review of Doris Humphrey's "The Art of Making Dances"
2121. "review of Doris Humphrey's "The Art of Making Dances""
- the complete version of my review
- credited to: tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE
- published on my "Critic" website on October 20, 2022
Doris Humphrey's "The Art of Making Dances"
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - October 19-20, 2022
Well, well. I've been writing bk reviews for Goodreads for 15 yrs now & this is the 1st dance bk I've reviewed!! That's almost shocking. I have multiple piles of bks to-be-read in my house & this one & another dance bk were on the top of one of these piles. Every time I'd walk past that pile I'd be attracted to the image of Humphrey dancing on the cover. Did I see the bk move ever so slightly out of the corner of my eye? Did it fly into the air when my back was to it only to land in exactly the same place w/o a sound whenever I turned around to look at it again? Apparently, it was time for me to finally read it.
I've always like dancing.. or have I? As w/ most creative activities I've put in my 3.14¢'s worth from time-to-time - but never in a performative way in front of a (v)audience. Way back in the '70s when I was a shy young lad I forced myself to be more extroverted by dancing as if I were drunk when I wasn't. That was really fun. I'd go to parties where there were professional dancers & I'd deliberately dance in a way that completely avoided conformity to the beats of the music. I can remember one dancer that I was ostensibly dancing w/ saying: 'I don't know what music YOU'RE DANCING TO BUT I'M DANCING TO THIS MUSIC!' Scratch that one off for sex. I thought I was being very imaginative & talented. Story of my life.
I have participated in 'performances' that involved dancers such as Franz Kamin's "A.S.R.B.#1" at the Parish Hall, First Unitarian/Universalist Church of Baltimore, us@ on June 11, 1992 ( https://youtu.be/ShRgYeTSK40?t=432 ). Franz had a way of working w/ dancers. Somehow, despite the strangeness of his work, he brought out the dancers's movement skills w/o alienating them.
I, too, have given 'performances' of my own work that involved dancers: take, e.g., the last Official gig in the Zero Work Jubilee in Toronto on August 15, 1992 ( https://youtu.be/EN5U7JANpRA?t=595 ): As I recall, "Having been approached by Katrini after the preceeding so-called whatever & asked whether we'd like to work with dancers, I worked out an interactive proposal usually referred to as the "Dancer Conducting". The dancers had 4 cues with which they could conduct the "official" players whose playing they could then respond to in their dancing & further cueing (which were all part of the same thing): 1 for silence, 1 for a Mexican Hat Dance, 1 for a "See-Saw" alternating between textures, & 1 for an "Ersatz Arabic" theme. As usual, these possibilities were modular & could be played simultaneously in any combination. Katrini co-ordinated 2 other dancers & this was premiered for some "prime-time" national tv show (which I never saw)." ( entry 171, http://idioideo.pleintekst.nl/MereOutline1992.html ) Katrini & her friends were wonderful, I wish I'd stayed in touch w/ them. I'd love to see the TV show we were on.
The "Dancer Conducting" (my idea) went on to being part of every Official gig after this - including one in Berlin at Blau-Milch Kanal/Kaffee Sendeschluß, TV Hospital - X94: junge kunst + kultur, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Germany on April 17, 1994 ( https://youtu.be/02oyDi_yxpI?t=1592 ). The dancers in that one were spontaneous volunteers from our very small (v)audience who I thought of as 'party dancers', the same category I'd put my own dancing in.
On December 25, 1994, I proposed a dance to dancer Chiyoko Szlaynics in Toronto for her proposed series of dances around public sculptures:
"I'd like to perform the "saw dance" nude w/ a nude female dancer in a large public toilet facility. The public sculpture of your proposal wd be the urinals (in a "men's" room) &/or the toilets (in a "women's" room). These wd all be signed "R. Mutt" in honor of Duchamp's fountain. You get the idea. Ideally the "soundtrack" wd be a tape (perhaps similar to the one enclosed that I made yesterday for you) being broadcast to radios wch wd be attached to remote controlled toy vehicles being driven around the room & thru the audience by a bevy of discrete assistants."
That never came to fruition & I suspect that my proposal might've seemed a bit 'too much' (i.e.: completely insane) but I think it wd've been marvelous.
I also got to witness the Merce Cunningham Dance Company perform "Rondo", "Ground Level Overlay", & "Sounddance" at the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh on December 5, 1997. Cunningham was still alive but he was no longer able to dance. He appeared on stage, very bow-legged, at the end. I wish I'd have been able to witness them when Cunningham was still dancing. Either way, it was a remarkable evening.
Writing this, I realize that I have quite a bit to say about dance.. but it's time to move onto the review of this bk! I enjoyed reading this very much. I found Humphrey to be stridently opinionated, it's obvious that she was a strong-willed & visionary choreographer & dancer. I'm sure that if I'd been a dancer in her day I wd've found her to be a bit too old-fashioned - despite her 'Modernism'. Nonetheless, I liked reading her take on things very much, I'd say it's an excellent introduction to Modern Dance.
Chapter 1, "The Sleeping Beauty", begins:
"The dance has been, until recently, entirely ingenue, a sweet obedient child brought up in the theater and the court, and told to be young, pretty and amusing."
"This is not to say that the ballet form was bad, but only that it was limited and suffered from arrested development-a permanenet sixteen, like the Sleeping Beauty herself. So well established was the formula over so many hundreds of years that, as the twentieth century dawned with its flood of new ideas, there was considerable resistance to any change from the light love story and the fairy tale, and there still is." - p 15
"Suddenly the dance, the Sleeping Beauty, so long reclining in her dainty bed, had risen up with a devouring desire. No Prince Charming was the answer. She awoke staring into the muzzles of the guns of World War I, and she was enamored of such unlikely things as machinery (mechanistic ballets), social problems, ancient ritual and nature (flowers, bees, water, wolves). Another surprising devlopment was her taste for comedy and satire. Not just bits of caricature like that of the elderly lecher in the romantic tale, but full-fledged ballets, humorous and sophisticated. She changed her attitude toward music-the "Dance of the Hours" was certainly not suited to all her moods-and she demanded serious consideration from serious composers. Occasionally she even banished all music or went in for sound effects and odd instruments." - p 16
It's funny, in the past I've found what little I know of the early dance work of Anna Halprin to be the most exciting (she, alas, died recently). But I've also considered Jackie Chan in "Drunken Master" to be the best dance movie I've ever seen. It was also the closest to the way that I've liked to dance (although Chan is at a whole other level of competence). Now, as an old depised & unwanted man I've taken to watching porn (for the obvious reason) & I'm beginning to think that porn might be my current favorite form of dance - the utter giving-in to hedonistic urges can be remarkable. As such, Humphrey's "the Sleeping Beauty, so long reclining in her dainty bed, had risen up with a devouring desire. No Prince Charming was the answer" is relevant in a way Humphrey didn't intend.
"The person drawn to dance is notoriously unintellectual. He thinks with his muscles; delights in expression with body, not words; finds analysis painful and boring; and is a creature of physical ebullience." - p 17
& reading that led to my pondering why I feel that some of my attempts to work w/ dancers have failed. I'm not faulting the dancers, I'm just acknowledging the accuracy of Humphrey's comment & applying it to the conflict between my intellectualism & the tendencies of the dancers. In HiTEC (Histrionic Thought Experiment Collective) I tried to engage a tap dancer, a belly dancer, & a party dancer. The tap dancer dropped out after 4 rehearsals, the belly dancer dropped out after 3, the party dancer decided against participating before the 1st rehearsal she was invited to. The tap dancer's last rehearsal can be witnessed here: https://archive.org/details/HiTEC021full . The belly dancer's last rehearsal can be witnessed here: https://youtu.be/aDDsf5vY4nc . Unfortunately, the 2 of them never rehearsed together. If I cd find dancers who'd gravitate to this type of thought experimenting I think the results wd be very special.
Chapter 2, "Choreographers Are Special People":
"First of all, the potential choreographer should be predominantly extrovert and a keen observer of physical and emotional behavior. Please note that the list does not begin with imagination, inspiration, improvisational skill, poetic or musical feeling, although they certainly play an important part. The dancer's medium is the body, which is an extremely practical and tangible piece of goods" - p 20
"Closely allied to this sense of shape is another intangible taste, which might be abalyzed as a sense of fitness. This is the sense that stops vulgarity from creeping in, that prevents a mishmash of style, such as a sophisticated ballet lift in the middle of a primitive dance. This sense of fitness equally shuns the cliché, the outré and the sensational for their own sake; it unerringly knows the difference between valid theatricality and tricks. Can this be taught? Hardly. All evidence points to the fact that taste is a product of the total environment plus heredity, already so shot through with intangibles that one can only add a few oblique influences and hope for the best." - p 23
I wrote above that "I'm sure that if I'd been a dancer in her day I wd've found her to be a bit too old-fashioned" & the above exemplifies this. One of my pet peeves is the way that rich & privileged people consider themselves to have 'superior taste' simply b/c of their sense of entitlement. Hence we have largely ignorant & uninspired people calling the shots about who gets money to do what & that sort of thing. Otherwise, what Humphrey rejected in 1958 was probably what 'post-modernism' embraced a few decades later: "a mishmash of style", "the cliché, the outré and the sensational". Personally, I'm fine w/ a motherfucking pirouette in the midst of a genetic experiment, doncha know?!
"The other helpful quality is language skill. The choreographer who has a mind full of pungent, vivid or poetic language which he can use to be much more inspiring and secure better co-operation from his dancers than the inarticulate one, who goes in for half sentences finished with a vague gesture. Language skill is for dances that have meaning, for those which are based only on physical movement, the vocabulary of a drill sergeant is quite sufficient." - p 24
By the time this bk was written, Merce Cunningham (w/ John Cage as an intimate collaborator) wd've established his choreography & dancing as at the forefront of the art (& music). As I read this, I often wonder whether Humphrey's taking a dig at Cunningham in an oblique way. My entry point into Cunningham's work is more musical, a subject that resonates intensely for me. I've witnessed as many Cunningham documentaries as I've been able to get my hands on & witnessed the above-mentioned performance. Oddly (perhaps?), I found the performance to be a bit too 'classical' for my inclinations. That sd, I still find Cunningham far more interesting than Humphrey.
Chapter 3, "Sources of Subject Matter-What to Dance About?".
The idea of a dance being about something doesn't exactly bother me but it does make me think of Program Music, a type I've always thought of as 'inferior' to music independent of such reference. That, of course, brings up a whole modernist philsophical issue - one that makes Humphrey less of a modernist & more of a pre-modernist, at least philosophically.
"The one inescapable condition surrounding the choreographer in his chosen art is the hard realism of "now." All other arts can wait for the verdict of history if they are rebuffed by the contemporary world-the choreographer not so."
"If his work happens to be stimulating to audiences in their current state of development, he is very lucky indeed; but if not, he must resign himself to abandoning his dream child. Not for him the consolation of hanging his creation on the wall in all its original freshness, and waiting hopefully for perhaps posthumous appreciation." - p 28
I think that's an interesting point &, generally, an accurate one. However, it may apply a little more broadly than Humphrey wd've realized in 1958. Performances presented by anyone under restrictive circumstances not likely to allow of repetition can be documented in various ways but the documentation is always an inferior substitute. Hence, this substitute must be able to stand on its own as something else that shares qualities w/ the original but adds other characteristics such as close-ups & views not available to the (v)audience.
Take my recent "Consciousness Expansion Score Movie": the (v)audience gets to experience a 1 hr 19 minute + projection w/ the event-specific playing of the (m)usicians. That's ultimately the experience that's aimed for w/ the project. However, even tho the movie acts as a score that cd be played by people w/o my involvement &/or w/o the involvement of the current set of players, it's unlikely that anyone will go to the trouble b/c it's simply 'too outside the box'. The work of Franz Kamin, even tho it's painstakingly notated, is also unlikely to be performed now that Franz is dead for the same reason.
Nonetheless, in anticipation of this, I've made publicly available online a plethora of "Consciousness Expansion" documents that a hypothetical dedicated scholar cd learn more from than by witnessing a performance. Viz: there're 6 documentaries of the building of the space used, there's 1 documentary that encapsulates these, there're 2 documentaries of duets played in this space in its early days, there's 1 version of the Score Movie made from all these, there's 1 version of a rehearsal of that version of the Score Movie in that space, there's a revised version of the Score Movie, there's a documentary of a rehearsal of that version, there's a version of that revised version that has the sound of the rehearsal added to it, there's a documentary of the 1st performance of the piece in front of a (v)audience in Roanoke, there's a documentary of the 2nd performance of the piece in front of a (v)audience in Pittsburgh: https://youtu.be/Lgd7ME0U-1A . If all of these were witnessed in chronological order by a researcher it wd far surpass the theatrical experience - but it wd require a discipline & a motivation that few, if any, people have. Still, the option is there. Dancers cd do the same.
"From the point of view of visual influences, it seems to me that architecture, especially for those who live in the city, speaks to us and for us with the most insistent cry." - p 29
"The right angle is possibly the prime symbol of our age, eloquent of conflict. Its parent, the straight line, is thought to be best and smartest when it is shiny and naked, pointed slighly like the end of a weapon. The "clean line" is a cult. All this suggests force, too much steel and sterility and that other prime symbol, the fact." - pp 29-30
Humphrey continues to be very clear-headed in her outlook.
"Dance form is logical, but it is all in the realm of feeling, sensitivity and imagination, and these things have been pretty well beaten out of the average youth, as a positive hindrance to "getting on."" - p 31
Chapter 4, "The Theme":
"The idea of social reform, class struggle or whatever it is, can overwhelm the dance when nothing counts so much as the message. This is usually better from a speaker's platform or in a book, because we have strayed into the world of fact. A statistic is not a good subject for a dance, no matter how emotional the composer might feel about it." - p 36
I have mixed feelings about this since, in some ways, I'm a very political person & have done many things w/ anarchist philosophy at the fore. Also, I don't think that a blanket statement about what shd & shd not be done is 100% viable. That sd, I basically agree. In music, e.g., I find that people who primarily like the political msg of the singer/rapper usually only notice the music as a support. I prefer such msgs, like Humphrey, coming from speaker's platforms &/or printed matter. I enjoy & get the most out of music as music, not as propaganda. I can easily relate to feeling/thinking the same way about dance.
Chapter 5, "The Ingredients and the Tools":
"Many a flattered set of parents have been shocked to find that their beloved child, who is proclaimed talented by his teachers, is not going to leap to fame and fortune overnight by "inspiration," but is going to have to have years of expensive training." - p 45
As a person who's made do for 69 yrs now w/ very little money I'm not so sure that the "expensive training" isn't Humphrey's way of guaranteeing her own income as a dance teacher. That sd, I'm sure that it's harder in the dance world, e.g., to become acclaimed w/o having a mind-boggling amt of chops than it is, say, in the pop music world where the front person can have talent but also has a whole industry behind their look & their sound & their public presence. Lately I've been listening to quite a few Björk releases & while I love her singing & many other things about her work it's hard not to notice that she's basically the figurehead for a big business. I have to wonder what she'd be like if the pyramid underneath her were to be removed. I don't think dancers, esp Modern Dancers, are in the same position. Then again, the dance that I'm referring to is essentially the movement parallel to classical music - both have a heavy emphasis on technical skill wch I admire.. - but, in the long run, the music &, therefore, the dance that's of potentially the most interest to me isn't centered around classical technique, it's centered around the inspiration, the ideas, the technique of a single individual, the idiosyncratic. E.G.: I find this very unclassical guy Javierr to be amazing: https://youtu.be/KZcYIH5xAJY .
"I first warn students that habitual sequences studied in technique classes had better be abandoned for the time being, as these will be useful only after their meanings are understood. The purpose of the class is to find new movement, which we will undertake to discover on the basis of principle. This is, to begin with, quite frightening, I am sure-rather like abandoning the dear familiar homeland and putting out to sea without a compass."
"All the clues for this theory come from life itself. Every movement made by a human being, and far back of that, in the animal kingdom, too, has a design in space; a relationship to other objects in both time and space; an energy flow, which we will call dynamics; and a rhythm. Movements are made for a complete array of reasons involuntary or voluntary, physical, psychical, emotional or instinctive-which we will lump all together and call motivation. Without a motivation, no movement would be made at all." - p 46
"The Art of Making Dances" is very practical, obviously the product of a pedagogue. I respect it.. but I'm sure I wdn't've enjoyed working w/ Humphrey one bit.
"Bring nine one-bar phrases." - p 48
Chapter 9, "Design, Part 4 - The Stage Space":
"Stand a dancer in any of the four corners and note what happens. The upper two make the figure seem important with a remoteness that suggests, if there is no specific mood, a heroic beginning." - p 74
"Lighting will bring the climaxes, obliterate figures when it is desirable not to see them, and in innumerable ways play a valuable part in the structure of the choreography. The man who controls the switchboard is an artist playing a sensitive instrument, with as much variety of timbre as an orchestra. It is not too extravagant to say that many a mediocre dance has been "dressed" by expert lighting to look like a near masterpiece." - p 83
One of the many things I respect about this bk is Humphrey's attn to the bow:
"There is another aspect of projection which should not be neglected while we are dealing with stage space. This is the bow. The bow is the end after the ending and is extremely important as the final statement of the dancer. I believe bows should be composed carefully, even if they are to look spontaneous and natural." - p 88
"The bow is really a fascinating problem, full of pitfalls as to timing, manner, projection and style. Bows should differ according to the dance they follow. Those for comedy can be faster, even border on the cute, but those which are for serious or tragic dances should be in a rhythm and manner to maintain the mood. What a shock to see a tragedy queen who has moved you by her performance come out with a smile which shows how pleased she is with herself, but destroys your enjoyment of the dance! Bows are also extremely revealing of personality. The condescending or arrogant bow of a young dancer who you thought was a sweet lovely child reveals depths and forebodings for the future which are very disturbing. Equally upsetting is the duck-and-run bow which follows a dance full of poise and dignity." - p 89
Chapter 10, "Design, Part 5 - Small Groups":
""Group" is a word which, as applied to dance, came in with modern-dance companies. Ensembles, before that, were knows as the corps de ballet, or just dancers, as distinguished from principals. There is an implicit social difference here, which made the word "group" emerge to define a new relationship between the participants in a dance geared to a democratic idea. Rank in the ballet world was and is still derived from the hierarchy of the court, beginning with the king and queen, then the nobles, the commoners, and lastly the lackeys and servants. Dancers progressed from their school days through exactly this sort of social strata, which only differed from the real thing in the fact that commoners could become kings. Once a young woman became a prima ballerina assoluta, she was assured of her queenly position until she could function no longer, and there was no question of her ever again mixing with the common people. But it is commonplace nowadays to find dancers serving as both soloists and ensemble performers at various times." - p 91
I appreciate the above class analysis.. but at the same time I detect more than a little queenliness in Humphrey's overall attitude.
Chapter 12, "Rhythm":
"In the human animal, the walk is the key pattern of fall and recovery, my theory of motion-that is, the giving in to and rebound from gravity. This is the very core of all movement, in my opinion. All life fluctuates between the resistance to and the yielding to gravity. Youth is "down" as little as possible; gravity holds him lightly to earth. Old age gradually takes over and the spring vanishes from the step until the final yielding, death." - p 106
"In dance and music, the arts which make the most conscious use of rhythm, understanding of the keynote of the rhythmic organization enhances the enjoyment no end. People are not carried along with the hit-or-miss or too-erratic accent. This kind of enjoyment seems to be related to relaxation and effort. If the rhythmic structure is perceived, then a constant effort of the will is not needed to understand it, hence more ease and pleasure result than if a jumble of accent were presented which was difficult to follow, with the consequent need for close attention and an expenditure of nervous energy. We like the unexpected in rhythm too." - p 107
Here's where Humphrey & I completely part ways. In general, all the music she chose for her dances was what I wd call conservative. While the dances may've been modern the music certainly wasn't. Again, I think this is at least partially a dig at Cunningham/Cage. As I touched on briefly, in my autobiographical section on party dancing above, I find such adherence to obvious rhythm to be boring. In 2006, when I threw a house-warming party for the home I'd just bought, I made it a 'requirement' that all attendees had to dance as long as they were in the house. HOWEVER, I provided no 'dance music'. Instead I had only one tape playing the whole time: a recording of a refrigerator. You can sortof find some residue from that in my movie "Backwards Masking in Rocks" ( https://archive.org/details/backwards-masking-in-rocks ) around 59:09. The party was held in the dark & all attendees were given 2 flashlights apiece.
"Bring in a study illustrating a motor rhythm, a breath rhythm and an emotional rhythm for one body." - p 109
Chapter 13, "Motivation and Gesture":
"The cessation of movement is death, but before that the dancer at least makes the minimal statement, "I am a live human being." The only way I can think of to avoid this is to encase the body in a sort of box costume in which no part of the anatomy shows, and nothing reveals a living muscle underneath." - p 110
Wch brings me to Gian Carlo Menotti's opera entitled "Help, Help, the Globolinks!" (1968) ( https://youtu.be/Te-XVgq0sb4 ) (wch I also have the score for) wch has costumes & choreography by Alwin Nikolais. Nikolais is one of the choreographers that interests me, somone who composed his own electronic music & someone who got away from the "human being" restriction thru imaginative costuming that Humphrey seems to mainly take as a given. Another example is choreographer/dancer Kate Kaos in Australia. I had the privilege of meeting her & her fellow dancers in 2000 where I made a modest documentary about her: https://archive.org/details/KateKaos . While I'm at it, I might as well mention the 22nd music(ian)'s meeting (November 11, 2012) at my house wch had a "dance" theme & wch resulted in this very condensed movie online that shows some of the dance that's interested me (this was before I finished making the Kate Kaos movie or she wd've been included): http://youtu.be/giE80mBYO6g .
"To draw a brief comparison with drama, the sister art of the dance, no playwright I ever heard of has written an "abstract" drama with words put together at random, and characters entering and exiting with no purpose. Dramatists can be very difficult to understand, but almost without exception they are trying to say something, and would think it quite absurd to put into the mouths of the actors "me-me-me" and "ah-ah-ah" from the diction textbook. Parlor tricks involving actors who recite from the telephone book are known for what they are-party games." - p 111
Wweeellllll.. that may or may not be historically accurate. Sound poetry performed by dadaists at the Cabaret Voltaire might be called "abstract drama". John Cage's prototypical Happening at Black Mountain College in 1952 might also fit the bill. Both of these predated the 1958 writing of this bk. From my POV, Humphrey's saying that it hadn't happened strikes me as stimulus for wanting to make it happen. Cage's "Theatre Piece" is from 1960. I performed that once & it was one of the greatest things I've ever experienced. For that matter, in 1995 I had the privilege to witness the brilliant writer Steve McCaffery read at SUNY Buffalo where he gave a dramatic reading from a New York telephone directory. Something that wd've probably been quite dull performed by a lesser reader was truly exciting as performed by McCaffery - he gave it virtuosic inflections.
But this isn't to say that Humphrey isn't open to details that some might consider dada or Fluxus. As w/ the bow, she pays close attn to possible variations w/ the handshake.
"If any one element is changed, the whole import of the handshake alters with it to a startling degree. Suppose we just change the phrase. Put the climax at the beginning by emphasizing the thrust forward of the hands, through, say, a larger movement, beginning further back with the arm, and with the participants standing further apart. This gives it a fake look of inappropriate eagerness, or even comic gaucherie. For another phrase, put the whole thing on a monotone, so that there is no high point. This makes it wooden, unspontaneous. Then experiment with the motivation area. Remove the slight forward motion of the body. Immediately these two people are highly indifferent to each other, even hostile and discourteous. Bend the bodies back slightly and they look like insufferable stuffed shirts bursting with ego. Tilt one or both bodies to the side and a curious distortion results. This is so abnormal as to look eccentric." - p 122
The above is all excellent but its limit is that it only imagines 2 people shaking. Here's an example of 5 people doing so: https://youtu.be/kODzM_2_bRM?t=13419 . Waving is another gesture ripe for exploration:
"220. Lightbulb Wave
- XXXPanzio A Neoizmus?! Anti-Esemény / XXXPanzio In the Name of Neoism?! Anti-Event - Madách Imre Müvelódési Központ / Culture Center, Vác, Hungary
- Friday, July 4th, 1997, 5:45 to 6:30PM
- 6:00 was to be the opening time for a Monty Cantsin exhibition in a small room at the Culture Center. The building had a balcony on its curved front from the middle of which hung a large Neoism/XXXPanzio banner. I proposed that a group of us stand somewhat like living statues & wave to the attendees. etta cetera mentioned that she'd seen a tv show in which 3 types of waves were taught to beauty pageant contestants. These were a sortof "windshield-wiper" wave, a "sweeping-gesture" wave, & a "screwing-in-a-lightbulb" wave. We chose the latter. We asked the organizers for lightbulbs so that we could 'wave' with them in our hands. I stood on the balcony alone for a while & was joined by etta, then Gordon W., then Brian Damage, Amen!, Tadesz Varon Less, & BruSeX. This wave has since become yet-another Neoist buzzard (akin to the Masonic hand-shake)."
Chapter 14, "Words":
"Puritans in America fulminated against such innocent diversions as a Maypole dance, and to this day the actor and the dancer are still not quite acceptable socially because of their lingering and unwarranted reputation as loose-living rascals." - p 125
& that's why loose lips sink ships.
"Several ways of using words have already been rediscovered. There is the narrator, who fulfills the function of storyteller and clue provider; the chanted or sung word by accompanying singers, or even by the dancers themselves, using actual dialogue while dance movement is going on; wordplay (fun with words); the word used as a climax to a passage" - p 126
Chapter 16, "Sets and Props":
"a space in which an oblong box was set longways on two smaller ones, at the ends, so that an opening of several feet showed underneath it. The back of the oblong was open and faced away from the audience. In this there was a dancer whose body was concealed, but whose head moved just above the surface of the box, from one end of it to the other. At the start of the scene, the head and the four legs moved together as though they belonged to one body, and after this had been established for some time, the head delayed and took off on its own, leaving the legs to their own devices." - p 145
This is the sort of trickery that appeals to me - perhaps more than ballet skills do.
"In trying to stimulate the imagination of students in this direction, I ask an assistant to improvise with a chair, or a handkerchief, or anything that might be around in a studio-say, a piece of chalk or a glass. Each of these simple things has unlimited possibilities for dramatic attitudes and movement." - p 146
I, too, like to dance w/ chairs & such-like things & have done it quite alot. There's an image of me dancing w/ a organ bench in this entry: 402. "A Catamaran Animist Vigor" - Abandoned Store, Pittsburgh, us@ - Wednesday, May 7, 2014 at this URL: http://idioideo.pleintekst.nl/MereOutline2014.html .
"Alwin Nikolais has whole dances built on the use of various props, some very serious, some for charm and others for comedy." - p 146
Chapter 17, "Form":
"On several occasions I have seen performances in which a house was kept in darkness, with no music and nothing but a yawning stage to look at, through a three-minute costume change. This, of course, without any other consideration, killed the dance deader than a mouse in a trap." - p 149
Naturally, for me at least, that stimulates my imagination to think of some scenario where the waiting-in-the-dark might work to advantage: say, e.g., the audience comes in in the dark, led to their seats by ushers w/ flashlights; then they sit in the dark for just long enuf for them to start to wonder when the damned show is going to start. On-stage, a feeble-looking person appears, perhaps using a walker, w/ a flashlight that goes out intermittently, mumbling & cursing to themselves, wondering why the damned lights are off. Suddenly, apparently b/c they can't see, they fall off the edge of the stage, emitting a quick scream that's cut off by a thud, perhaps followed by moans of agony & cries for help. Shortly after, the full houselights come on & people go rushing up to the front to see what's happened when what had appeared to be an old person now rears up in a very convincing bear suit & rips off part of the head of the person closest to them. You get the idea.
"Martha Graham, Charles Weidman and myself were brought up at Denishawn, where each of us had quite a stint to do in vaudeville. Here everything was planned for pacing. The curtain went up for an act on the dot, and if you weren't there, it was too bad. There was no such thing as keeping an audience twenty minutes before beginning." - p 150
Anyone who performed on the vaudeville circuit has my deepest respect. I cd kill my parents, if they weren't already dead, for not making me when they reached puberty. At least that way I might've been able to go to vaudeville shows as a little child. As for making people wait? I remember when Klaus Nomi was playing at the 9:30 Club In Washington, DC. I didn't really have any interest in him, I probably went b/c of my girlfriend. The 9:30 Club's doors opened at 9:30 &, as I recall, there was supposed to be a 1st show shortly thereafter, a long break, & then a 2nd show at something like 12:30. People arrived at least an hr early so they cd get in in a timely manner. SO, maybe we were there at 8:30 & there was already a long line. After the 1st show's audience were let in the doors were closed & there was a 2nd line for the late show. Wweeeellllll, Nomi kept the crowd waiting. & waiting. They didn't let the 1st show audience in until something like 12:30. The show was only something like 20 minutes long, then they kicked us out b/c the 2nd show's audience had to be let in. As such, we waiting in line for something like 4 hrs. The show was shit, I hated it. It seemed that Nomi had quite the Prima Donna complex.
Chapter 18, "Check List":
"Symmetry is lifeless
Two-dimensional design is lifeless
The eye is faster than the ear
Movement looks slower and weaker on stage
All dances are too long
A good ending is forty per cent of the dance
Monotony is fatal; look for contrasts
Don't be a slave to, or a mutilator of, the music
Listen to qualified advice; don't be arrogant
Don't intellectualize; motivate movement
Don't leave the ending to the end" - p 159
Wch brings me to why I've probably never worked well w/ dancers.
"Don't intellectualize; motivate movement
"There is a great difference of opinion about this point in the dance world, at least in the United States. In fact these is such a schism that the subject calls for a chapter of its own. At this point, it must be obvious that I belong to the faction that believes in motivation, feeling an emotion, as opposed to the widespread notion that these things are not only unnecessary but outmoded. It seems to me that an intellectual approach, which is central and not peripheral, is out of place in an art which has, as its medium, movement of the human body." - p 165
Chapter 19, "Conclusion":
"And then comes modern dance: At the turn of the fabulous twentieth century, two American girls, widely separated in space and unknown to each other, had a vision of a new dance, with its roots in the past, but its expansive ideas firmly in the present. These two were Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis." - p 168
Interesting. I've heard of both but know entirely too little about them.
Finally, the reader gets to her position vs that of the dancers that I find more interesting.
"Beginning with attitudes in the field itself, there is a great schism in approaches to subject matter and treatment, one branch of which differs widely from the original basis on which the movement was founded. Is this cause for alarm, or is it progress? Put very consisely, the difference is between a conception of the dance as an expression of modern man, and the idea that it should be a complete abstraction. The founders, and the first generation of dancers who followed them, were firmly of the opinion that the proper study of mankind was man (Isadora was concerned with her soul, which she found to be in her solar plexus.)" - pp 170-171
"The fallacy here is an inescapable physical fact-the body can never look like an abstraction."
"One whole faction regards the abstraction to be a delightful game, to be put together entirely by chance. The only rule seems to be, "No collisions."" - p 171
I don't think dance HAS to be anything in particular. Right there, I'm in total disagreement w/ Humphrey. the afore-mentioned Alwin Nikolais & Kate Kaos have quite nicely used costuming to abstract the human form.
Basically, Humphrey is objecting to the innovations of a generation younger than her. Same old, same old. I've mentioned her subtext of antipathy to Cunningham/Cage. While I've been writing this review I've also been reading Carolyn Brown's excellent "Chance and Circumstance - Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham". Brown was a dancer w/ the Cunningham company for its 1st 20 yrs. Her husband, Earle, was one of the composers who made music for Cunningham's dances, he's also one of my favorite composers. I've literally been so moved by reading Brown's bk that my eyes have been tearing. FREQUENTLY. That's how much I can identify w/ it. Whereas w/ Humphrey's bk I just recognize the clarity of her pedagogical thinking. Here're a few relevant quotes from Brown's bk:
"Said Cage: "I freed the dancers from the necessity to interpret music on the level of feeling; they could make a dance in the same structure that a musician was using. They could do it independently of one another, bringing their results together as pure hypothetical meaning."" - p 19, "Chance and Circumstance"
"With very rare exceptions, Merce was alone and undoubtedly lonely among his modern-dance peers. In his desire for the movement to be self-expressive (not expressive of the self or anything else), he was far closer in spirit and intent to the choreographic principles of Balanchine and Ashton than to the doctrines espoused by Graham, Humphrey, Weidman, or Limón and their disciples." - p 54, "Chance and Circumstance"
"Few from the Establishment Modern Dance (Graham, Humphrey, Weidman, Limón, Holm) attended" - p 96, "Chance and Circumstance"
"Neither Merce nor John had a penny; both were in debt, with no reliable source of steady income. Since this predicament was common to most of us, they both felt responsible, and John felt horribly guilty. John didn't live long enough to know the disheartening story of just why the company was rejected by the Dance Panel (part of the cultural diplomacy arm of the State Department) that year. But in 1998, formerly classified documents revealed the partisan politics practiced by some members of that panel (especially Martha Hill and Doris Humphrey)" - p 138, "Chance and Circumstance"
In other words, Humphrey made sure that the dancers/choreographers who represented a different philosophy than her own didn't get any of the vast monies that were potentially available to them. Same old, same old.
"The great difference between dance and other theater forms is in the totally impermanent nature of the dance. The play is in a script, the opera in a score, and these can be dusted off and brought to light at a more felicitous time than that in which they were first presented. Dance notation may be a partial answer to this, but will not save the situation completely, The choreographer is chained to his own day." - p 172
I imagine that the computer-generated dance animations that Cunningham used in his later yrs have probably put dance much more on the level of music's through-notation.
"The Sleeping Beauty slumbered on while the dance world admired her loveliness.
"When she finally awoke and charged around her palace as a modern miss, in the twenties, actually expecting praise for such behavior, the shock to audiences was understandably immense. All appeals to logic on behalf of modern dance were not very successful. To say that dance should grow up, deal with contemporary life as the other arts did, was to be met with the age-old attitude that dancing was for fun; dancing should be lovely and graceful." - p 175
& while Doris Humphrey was still leading Modern Dance's revolution vis à vis Ballet, Merce Cunningham was already leaving Modern Dance in the dust of its already antequated ways.
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