Friday, 22 July 2016

The Ancient Dancer in the Modern World

Fiona MacKintosh, edited by, The Ancient Dancerin the Modern World – Responses to Greek and Roman Dance, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2010.

Greek and Roman cultures represented a constant reference point in the history of dance. Jean-Georges Noverre drew inspiration from “ancient pantomime” in the development of his ballet d’action. Noverre was often inspired by Greek tragedies for the theme of his work, like Medée et Jason (1763) and Alceste (1767). As is known, Isadora Duncan elaborated Greek culture in her vision, included her famous loose tunics and bare feet. Editor Fiona MacKintosh has highlighted that, “this dependence on ancestry also occurs because ‘looking back’ is a sure way of acknowledging both debt and position within a tradition”.

The Ancient Dancer in the Modern World – Responses to Greek and Roman Dance, is the first meticulous attempt to investigate the fertile relationship between dance in general and Greek and Roman dance with a focus on numerous aspects. The volume is organized into five parts, each of which unveils a valuable perspective: Dance and the Ancient Sources, Dance and Decadence, Dance and Myth, Ancient Dance and the Modern Mind, and the Ancient Chorus in Contemporary Performance.

The first part is crucial because of its critical understanding of sources, the first step to map out this relantionship. Ann Cooper Albright, in her essay, “The Tanagra Effect: Wrapping the Modern Body in the Folds of Ancient Greece”, delineates the interest in ancient Greece of four performers, Duncan herself, Loïe Fuller, Eva Palmer and Colette. The expression ‘Tanagra Effect’ refers to the Tanagra sculptures, also known as the Tanagra figurines (so called for the place where many of them were found) of ancient Greece, “whose draping clothes and folded scarves brilliantly capture the underlying movement of their bodies”. It symbolizes a dress style typical of the modern woman, one whose lifestyle literally incorporated choices (…) with a mobility unheard of twenty years earlier”. Duncan, Fuller, Palmer and Colette all engaged with this kind of choices in their own approach to performance.
The last chapter of this part, “A Pylades for the twentieth century: Fred Astaire and the aesthetic of bodily eloquence” by Kathleen Riley, is quite fascinating with regards to the North American tap dancer, but perhaps a bit overstated in drawing a comparison between his style and that of “the art of ancient pantomime”. Pylades was a renown virtuoso, but Astaire does not convincingly look as his “twentieth-century heir”.

The third part deals with the meat of the matter, i.e. myth. Barbara Ravelhofer’s study, “Ancient Greece, Dance, and the English Masque” reflects on the sixteenth and seventeenth century English “distinctive kind of dramatic entertainment” which “involved music, dancing, fanciful costumes and settings”. The masques by Thomas Campion were an “intriguing example of how classical antiquity materialized onstage”. The role of masque designers is also taken into account, with the example of Inigo Jones who attempted a kind of historical accuracy in his work. 
Heniretta Bannerman’s “Ancient Myths and Modern Moves: The Greek-Inspired Dance Theatre of Martha Graham”, offers an insightful analysis of Graham’s long lasting interest in Greek tragedies and myths. She also exemplifies Graham's “principles that underpins these works”, such as Jungian psychoanalysis and the archetype concept, the dramatic element set to stage her heroine’s inner struggle, as it happens with her 1947 reworking of the Theseus and the Minotaur myth, Errand into the Maze. She then focuses on the cycle motif “of death and renewal” present in works such as Cave of the Heart (1946), where Graham powerfully retells the Medea myth. According to Bannerman, “Graham understood the relationship between Greek myth and the innermost reaches of the mind and heart” and “grasped the principles that underpin Greek tragic theatre”. The chapter closes with a notable investigation of Graham’s influence on Frederick Ashton’s Persephone, starring Svetlana Beriosova.

Part four is probably the most appealing in that it examines the connection between ancient dance and the modern mind. Daniel Albright’s essay, “Knowing the Dancer, Knowing the Dance: The Dancer as Décor” is quite thought-provoking: “A dance is a kind of art in which the performer’s physical presence constitutes the surround in which the dance takes place – as Yeats put it, ‘How can we know the dancer from the dance?’” Dance and décor often intermingle echoing, for instance, the practice of classically inspired statue posing as devised by Emma Hamilton at the end of the eighteenth century. This is connected with dance and places too, dance and architecture and Rudolf Laban’s theories, “we became space through stillness”, Carol Brown wrote. Laban’s notion of kinesphere, the dancer’s “personal envelope of space”, perfectly illustrates this aspect. Various other examples are presented, like Oskar Schlemmer’s Tradic Ballet (1922) or Loïe Fuller’s groundbreaking metres-long costumes, where the dance-décor connection reaches its climax, as “a dancer (…) constitutes a place”.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Italy and the Classics

Tomorrow I will be in Oxford to take part to the one-day conference Italy and the Classics. My paper is about dancer painter Alberto Spadolini. Here is the programme. Here more details.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Spadolini, Ancona and the World

Italia Nostra, Teatrino San Cosma, Ancona, 14 April 2016, h 5.15 pm

An image of the audience.
Alberto Spadolini is still today an artist to be rediscovered, and the event, Alberto Spadolini, un anconetano nel mondo [Alberto Spadolini, a man from Ancona who got his way into the world], organised by Italia Nostra, has been a nice initiative that has remembered him from various perspectives. Marco Travaglini, Spadolini’s nephew and tireless promoter of his rediscovery, opened the ball. After him, Federica Bozzarelli, restorer of the artist’s work, followed and, in the end, I traced the path of his relationship with dance.
Marco Travaglini.
Travaglini spoke of Spadolini’s life, his illustrious friends, his work, and collaborations, underlining the fact that, in his investigation, many people and experts from all over the world, helped him. He showed numerous images of his extraordinary photographs and of his paintings, focusing, among other things, on the codes present in some of them, as his friend and main oral source of his rediscovery, Alex Wolfson, has noted. In this sense, Travaglini highlighted the importance of the sphere analyzing it in some paintings, as Tau, which seems to exemplify the history of the artist's soul. Spadolini, who was from Ancona, loved his town, he loved talking the Ancona dialect, and loved going back to Ancona to go to the market and eat the fish broth typical of the area. Before concluding his talk, Travaglini invited Mr. Mosconi, who knew Spadolini, to talk about his experience with him. He specified that he even knows where he was born, “in front of the barracks” in the ‘piano’ suburb, where the working class used to live.

Federica Bozzarelli.
Federica Bozzarelli focused on the restoration of Spadolini’s paintings, done, depending on each case, following different techniques, where she used scalpels to clear the canvas or colour paints to recreate the original luminosity and chromatism. She showed various paintings on which she worked both in their initial and final state. On a couple of occasions, she found other paintings under the canvas she was restoring, as the one they thought was a self-portrait and that instead they discovered was a portrait painted by Teodora Clerici Trmi, as is evident from an article published in Comoedia in 1933. 

I talked about Spadolini as a dancer with a particular attention to his primitivist dances in 1930s Paris next, but not only that, to Josephine Baker. In particular, I have analysed one of his most significant photographs and illustrated aspects of his dance from his solo in the film Marinella (1936) directed by Pierre Caron, starring Tino Rossi as the protagonist.
Thanks to Italia Nostra for the organization of the event and to Marco Travaglini for asking me to take part to it. The rediscovery of Spadò, as he was also called, proceeds and will certainly continue to surprise us. 

Rosella Simonari and the audience.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Alberto Spadolini, un anconetano nel mondo

Tomorrow I will be in Ancona to deliver a brief talk on the relationship between Alberto Spadolini and dance, here an essay in Italian I wrote about it.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Adaptation and Dance Conference

Trinity House, Leicester.
Organised by the Centre of Adaptations, the Adaptation and Dance Conference, was held at Trinity House, De Montfort University, Leicester, United Kingdom, on 2 March 2016, and aimed at opening the debate on the subject. In the introductory talk, the two organisers, Elinor Parsons and Hila Shachar, noted how dance has always been dealing with adaptation and how 2016 represents a particularly fruitful year in that it marks the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, with the Birmingham Royal Ballet restaging of Frederick Ashton’s The Dream, based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and the Northern Ballet choreographing of Charlotte Brönte’s Jane Eyre.
It  was cold, it rained, it also snowed and was sunny. In this respect, the English weather stood up to its reputation. Finding where the conference venue was, was not easy, but walking in Leicester was a beautiful experience and Trinity House a marvellous and very comfortable place, with nice rooms for the panels and the captivating old chapel for the opening talk and the final round table.

Conference opening.
I was in the panel on “Theorizing Adaptation & Dance”, chaired by Deborah Cartmell, which was thought-provoking and inspiring in terms of ideas and questions raised. Ramsay Burt’s paper, “Dance and Adaptation: Intermediality and Intertextuality”, focused on dance as an art form which develops across space and time in relation to other art forms, like music. He made the examples, among others, of Angelin Preljocaj’s peculiar Romeo and Juliet and Jiři Kylián’s Symphony of Psalms of which he talked of as an adaptation of Igor Stravinsky’s music, an aspect which was brought again up during the discussion. Giannandrea Poesio’s paper, “Adaptation politics: the Risorgimento model”, highlighted the profound tie between nineteenth century Italian ballo and Italian politics. Italy was struggling on various fronts, among whose was achieving unity and these aspects influenced all the arts and contributed to develop a strong political tinge in the production of dance works.
My paper, “This Choreotext Which is Not One: On Dance Adaptation Theory”, was on the choreotext stauts in relation to dance reconstruction and adaptation theory and the last paper, “Dancing Figures. Rhetorical Devices in Dance”, by Begoña Olabarria Smith, dealt with the relationship between rhetorical figures and dance. The debate that followed was intriguing and posed some potential challenges to the field of adaptation studies, the most notable being the possibility for a dance adaptation not to include narrative and what role does the body’s “disruptive presence” play in narrative terms.  

One of the panels.
Other panels I went to presented interesting perspectives, like the one dedicated to “Cultural & Political Contexts” or the one on “Experimental Practitioners”. In the first, Miriam Hasikova's “The influence of the Political Regime on the Ballet Production and Adaptation of the Performances during the Communism in Czechoslovakia”, brought to life a little known but remarkable reality, while in the second, Christophe Collard's “Choreographing Continuity, Dancing Stein”, highlighted the complexity of Stein's work, The Making of Americans, and Juliette Mapp's multimediatic dance adaptation with a focus more on form than content and the consequent deconstruction of binary oppositions.

The final roundtable tied together some of the questions that emerged during the panels, like the relationship between dramaturgy and choreography, the significance of reception and the crucial importance of context for any dance adaptation analysis.

A nice wine drinking followed and then, a group of us, went to the Indian restaurant Kayal to continue talking about the conference in a more relaxed atmosphere.