Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Words and Movement

I’m currently reading a cultural history which deals with the start of what we’d term The Modern Age. Spanning the 20th century, it begins with a discussion of the artistic climate, starting with Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring in 1913. The introduction of Russian ballet to European theaters (and consequently, parlors) had a seismic effect on artists working in all mediums, but some considered dance an ideal form of art. (Book here.)

“In the ballet, I would point to the elemental mixture of visual and aural impressions; in the ballet is attained the ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk about which Wagner dreamed and about which every artistically gifted person dreams.” --Alexandre Benois, art critic

Gesamtkunstwerk:  noun, German.
total art work, an artistic creation that synethesizes the elements of music, drama, spectacle, dance, etc.

I’m a dance enthusiast so this is all good and true, but I’m a writer too. So I’m always looking for experiences to inform my writing. And anyone avidly seeking out art in any form is looking for that total experience, the one that fires brain synapses but lights your soul as well. The movie that makes you laugh and cry, the book that keeps you up at night and thinking long afterward, the painting you buy a reproduction of so you can look at it all the time.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, I had a life-changing art experience last night, at a performance by Spellbound Contemporary Ballet, an Italian company currently touring the U.S. The first offering in the program was called “Lost for Words.” From the printed material:

"Lost for Words is a full-length 43-minute piece. A mixture of graceful fluidity and stunning virtuosity, Astolfi’s Lost for Words is an abstract reflection on the role of language in human relations, echoing the dissonance embedded in a culture of communication dominated by empty words.”

I do a lot of thinking about words and art, and how to make art using words. From the opening moments of Lost for Words, I was gripped. Bodies expressing communication, sometimes in pairs or groups but ultimately, each alone. Bodies moving together in discourse, with intent and at times, entanglement or disengagement. Each dancer similarly clad and blending one with the other, because in matters of communication, we are all equal, male or female. The hope, the futility, the brief connections. It didn’t hurt that these were Italian dancers—dark, muscular, beautiful. What can I say? I spent the 40+ minutes (which felt like 10) on the edge of my seat, a tissue clutched in my hand to wipe tears. I realized what people mean when they say “it took my breath away” because at one point, I was almost panting.

I was deeply moved by this piece because it was personal and universal, exquisite and ragged, theoretical and immediate. It felt like it was about me. It shifted the planes of my foundation and I share an introduction with you below. I don’t expect you to feel as I do about it, but I hope you feel this way about something.  

Spellbound Contemporary Ballet " Lost for words " from Spellbound Contemporary Ballet on Vimeo.


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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka