Isadora Duncan was another key figure in Paris during the Lost Generation period and Tuesday we were treated to a Duncan Technique class at L’Academie Americaine de Danse. With my experience at the Limon Spring Intensive I could certainly note the similarities. Our teacher, Amy Salmon Swanson, discussed three of Duncan’s elements, “Le cièle et la terre,” the natural spiral movements noticeable from any angle, and the solar plexus being the center of life and death of movement. We began class by choosing a tunic and scarf and being asked to take our hair down. We were then asked to make a circle, much the same way we ask the Dance 100 students at the University of Arizona to make a circle, the only difference was that we were asked to bear weight into our hands. We started out at what Amy called 0 the head slightly lowered, solar plexus relaxed, and the breathed arms up towards the sky à la worship style, first one arm at a time then both. We performed this movement both front and side. We were also told that Duncan didn’t care for the heels apart in a relevé, she apparently thought it crass. So we were asked to make a tiny first position and relevé maintaining the heels together.
We then proceeded to the barre for some plié, battement, and balançoire combinations. We also learned what a hair pin was, essentially a full back bend one arm utilizing the barre the other extended behind. Next we came to the center and split up into two groups, one stage right and one stage left. We were continually reminded, “headlights forward and arms in front of you.” I particularly enjoyed the relevé in attitude à la seconde sequence with a giving gesture of the arm of the same gestured leg. It felt simple and connected. Internal but with an indication to the outside world. I could honestly feel the movement emanating from the solar plexus.
While I enjoyed the freedom of the movement during class and it’s connection to humanity and all things feminine, I couldn’t quite grasp the flow to the class material. We weren’t exposed to the material in an orderly fashion and at times it felt sporadic, particularly when performing group work that relied on cultivated, communal movement.
I found it interesting once again to view the class with my teacher hat on. I was particularly aware of how some of the students received corrections. I think when attempting to dig deep into where movement really emanates from, it can be difficult for some to be criticized. It is a process and sometimes movements lie buried deep under layers of unconscious contrived movements. These habits can be very difficult to break. It was an interesting and somewhat awkward situation but overall I think I learned that coming into class with a blank slate and dancing your holistic truth would help combat these incidences. A lesson I’m still learning everyday.
Tuesday we also had an assignment in Père Lachaise Cemetery. We were asked to lead a group of undergrads around to find and discuss historical figures buried within the walls. The undergraduates had two people to discuss while the grad students had four. Our list of must sees included:
Honoré de Balzac
Jean Baptiste Molière
Monuments I – W (relating to the Holocaust)
We managed to see 10 of the 17 grave sites or monuments. It was again nice to have ownership over our own education and to be responsible for a group. Some we had learned about in lectures but others were new to us. One of my notable people was Edith Piaf who’s last words are reported to have been, “Every damn fool thing you do in this life, you pay for.” I also learned that Jim Morrison’s father had a plaque placed on his son’s grave that translates to,” “according to his own daemon i.e., guiding spirit.” We also had the pleasure of having one of the caretakers tell us the tales of Isadora’s death as well as the deaths of her two children, whose ashes lay a few plots above hers. For me, the assignment ended on a very heavy note because the last monument we saw was a Holocaust memorial dedicated to the 180,000 captives at Camp D and the 154,000 who were murdered. Again thoughts of mortality crept up and a moment for the idea that death is inevitable was taken.
Wednesday we had the absolute pleasure of having a backstage tour at the Moulin Rouge. And here comes nostalgia! I smiled at the found memories of wearing ostrich feathers designed by Bob Mackie while dancing on cruise ships out of undergrad. In all my times being in Paris I have never seen the Moulin Rouge show. Every time I leave I think I really should probably go. Mostly, I decline because of the cost and the mixed reviews but this time when I am back in Paris I think I might attend a show. We were treated to a wonderful guide who told us that all the posters in the Toulousse-Lautrec Lounge were the original advertisements for the Moulin Rouge. We were also told about the history and that the original Moulin Rouge was destroyed in a fire. Today’s venue has a stage as opposed to times past when La Goulue and the likes would kick off the patrons hats dancing on the floor next to them. Although not the same venue, it certainly held a great deal of history. The old fashioned posters and the velvet covered doors, the sparkly curtain and the little table lights reminded me so very much of the theaters on the cruise ships. So many good memories! We were also allowed to go back stage (although not able to take pictures) and stand on the stage of the Moulin Rouge. What a treat! The backpacks and headdresses all rhinestoned and feathered hanging from the drop ceiling or on top of high shelves were a see of bright colors and fantastical textures. It was nice to hear that the women of the Moulin must not be too skinny and must not have fake… Well you know! The differences in culture are always so interesting to me. I really loved the backstage tour and talking with our guide. Although the show seems rather pricey I may try and sneak a 9th show in while I’m in Europe this summer!
Another assignment we had took place at the Rodin Museum. Unfortunately we arrived to find out that the grounds of Rodin’s former studio were closed. But we were able to go into the gardens and into what the museum called his laboratory (although not the actual site of his laboratory).
One of the many things I learned about sculptors this trip is that many of them make smaller replicas or their larger sculptures so that they can really work at creating the perfect contours and shapes. So in Rodin’s laboratory we got to see some of the smaller and sometimes some of the works in progress. It was pretty amazing to relate that to dance. What are the differences/similarities between a work in progress in dance versus a work in progress of a sculpture? It’s as though sculptors get a quick snap shot of their attempts. I like that idea!
Our assignment was to head to Rodin’s La Porte de L’Enfer (1880-1890) and to the Monument des Bourgeois de Calais (1889) and then discuss it in pairs or in my case a trio. I found it fascinating that La Porte de L’Enfer (based off of Dante’s Inferno) took nearly 10 years to complete! Could you imagine having ten years to develop a piece of choreogrpaphy? To really get in there and play? What an amazing thought!
I was also floored by the fact that Rodin was so truthful in his depiction of the gates of hell. Children, women, men, cherubs, angels are all depicted in this massive art work. It made me again think of mortality and that life is not permanent, but instead a series of events that will inevitably lead to passing. I liked the reality depicted in the sculpture. It was also incredible that we were encouraged to touch the sculpture, more often than not museums are a hands off sort of deal. But in this case one could really get a sense of the contours, shapes, and angles of the art. The door seemed to have movement despite being an inanimate object. And despite the gates of hell depicting death, it wasn’t stagnant or in repose but instead the limbs reaching out and about created a sense of turbulence and tumultuousness that troubled but also intrigued me. It was really amazing to head into the laboratory to see the series of smaller replicas that Roding committed to before actually attacking the larger work.
The second Rodin work that we went to see Monument des Bourgeois de Calais. Unlike La Porte de L’Enfer, this one didn’t necessarily have a delineated front viewpoint. Instead the sculpture was one where the viewer could walk around so as to get a new perspective of the work with each facing. This sculpture was an homage to the 6 Bourgeois who gave themselves up to the King of England during the 100 year war. I also read that they were purposely displayed on the ground level because Rodin wanted to confront the viewer with misery and sacrifice. The sculpture was simply beautiful! Each “person” depicted in a different stance and with different facial expressions but featuring the same emotion, misery and sacrifice. It was also interesting to walk around the entire statue to get different viewpoints. I liked looking through them and around them. The level of detail was astounding. I imagined all the care going in to creating this work. It was quite a moving experience to sit back and think of the time and energy spent on really recreating a moment in history. The tenacity and dedication this work must have taken. Not to mention the emotional investment.
I really enjoyed the Rodin museum despite the upset of not being able to go into his studio. It really taught me a great deal about movement even though the pieces were inanimate objects. There’s something to be said about contours, texture, lines, and shapes. I really enjoyed being inspired by something that I might otherwise not necessarily get to see. I loved thinking about all the little details that went into creating just the hands, just the feet etc. I would notice even the small details that would evoke some kind of movement. A whip, a slash, a jagged jerk. All these little details seemed to be eliciting a phrase in my head. I really liked being able to touch the sculptures and even more so noticing their idiosyncrasies on a tactile level.