Unreal Nature

September 20, 2016

Make Them Stop Talking

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… It took a while for me to understand that what I am doing is shifting from showing to seeing, and that this makes sense to me.

This is from A Brush with the Real: Figurative Painting Today by Marc Valli and Margherita Dessanay (2014). In this book, each featured artist has a section where he talks about his or her work under somewhat (but not always) consistent headings, given in bold. I’ve picked out the bits that I like. This first is from Eduardo Berliner:


A painting begins long before one applies paint to canvas. For about fourteen years I have maintained the daily practice of making notations in notebooks. For the most part these are drawings. Some of them are made from memory, others from observation, and still others can arise from a simple mark on the paper. These drawings spring from the act of drawing itself, and sometimes I look at them and don’t quite understand where they came from. But once they are in the world, I must live with them.

I take my camera wherever I go. Some of the pictures I take are based on ephemeral situations, others record objects — photographs of people, animals, architecture, changes of lighting. Each month I choose a large number of photographs, which I print and leave around the studio, and use them as a basis to begin to draw and make small watercolors. Sometimes I mix parts of different photographs in the same drawing and complete it with a drawing from memory. At other moments I become aware that an image has started recurring.

[line break added] When it arises from a mental image, I feel the need to find something in the world that serves as a visual reference to begin a painting or take it forwards: I perceive a great power that arises from the borderline territory between what I see and what I imagine; between what the things are and how they function as a mirror of what lives in my thoughts and my memory. But a moment comes during the process when I begin to be guided by the material information on the canvas and by the relationship between my body and the support.

I believe that throughout the painting process something unforeseeable needs to happen: it is at these moments that a painting comes into its own.

Eduardo Berliner, Woman with Dog, 2009

This next is from Anna Bjerger:


The process of collecting photographic material (from out-of-date reference books and magazines, for example), looking through images, finding arbitrary connections and making a selection of what to paint, is a big part of my work.

I think of this process — painting a photograph — as a way of deciphering an image. I want it to be an intuitive and almost subconscious act, which is why I like to start a painting in the morning first thing when I get into the studio. I don’t think of it either as an original, or a copy — the painting is a hybrid. When I paint the photograph I don’t change the composition or the framing, but I might exaggerate certain areas.

The process of collecting photographic material and looking through images is meditative and allows me to think about my practice in a constructive way. Spending time with images, reversing them, imagining scale and becoming familiar with the details, the color, the light — to me they are a great inspiration. If I were thinking in terms of painting ‘live,’ I would find it daunting to consider the boundaries of the space I am depicting [to frame the image.]

The following is from Ulrich Lamsfuß:


My painting technique is basically non-existent. It’s just about putting the right color directly on the canvas exactly where I find it on the original. It is more about plotting. I want to have a straight, non-artistic, dry, honest and evident surface. You can follow every brushstroke, you can see and understand how it is done. No tricky tricks. So my artistic development is just about getting more exact. My drawing technique is the opposite. It is more spontaneous and juicy and faulty: it is therapy.

It took a lot of willpower to ‘keep on keeping on.’ It took a while for me to understand that what I am doing is shifting from showing to seeing, and that this makes sense to me.

[ … ]

On the choice of subject matter

It is more about themes, about zeitgeist. I am more interested in subtext than in the story and in the end everything is media. I can read everything, but the point is that the painting does not talk. Actually, the contradiction and diversity of the subjects is meant to make them stop talking.

My previous post from this book is here.




September 19, 2016

Every Aspect

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… the work was a composite “thing,” of which the painted facade was only the most visible dimension.

Continuing through the book that accompanied her MoMA retrospective; Elizabeth Murray by Robert Storr (2005):

… While rehearsing arguments based on Renaissance, Mannerist, and Baroque paradigms for opening up abstraction to the pictorial depth that formalists had so long deemed anathema, Stella makes this aside: “In addition to volume and interior space, abstraction must pick up on another aspect of illusionism: its success at caricature, at catching everyday associations, recognizable sparks of life.” That is as good a definition of what Murray had achieved by 1985 as any that one can think of. But she had only begun to map the ups and downs of the territory that spread out before her.

… As violent as things could get, Murray had found a means of holding the world together. The tug-of-war between dissolution and cohesion is her fundamental subject; her work is an object lesson in how ingenuity, indifference to theoretical “musts” and “shoulds,” irrepressible but often sardonic humor, and utter seriousness about the stakes for art can lead out of the cul de sacs into which painting has been prone to wander in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.


… If her procedures were initially a relatively simple matter of torqueing and layering her panels, by the middle of the decade she was engaged in a phased, laborious process of conceiving and fabricating the support that preceded but always anticipated the actual painting process.

Roughly speaking, the stages went from small, loose notebook sketches and more worked-out drawings to small reliefs made of unfired clay on a stiff mount. (A friend of the artist’s once said that “Elizabeth has a mud-pie approach to life.” The strength of that hands-on-who-cares-about-the-mess approach is most vivid in these maquettes, and in the act of painting itself.) Next the image was blown up into more precise contour drawings, templates for carpenters who, under Murray’s supervision, used them to cut the basic forms out of plywood.

[line break added] Built up in layers, these plywood sheets were subsequently beveled, chiseled, and planed to arrive at and refine the swell and curve of the irregular volumes of the clay maquettes. The frequently rough facture of these elaborate supports testifies to the improvisation that continued throughout their evolution, and to Murray’s preference for muscularity and immediacy over standard shop finishes.

Once the support was realized to Murray’s satisfaction (though surgery was occasionally done later on), canvas was stretched over and stapled onto it. Rather than folding the canvas around the side of each unique stretcher, thereby obscuring its vertical “foundation,” Murray, following the precedent of Gorchov, often left the edges of the support exposed, underscoring the fact that the work was a composite “thing,” of which the painted facade was only the most visible dimension.

[line break added] Her habit of letting the separate layers of paint show along that same edge — one presumably picked up from Johns and Marden, whose early works often feature bare canvas and drips at the bottom margin — carried that lesson farther. In Murray’s case, though, this awareness of the object’s constituent materialities went to extremes rarely witnessed before, since the surface qualities of the painted coats ranged from drizzly to riverbed dry, from pavement gritty to beat-up-leather-jacket smooth.

… every aspect of the painting that one can see is truly there to be seen and to contribute to the overall perceptual experience, and so to the work’s meaning — which in part consists of reminding the viewer of his or her own lumpy, perhaps lopsided physicality.

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




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.


… 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.




September 17, 2016

On Its Way

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… Such … codependency and interaction is … merely a provisional state of matter on its way to becoming something else.

This is from the essay ‘Landscape Urbanism’ found in The Landscape Imagination: Collected Essays of James Corner 1990– 2010 (2014):

… Many social and cultural theorists have described the perceived shift of social structures from vertical to horizontal during the latter part of the twentieth century. Global economies, television, communication, mass-mobility, and the increased autonomy of the individual are some of the factors undergirding a general transition from hierarchical, centric, authoritative organizations to polycentric, interconnected, expansive ones.

[line break added] A view across a city like Los Angeles makes this horizontal spread more palpable, animated by endless circuitries of movement and flow. From a landscape urbanist perspective, the emphasis now shifts from the one to the many, from objects to fields, from singularities to open-ended networks.

… Landscape urbanism deploys geometry, materials, and codes less to control composition or determine social program than to liberate future sets of possibility — cultural as well as logistical. It is an art of staging. And as such, it is an art that is concerned with spatial form and geometry less for stylistic or semiotic modes of expression and more for the effects that those forms and materials produce.

[ … ]

… Ecology teaches us that all life is bound into dynamic and interrelated processes of codependency. Changes in the effects produced by an individual or ecosystem in one part of the planet can have significant effects elsewhere. Moreover, the complexity of these interactions escapes linear, mechanistic models or projections as layers of interrelationship create hidden cascades of effects to continually evolve forms in time.

[line break added] Such a dynamic, ongoing process of codependency and interaction is highlighted in ecology, accounting for a particular spatial form as merely a provisional state of matter on its way to becoming something else. In this sense, cities and infrastructures are just as “ecological” as forests and rivers.

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




September 16, 2016


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:23 am

… the power to separate thought and feeling, to be able to act without reacting … split literate man out of the tribal world …

This is from ‘The Printed Word: Architect of Nationalism’ found in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan (1964, 1994, 2003):

… Perhaps the most significant of the gifts of typography to man is that of detachment and noninvolvement — the power to act without reacting. Science since the Renaissance has exalted this gift which has become an embarrassment in the electric age, in which all people are involved in all others at all times. The very world “disinterested,” expressing the loftiest detachment and ethical integrity of typographic man, has in the past decade been increasingly used to mean: “He couldn’t care less.”

[line break added] The same integrity indicated by the term “disinterested” as a mark of the scientific and scholarly tempter of a literate and enlightened society is now increasingly repudiated as “specialization” and fragmentation of knowledge and sensibility. The fragmenting and analytic power of the printed word in our psychic lives gave us that “dissociation of sensibility” which in the arts and literature since Cézanne and since Baudelaire has been a top priority for elimination in every program of reform in taste and knowledge.

[line break added] In the “implosion” of the electric age the separation of thought and feeling has come to seem as strange as the departmentalization of knowledge in schools and universities. Yet it was precisely the power to separate thought and feeling, to be able to act without reacting, that split literate man out of the tribal world of close family bonds in private and social life.

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




September 15, 2016

Each Other

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… they are fighting a constant, ruthless battle to reach each other …

This is from the essay ‘The Universe of Robert Bresson‘ by Amédée Ayfre found in Robert Bresson edited by James Quandt (1998):

… How does Bresson manage to give us only the essence of people and events without any feeling of thinness? Largely through a very precise choice of details, objects and accessories; through gestures charged with an extremely solid reality. André Bazin noted this in a well-known article on Bresson’s style: “All that was needed,” he said, “was the sound of a windscreen-wiper with a text by Diderot to produce a Racinian dialogue.”

[line break added] The sound of the windscreen-wiper has an equivalent in all Bresson’s films, whether in the soundtrack or the visuals. For example, the raking of the paths in the park during the curé’s conversation with the countess, or Joan of Arc’s old shoes being consigned to the flames of her own funeral pyre. It is the stylistic arrangement of all these concrete details which ultimately delineates the soul of a character, a situation or a film.

[line break added] Bresson said somewhere that the director is a “metteur en ordre.” He is isolating raw elements taken from real life and putting them together in a certain order. “Like a painting,” he also said, “a film should be made of relationships. To create is not to deform things nor to invent them, it is to give existing things new relationships.”

… there is always something fundamental and mysterious in them [Bresson’s characters] which escapes us. They emanate a sort of discomfort which means that they can never be truly sympathetic. The phenomenon of projection and identification has no part in them. They make us feel uncertain and uneasy. Where they are concerned, every ambiguity, if not equivocation, is possible. Who is Thérèse? Who is Hélène? Who are Chantal, the curé, Fontaine, Michel, Joan? “The closer we get, the more they reveal themselves and the more obscure they become … instead of becoming clearer” (J. Arbois).

… This is why, even in their most extreme confidences, they never fundamentally reveal anything but their mystery — like God himself. Thus one can see them again and again without wearying of them, for they enrich but never satiate. Like Wisdom, “They that eat me shall yet be hungry, and they that drink me shall yet be thirsty” (Ecclesiastes XXXIV, 21).

… Many modern works, in the cinema and elsewhere, cultivate more or less successfully the theme of loneliness, preferably in a crowd, and produce variations which do not always manage to avoid a certain romantic complacency. By contrast, there is nothing less romantic than the loneliness of Bresson’s characters.

[line break added] Theirs is not a sentimental attitude and it would be impossible to reveal the slightest complacency. On the contrary, they are fighting a constant, ruthless battle to reach each other by one means or another. They seem to know that their isolation is only apparent and that mysterious opportunities of meeting do exist, if one knows how to grasp them.

[line break added] They are like forest trees seen at eye-level, their smooth, stiff trunks well-spaced, always protected with bark, while underground, invisibly, their roots intermingle, and at the same time, high in the sky, their topmost branches lean towards one another in the hope that a breath of wind will enable them to touch. These people see each other, address each other, reproach each other, but even after they have been trying for a long time, communication is always a leap into the unknown, almost a miracle.

There will be more from this essay next week.

My previous post from this book is here.




September 14, 2016

Method for Understanding

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… Any halfhearted thoughts or attempts at concealing yourself will be exposed by your photographs …

This is from the essay ‘Sekai ninshiki no hōhō (A Method for Understanding the World)’ by Fukushima Tatsuo [1966] found in Provoke: Between Protest and Performance: Photography in Japan 1960-1975 edited by Diane Dufour, Duncan Forbes, Walter Moser, and Matthew S. Witkovsky (2016):

… once we try to capture a certain something that is not (or is beyond) the external or optical state of things — things that are invisible to the eye, such as the meaning of things, the reasons for their existence and the ways in which civilization and humanity ought to exist — then photography becomes an expressive method with a clear purpose.

[line break added] Photography ceases to be a series of scientific mechanisms and becomes instead a method for raising the subjective consciousness of people and things, revealing the problems that exist between them and the world. This is inevitable and there is no way to escape it. Any halfhearted thoughts or attempts at concealing yourself will be exposed by your photographs, as if you are a hunter whose scheme is foiled by the fox.

[line break added] As long as the world is not suddenly demolished by a nuclear explosion and mankind is not extinguished, we cannot escape from photography and we will continue to photograph. Just as humankind cannot live without questioning or being questioned about the meaning of life (or as long as this is true), we cannot photograph without questioning or being questioned about the meaning of photography.

… While it is the ultimate truth that photography is a “method for understanding the self,” when a [camera] club considers “photography as a mirror,” its members become inward-looking, only addressing their personal problems on their own. Preoccupied with self-development, such a method is a self-enclosing circle (it is a kind of “closed” circulatory system).

… When the “method for understanding the self” does not develop into the “method for understanding reality,” and the “method for understanding reality” splits and breaks away from the “method for understanding the self,” the photographer (the subject), his photographs, and his “reality” will walk the path toward decay and eventually perish entirely.

… I sincerely hope that their “method for understanding the self” is simultaneously a “method for understanding reality,” and that their “method for understanding reality” is a “method for understanding the world.”

My previous post from this book is here.




September 13, 2016

Those Incongruous Rectangles Hanging on Walls

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:31 am

… “the modern city hardly knows pure darkness or true silence.” Painting still does.

This is from the Introduction by Marc Valli to A Brush with the Real: Figurative Painting Today by Marc Valli and Margherita Dessanay (2014):

… The world has never been so full of images, those on our mobile phones and computer screens, on newsstands and book covers, in films and on TV, on packaging and billboards and in shop windows. We walk, work and rest amid throngs of vivid, avidly attention-seeking images, every space and every moment of our lives crammed full of them. You couldn’t imagine a more different environment from the late Middle Ages, when the world would grow pitch black as night fell.

[line break added] Not only were images rare, the very medium allowing us to see them — light — was severely rationed. Every night, you would be plunged into long (or, depending on the season, slightly less long) periods of darkness. Imagine, as Johan Huizinga once suggested, the effect of a candle-lit window on the weary traveler as he made his way through an almost pitch black landscape. Now imagine the effect of a fresco in a chapel on that same traveller.

… Today, in the world of mass media, a world where everything is being instantly, infinitely and indefinitely reproduced, a world of low-quality images, a world in which a blurry snapshot can find itself on millions of screens, in which ‘visual culture has been reduced to imaginary spam’ … painting has rediscovered its own uniqueness.

[line break added] A carefully chosen image, an image made out of accurate, thoughtful brushstrokes (or any other carefully considered technique for that matter), an image that carries the weight of human touch — of human presence, of repeated analysis, of intense gazing — a full-resolution image, life-size, and in real time — the apparition of such an image today can be just as miraculous as that of the fresco in a remote late medieval chapel.

… At this point, let us return to Johan Huizinga, writing in 1919: “the modern city hardly knows pure darkness or true silence.” Painting still does.

… Figurative painters cut curious figures in the world of visual communication, and even in that of contemporary art. Conceptual artists, for example, are trained to think (in all kinds of ways and all possible directions) — to question, to plan, to foresee: they are attuned to the frantic pace of contemporary culture. Like molecules in a solution in ebullition, the thoughts of the Conceptual artist bubble with the culture, and their often topical works will regularly create media sensations. A painter is a different animal.

… When a painter such as Ulrich Lamsfuß selects an image from a magazine or newspaper clipping and works on it for weeks, if not months, he is like a scientist studying the DNA of that image, tracking back the convoluted story of that image, its path through the world of mass media, from the original event to the position it occupies in our consciousness, re-examining the intensity of the original moment or act, as well as the incongruity of the whole situation.

Ulrich Lamsfuß, Olivier Portrat, Zebco Sports Europe (Kalender September 2008), 2009

… To quote Philippe Sollers (writing about Cézanne), a “painting is not an image.” A painting is a fact. It exists and invites us to share in that experience, the miracle of presence, of meaning, of touch, of communion with another human being through the same physical medium. And in that sense painting has never been so vital (in the literal sense of the term), so important and necessary to our culture.

[line break added] And that is why, despite the exponential growth in the number of images and ways in which they can be produced, painting will continue to fascinate, intrigue and enthrall viewers across generations, dragging them away from their screens to stare at those incongruous rectangles hanging on walls.




September 12, 2016

Homemade Bombs

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… they are homemade bombs that have just exploded — or are about to.

Continuing through the book that accompanied her MoMA retrospective; Elizabeth Murray by Robert Storr (2005):

… “Catastrophe” may strike some as too strong a word for what transpires in Murray’s pictures. Quite possibly, but as things come apart in her work, and then come back together in unexpected, often chaotic ways, one can’t help but think that something pretty dramatic happened to the classical ideal of still life painting. And it has. Traditionally still life could speak both of its own specific, frequently humble reality and, by analogy, of more consequential things in the world beyond.

[line break added] Even so, it remained for the most part the art of formal arrangement, and tended toward harmonious balance among its carefully selected components. The tables in still lifes may be covered with fine fabrics, china, and silver and heaped with exotic foodstuffs and treasures, as in those painted by the artists of seventeenth-century Holland to represent the farthest reaches of that seafaring country’s mercantile empire, or they may be as sparsely laid as those of the Spanish bodegone painters of the same period or of the eighteenth-century Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Chardin.

[line break added] Yet no matter how jumbled or how Spartan the display, once it was put in place, there was no question of any part of it going anywhere. Some potential exceptions might be heralded by the presence of a living animal poised to snatch a treat out from under the artist’s nose — but not to toss the entire affair up for grabs, as the dog in Sleep is about to do.

Elizabeth Murray, Sleep, 1983-84

With Cézanne, Murray’s first artistic love, that changes. Although the Post-Impressionist master never tipped over his still lifes, his way of skewing perspective and abruptly raising or lowering his vantage point often tilted compositions to the verge of spilling their contents to one side or the other, or into the viewer’s lap. Under his darting gaze, what had once been the most reliably stable of painterly situations — and the antithesis of the turmoil characteristic of the highest genre, history painting — became the most subtly precarious.

[line break added] When people entered the scenes of that Cézanne set, they were subjected to the same spatial anomalies. Thus, although Mme. Cézanne may initially seem to sit comfortably in her chair, chances are she is gradually losing her position, and her equilibrium, in what one is tempted to infer is her husband’s inner view of her place in the household.

[line break added] (Doubling back, it should not be forgotten that Murray, in her tongue-in-cheek homage to Cézanne’s peculiar marital icons, pushed Mme. Cézanne’s chair sharply forward and dumped her out.) Thereafter, modernist still life oscillated between the preternatural quietude of Giorgio de Chirico and Giorgio Morandi and the shattered facets of Cubists and Futurists like Braque, Gris, Léger, Picasso, and Umberto Boccioni, or the uncannily oozing forms of the Surrealists Dali and Miró.

[line break added] In varying degrees, as noted, Murray embraced the precedents established by all of these artists, but her emphatically unstill lifes greatly increase the scale of the events they propel into motion while compressing the action into the fissionable nucleus of a handful of primary recombinant forms. From this angle, Murray’s cups and glasses are not only bodies awkwardly attempting to contain or fuse with other bodies, they are homemade bombs that have just exploded — or are about to.

Elizabeth Murray, Snake Cup, 1984

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




September 11, 2016

Airy and Mild, Transparent and Still

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… a sense of grandeur is given by stillness that is “inside” a phrase of movement the way a musical rest is “inside” a musical phrase.

This is from ‘Impressions of Markova at the Met’ [1952] found in Edwin Denby: Dance Writings, edited by Robert Cornfield and William MacKay (1986):

… She did the contrary of everything the new generation of ballerinas has accustomed us to. With almost no dazzle left, Markova held the house spellbound with a pianissimo, with a rest. A musician next to me was in tears, a critic smiled, a lady behind me exclaimed “Beautiful!” in an ecstatic, booming voice. Her dancing was queerer than anyone had remembered it. A few days later, meeting a balletomane usually far stricter than I on the street, I asked him what he thought of her this season.

[line break added] “More wonderful than ever,” he cried aggressively. When I asked if he thought she had shown this defect or that, he admitted each in turn, but his admiration was as pure as before. This is the sort of wonder a real ballerina awakens, one our young dancers are too modest to conceive of, and that Markova’s dancing used to do for me, too. Though I wasn’t carried away this time, I found watching her so-different method intensely interesting.

Details were extraordinary — the beautiful slender feet in flight in the soubresauts of Giselle Act Two, how she softly and slowly stretches the long instep like the softest of talons as she sails through the air; or in the échappés just after, how they flash quick as knives; or in the ‘broken steps” of the mad scene of Act One, when, missing a beat, she extends one foot high up, rigidly forced, and seems to leave it there as if it were not hers. I was happy seeing again those wonderful light endings she makes, with the low drooping “keepsake” shoulders, a complete quiet, sometimes long only as an eighth note, but perfectly still.

… Surer than I remembered is the dancelike continuity she gives her gestures and mime scenes — all the actions of the stage business embedded in phrases of movement, but each action so lightly started it seemed when it happened a perfectly spontaneous one. In this continuity, the slow rise of dramatic tension never broke or grew confused. It was the technique of mime in the large classic style.

In classic miming, a sense of grandeur is given by stillness that is “inside” a phrase of movement the way a musical rest is “inside” a musical phrase. Markova’s strong continuity of phrasing, the clarity of shape that mime gestures have when they are made not like daily-life gestures but like dance movements from deep down the back, and her special virtuosity in “rests” — these give her miming grandeur. But for dancing, her strength is too small for the grand work of climaxes.

[line break added] She cannot keep a brilliant speed, sustain extensions, or lift them slow and high; leaps from one foot begin to blur in the air; her balance is unreliable. In ballet it is the grand power of the thighs that gives magnanimity to the action; there is no substitute and a ballet heroine cannot do without it. Once one accepts this disappointment, one can watch with interest how skillfully she disguises the absence.

Merce Cunningham, with whom I was discussing her technique, spoke of the illusion she gives of moving without a preparation so you see her only already fully launched, as if she had no weight to get off the ground (the stretch from plié is so quick). He remarked very vividly that in a leap she seemed at once “on top of her jump, like an animal.”

… In contrast to the solid, sharp, professional, rather impatient brilliance of our grand and powerful young ballerinas, the kind of effect Markova makes seems more than ever airy and mild, transparent and still.

… I have wanted to focus attention on the difference, but I don’t mean to judge between these two styles. For my part, I enjoy our own new one because the neutral look of it, a sort of pleasant guardedness, seems to suit our dancers better. Someday they will find out how to open up, but in terms of a technique that suits them. Markova happened to learn a style that suited her physique, her temperament, her environment; and a born ballerina, she made the most of it.

[line break added] The public responds to her now, not because of her style, not because it is the right one, but because she is a wonderfully compelling theater artist. For me she was, this fall, exhibiting her highly elaborated style rather than dancing a dance or a role, and that limited my enjoyment. But for fans who love classic dancing, and because they love it are happy to see as much as they can of its possibilities, of its richness and scope, it is well worth seeing her perform effects no one in our generation is likely to make so lightly and so lucidly.

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




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