. Because, first, he has the professional experience which turns dancing from a thing you buy readymade into a thing you make yourself.

[line break added] And second, he sees dancing with the eyes of intelligence, as an ordinary person sometimes sees a friend or see the weather; sees and believes at the same time. “The eyes of a poet,” people say who know what poetry is about. If criticism makes any sense at all, which I often doubt, the sense it makes is that it suggests to others this way of seeing. And opinions are no more than one of the ways of doing it.

The following is from Denby’s piece ‘Kurt Jooss: The Monte Carlo Ballet’ [1941]:

… Many people are dissatisfied with a kind of hoppitiness in classic ballet. They point out that there is a fraction of a second between steps, between arm positions, that goes dead in the way a harpsichord goes dead, but not an orchestra, or even a piano. Jooss has stretched a movement to fill the time space completely; he uses a pedal. It was Dalcroze who thirty years ago made us most conscious of this possibility in moving.

When a dancer makes his gesture coincide as closely as possible with the time length and time emphasis of musical rhythm, he is apt to be as pleased as a hen is who has laid an egg. He tells everybody “Look how musical I am,” and everybody cackles back “Isn’t he just the most musical thing!” Rationally it seems odd to confuse the metrics of music with musicality. And also to assume that the metrics of dancing are identical with those of music. It strikes me that there is in fact an inherent disparity.

[line break added] The proportioning of time, as well as the proportioning of emphasis, between the stress and the follow-through of a single metric unit is much more regular in music than it is in movement. Apart from theory, in practice this kind of measured gesture draws attention to itself and away from the body as a whole. In practice, too, the dancer loses a certain surprise of attack, which is one of his characteristic rhythmic possibilities.

Well, in point of musicality, listen to the music Jooss uses. True, the dancers obey the metrics of music, but the music in its rhythmic development obeys beat by beat the rhythmic detail of the dance. The piece makes no musical sense. It is merely a cue sheet for the dancers. It sound like a spoken commentary in a documentary film that names every object we see while we’re looking at it.

[line break added] Music that can’t make any decision on its own is functioning on a bare subsistence level, and it is apt to be as glum as that. Poor Frederic Cohen’s voluble cue-sheets for Jooss are utterly depressing; they reminded me most of cafeteria soup gone sour. I don’t think much of the musicality of a director who makes me listen to such poverty. If this is collaboration, it must be the Berlin-Vichy kind. I detest a dancer who is satisfied with it.

I don’t go to the theater to see a servant problem solved. Jooss of course isn’t the only choreographer who has music in to do the dirty work and keeps all the dignity for himself. … For a while it was fun enough to listen to a new manner, and affix at least an ideological, a historical meaning. But the historical significance of style is a parlor game that gets tiresome.

My most recent previous post from Denby’s book is here.




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