Unreal Nature

September 18, 2016

I Watched Her Drive Her Role So Far

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… A life of such enormous energies that keeps pouring itself according to its fate into the imaginative world … is a godsend.

This is from ‘Martha at Sixty-Eight’ [1961] found in Edwin Denby: Dance Writings, edited by Robert Cornfield and William MacKay (1986):

Martha is sixty-eight. The moves she makes are sketched. At crucial moments the timing is extremely vivid. She holds her audience by imagination. She does it all evening long in Clytemnestra, several seasons old now, a masterpiece as weird as Melville. But her public wants to see her every year, and that keeps her troupe going. The news is what the troupe has done to itself. It has blossomed.

It hadn’t found out how to until the book end of last season; it had been a strong, severe bud for about twenty years. It had been bold about being in earnest, but timid about being lively.

… Twenty years ago I used to watch her get herself into an amazing full-force move or stance that left her no way out; then she found an astonishing way to get out and go on. That was how I began watching her technique. When the drama got stuck tight, she would pick up a prop and find a way to go on. I watched her drive her role so far into tragedy, she was stuck with it; she shook it, got it loose, and went on with it.

What has got her ensemble style unstuck has been ballet — not the steps, but the balance and spring. On its own account and in its own terms ballet has reinvented several of her inventions.

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… A Graham piece makes a free-verse-type rhythm different from the musical rhythm of the score it is timed to. Its form is unlike the form of the score. That makes me “read” it as a kind of mime.

As I look back on twenty years of Graham choreography as on some ritualized kind of mime, the vivid decision of its action, the rapidity and range of its gesture meanings jumping by free association from close at hand to remote, the turbulence and vehemence of the dramatic powers invoked have been extraordinary. It has been unique. I know ballet fans who feel passionately that the work is wrong in principle. As for me, its principles make those of ballet clearer. A life of such enormous energies that keeps pouring itself according to its fate into the imaginative world of dance is a godsend.

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

-Julie

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