Unreal Nature

November 13, 2016

They Step Out of One Shape and Into Another

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… They dance and, as they do, create in their wake an architectural momentum of imaginary weights and transported presences.

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):

… Watching the shape of a movement is something we all do a great deal of in everyday life. You may recognize your friends at a distance by the shape of their walk, even unconsciously.

… As you watch a ballet, the dancers do plenty of different steps and often some new ones you hadn’t seen before. One doesn’t keep watching the feet to see the sequence in which they are contacting the floor. You keep watching the whole shape of the body before and after the floor contact.

Between a ballet and a parade, take watching a ballroom dance, especially one where the partners break, like a Lindy or a mambo or a Virginia reel. You see the steps exhibiting the dancer’s figure, the boy’s or the girl’s, in a series of contrasting shapes. You see it advancing toward a partner, or turning on itself; it lightly bends and stretches; the thighs close and separate, the knees open and shut, the arms swing guardedly in counteraction to the legs, or they lift both at once. The feet, the hands, the head may refuse a direction the body inclines to or they may accept it. When the waist undulates Cuban-style, the extremities delay following it with an air of detachment.

… The action of ballet exhibits the dancer’s figure much further and more distinctly than that of a ballroom dance. The shapes are more exact and more extreme. The large reach of all the limbs, the easy erectness of the body regardless, the sharpness of pointed feet, the length of neck, the mildness of wrists, the keen angle of knee bends, the swiftness of sweeping arms, the full visibility of stretched legs turned out from thigh to toe, spreading and shutting; the figure in leaps, spins, stops in balance, slow-motion deployments, the feet fluttering and rushing and completely still.

… A classic dancer’s legs seem to move not from the hip joint but from further up, from the waist and the small of the back; and the arms not from the shoulder, but from lower down, from the same part of the back as the legs; it lengthens both extremities and harmonizes them. The head moves at the end of a neck like a giraffe’s that seems to begin below the shoulder blades.

[line break added] The head can also move without the neck, just from the joint where head and spine meet, tilting against a motionless neck. Then you see its small motion enlarged by the unexpected contrast to so very long and separate a neck. In the same way a flick of ankle or of wrist can be magnified by the long-looking immobile leg or arm it is at the far end of. So aspects of scale appear.

… They step out of one shape and into another, they change direction or speed, they erect and dissolve a configuration, and their secure and steady impetus keeps coming. The situations that dissolve as one watches are created and swept along by the ease and the fun and the positive lightness of it. They dance and, as they do, create in their wake an architectural momentum of imaginary weights and transported presences. Their activity does not leave behind any material object, only an imaginary one.

… However one is conscious of it, without music classic dancing is no more real than swimming is real without water around it. The more ballet turns to pantomime, the less intimate its relation to the music becomes; but the more it turns to dancing, the more it enjoys the music’s presence, bar by bar. Even when the steps stand aside and let the music alone, they are intimately aware of it.

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

-Julie

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