Unreal Nature

November 6, 2016

You See the Dance Listening

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:26 am

… one cat will vary it by hunching her back or rolling seductively just out of reach, another … by standing high on her toes as you pat her …

This is from ‘Forms in Motion and in Thought’ [1954; 1965] found in Edwin Denby: Dance Writings, edited by Robert Cornfield and William MacKay (1986):

… Inside the labyrinth of complex musical structures, you see ballet following the clue of the rhythm, you see it hearing the other musical forces as they affect the current of the rhythm, as they leave or don’t leave the rhythm a danceable one. You see the dance listening and choosing its own rhythmic response.

… The forms of classic dancing are one may say no less instinctive for being formal. The way a cat comes up to you at night in a deserted city street to be patted, and when you crouch to pat her, the way she will enjoy a stroke or two and then pass out of reach, stop there facing away into the night, and return for another stroke or two, and then pass behind you and return on your other side — all this has a form that you meet again onstage when the ballerina is doing a Petipa adagio.

[line break added] And while cats one meets on different nights all like to follow the same adagio form, one cat will vary it by hunching her back or rolling seductively just out of reach, another, another night, by standing high on her toes as you pat her, and making little sous-sous on her front paws; a third by grand Petersburg-style tail wavings; a fourth, if you are down close enough, by rising on her hind paws, resting her front ones weightlessly on you, raising her wide ballerina eyes to yours, and then — delicate as a single finger pirouette — giving the tip of your nose a tender nip.

[line break added] When a cat has had enough adagio, she sits down apart; or else, changing to mime, she scampers artificially away, pretending to be scared by the passing of a solitary nocturnal truck. Dogs — dogs that you take on daytime country walks are virtuosos of allegro. They invent heroic dashes, sharp zigzags running low ending in grand jetés that slow down; or else in the midst of a demi-manège at cannonball speed they stop dead.

[line break added] They mean you to get the joke, and they make it deadpan like troupers. Then they come up to you at an untheatrical dog-trot, smiling, breathing hard, with shining eyes; they enjoy your applause, but they distinguish between the performance when they were pretending and the bow they take after it is finished when they are honest dogs again.

One watches ballet just as one would the animals, but since there is more to be seen, there is more to watch. More to be seen and also more to recognize: not only the formal shapes but also the pantomime shapes with their specific allusions.

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




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