Unreal Nature

September 4, 2016

Velvet Flow

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… I missed in it the sharpness, the brilliance of edge and the daring, the risk and commitment.

This is from ‘A Letter about Ulanova‘ [1951] found in Edwin Denby: Dance Writings, edited by Robert Cornfield and William MacKay (1986):

About Ulanova. she is a very great dancer, no doubt of that, even seeing her as we did very awkwardly presented. What we all saw first was the magnificent schooling and the admirable personal discipline. You know how touching that is when you see a dancer not allowing herself to monkey with the rules. What we saw was a wonderful flow of movement sustained and sustained, a sort of cantilena style of dancing with beautiful legs (marvelously shaped arabesques of all kinds, and so clearly differentiated too), and beautiful elbows.

[line break added] The very beginning of a movement is fresh and quick and almost at once the motion so begun slows down to a strong full velvet flow; and before the flow has stopped, without any break (like a fresh current that appears from below in a wide even stream of water), the new next motion begins, clear and decisive, and that one too seems to be already flowing calm and sustained. It isn’t the bird or dragonfly style of dancing, it’s a kind of aspiration upwards: lightness as a longing and a dream rather than as a possession.

[line break added] I can’t think of any one dancer we know who has that particular quality; nor is it one that goes with being a model pure-classicist: it’s romantic. Ulanova makes herself more heavy and more light, too, like a romantic. And another quality she shows is that of not presenting herself to the audience, of being like someone who is dancing for herself, a sort of half-in-shadow-in-the-deep-woods quality.


… Perhaps what I missed in Ulanova’s dancing was the want of those moments that affect me so, those moments of rest in a dance when a movement resolves for a hair’s breadth of time into repose and finishes, and there is like a sense of eternity from which the dancing and the movement re-arise. I didn’t see this completion of repose in her dancing.

The following is from ‘A [second] Letter about Ulanova … ‘ [1951]:

I went back to Florence for Ulanova’s second recital. She danced, I think a critic would have said, even better: the same large clear strong movement, the same calm lightness of strength, and the wonderful velvet flow. The timing is perfection: each phrase of movement, of the step or arm gesture, materializes at the exact speed and with the right urgency to make it visible in itself and coherent in the sequence, as movement and as plastic image; a perfectly proportioned continuity or dance phrase.

[line break added] Great musicians play music with a similar absolute clarity of proportions in the continuity, so you follow it completely, and it makes sense. Whether that sense is interesting as sense is not what I am speaking of at the moment; the quality of making sense of a dance as dancing is in itself rare and beautiful in the extreme degree in which she has it.

[ … ]

… Curious, I thought, the effect the dancing as a whole gives of being built as a continuity rather than as a rhythm; it flows and flows with a slow pulse under its rubato and it never suggests an edge or an end. I missed in it the sharpness, the brilliance of edge and the daring, the risk and commitment. I didn’t enjoy the blunted effect, the sense of a generalized blur in contact, in the mutual contact of the figures of the dance too.

[line break added] I missed seeing a human keenness of mutual response which makes a dramatic moment on stage unique and marvelous, that instinct for beauty in the face of the very present. I felt again that homeyness of the first time [that made him unhappy], like that of a party where everybody acts nice and sweet and “good,” but no one thaws out or ventures to commit himself, so that the goodness becomes stuffy and thick-skinned.

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




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