Saturday, 30 June 2012

Martha Graham in Love and War




Mark Franko’s book-length study on Martha Graham is a much awaited and very welcome work.
As he notes in the Introduction, Graham is often compared to Picasso or Freud, but biographers, whose studies have been fundamental to frame her life and achievements, “have not always given her work the quality or quantity of analysis that has been devoted to Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, or Gandhi”. That is why Franko’s intention is to focus on her most productive years, namely those between 1938 and 1953, with a specific attention to what was happening in her life and, more precisely, in her relationship with Erick Hawkins off and onstage. As he says, “it is appropriate and indeed necessary to bring biography into relation with the analysis of production work”.

In particular, he chooses four dance pieces, American Document (1938), Appalachian Spring (1944), Night Journey (1947), and Voyage (1953), to investigate the relationship between Graham's life and work. The first and last are quite unknown to the audience, while the second and third represent two of her most popular pieces. He devotes to each of them a chapter filled with impressive analyses fuelled by research that includes the consultation of unpublished material. 

Franko’s research unveils fundamental aspects of Appalachian Spring which is stripped of its joyful rhetoric. Appalachian Spring is about a newly married couple who is welcomed by the community into their new house. It is the last piece Graham created on North American themes. Analysing material on the creation of the work, Franko discovers that its original conception included other characters, like the Indian Girl and the Fugitive. Throughout the working of the piece, they were eliminated, but, in a way, their ghostly presence remained in the piece. That is why the work is characterised by what he terms “character compression”, in that each character is also the result of the elimination of these characters who possibly survive in another character's movement quality or step or even in Aaron Copland’s musical score.

Another significant result of Franko’s research is his analysis of Night Journey and Voyage in connection with the Graham-Hawkins relationship and, more precisely, with their separation. The first is one of her signature pieces and retells the Greek tragedy of Oedipus from Jocasta’s perspective, while the second is one of her most unknown pieces, perhaps her most neglected one, and is about “the effort to shed delusions”. Graham interprets the role of a middle-aged woman who relates herself to three different men. In this sense, she turns away from myth, which had been a kind of creative shield for her since the mid-1940s and presents herself as a more vulnerable artist. That is why, according to Franko, this work was not appreciated by the critics who were instead used to Graham’s magnetic power onstage.  

As I said, Franko does a marvellous job in putting the two pieces in relation to each other. Graham was writing the libretto for Night Journey when Hawkins left her for the first time for about a year and this event “had to influence Graham’s vision of Jocasta in relation to Oedipus”. Hawkins then definitely left her in 1950 during their European tour which was cancelled due to Graham’s knee injury. Voyage represents a creative elaboration of their separation. Franko notes that “if Night Journey was an anticipatory ritual of separation, Voyage was a post-ritual of becoming separate”. In particular, Voyage “is unique in the annals of twentieth-century choreography because it was conceived in analysis, and developed in a correspondence (and probably also in conversation) with the choreograher’s analyst,” Jungian psychotherapist Frances Wickes.

Because Franko does not provide a thorough introduction to either Graham or her pieces, his study may not be of easy access to those who are not familiar with her work. However, the scope of his analysis and the richness of his findings, make it a must read for anyone interested in dance, cultural, and biographical studies as well as the creative process of a remarkable artist.

I would like to thank the Oxford University Press for letting me have an advance reading copy of the book before its actual publication.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Lecture performance on Martha Graham

The Italian version of this post has first appeared on one of my other blogs, www.dancescriber.blogspot.com, at this address.
 
 ADAM Accademia (Macerata Art Academy) celebrates Martha Graham twenty years after she passed away with a lecture performance created by myself on September 17th, 2011 in Civitanova Marche.

Martha Graham (1894-1991) has been one of the most important figures in the twentieth century, so much so that she has been compared to Picasso and Freud for the scale of her revolution in dance. Her work represents a fundamental stage in contemporary dance history: as has been said more than once, every dancer is Martha Graham's son or daughter, both in the case he or she has continued to work alonge the lines she created and in the case he or she rejected them, as it happened to Merce Cunningham, who danced in her Company for a few years.

Graham has been an extraordinary dancer, a remarkable choreographer and has created a dance technique centred on the movement of the torse, a technique which has questioned the supremacy of ballet and the idea that dance should only be an entertaining art. Before her, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis had questioned these aspects without producing lasting and structurally defined alternatives. Graham, on her part, has managed to delienate a creative corpus capable of facing a comparison with the rich tradition of ballet and with Broadway. Maybe it is for this reason that in 1959 the famous Russina ballet choreographer George Balanchine, father of the New York City Ballet, asked her to collaborate with him at the creation of his new piece Episodes. Many personalities have been seduced by Graham's charisma: Andy Warhol has recreated her image in famous serigraphies, Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn have danced in some of her pieces, Liza Minnelli has acted in one of her works, Woody Allen and Madonna have both studied at her school.

The lecture performance on Graham is structured according to three lines: one dedicated to the verbal medium and interpreted by myself as dance historian (that is the proper lecture part of the whole event), the second centred on movement and performed by contemporary dancer and choreographer Simona Ficosecco and the third one devoted to sound and mixed by dj [Nooz]. Graham always created spledid collaborations with the people she worked with, such as set or costume designers. The idea is to create an unusual synergy between three different languages which are not usually put together to celebrate Graham's work and to unveil some of its flaws.

[the image above is a sketch I made taking as inspiration Graham's Lamentation, the graphic design is by Nooz]

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Message (International Dance Day)

In 1982 the International Dance Comittee of the International Theatre Institute (ITI), a UNESCO partner NGO, has chosen April 29th as International Dance Day to be celebrated worldwide. This is Jean-Georges Noverre's birthday (1727-1810). As is known, he is considered the father of Romantic ballet. Every year an important choreographer is called to give a message to the international community. This year Flemish-Moroccan choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has been asked to deliver the message (clik here to read it).

It is a significant message that gives numerous stimuli. First of all, he relates dance with its past, even though it is an art rooted in the present. Second, he exalts dance with a too dance-centred approach, "dance does not have limits with other arts". This is a necessary vision, if we think of the reiterated disadvantage dance has with respect to other arts such as opera or music, especially in Italy, but it is perhaps not entirely correct. Maybe he refers to contemporary dance where frontiers between space and body are often altered, but in other styles and techniques this crossing is not always possible.

Furthermore, in the third paragraph he underlines the honesty in the act of dancing. In this sense, he recalls Martha Graham's famous affermation, "movement never lies", a questionable one as movement can indeed lie. Graham, and, in a smaller measure Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, place, in this way, the art of dancing in a dangerous pre-verbal dimension which puts it more in relation with nature than with culture and that ricks to essentialise it.

Apart from this, Cherkaoui's message has a great impact, mainly for what concerns the ability to dance as ap recious instrument of communication and connection. This works particularly well in today's world, a world which is highly interconnected both for what concerns virtual reality and actual reality, "by moving like other people, by moving with other people and by watching them move, we can best feel their emotions, think their thoughts and connect to their energy. It is, perhaps, then that we can get to know and understand them clearly."

In the final paragraph, he even defines dance as "a celebration of co-existence, a way to give and make space and time for each other," a kind of powerful sharing experience that everybody should experiment.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

dance history (a brief definition)


Dance history deals with the past (even recent) of the art of dancing through the analysis of various kinds of sources (photographs, articles, oral documents, books, video etc.). Its aim is to understand the way it developed and anayse the way it eveolved according to different perspectives.


ps- the photograph is the cover of a famous dance history book, Curt Sachs,'s World History of Dance, first published in 1933.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

a selection of my publications

BOOKS

Letter to the World: Martha Graham danza Emily Dickinson [Letter to the World: Martha Graham dances Emily Dickinson], Rome, Aracne, 2015.

ESSAYS
"The Ancestress figure: Puritanism in Martha Graham's choreography", The European Journal of American Culture, Vol 33, issue 2, June 2014, pp. 131-145.

"The p.s. (la studiosa precaria): Raccontare la precarietà della ricerca attraverso una striscia a fumetti", in Mappe della precarietà, vol II, Bologna, Odoya, 2012, pp. 191-210.

"Identità che s/ballano in rete: pratiche di interazione e collaborazione con il sito www.ballet-dance.com!, Scritture di donne fra letteratura e giornalismo Conference Proceedings, Società Italiana delle Letterate (SIL), published online here.

“La seducción que danza: relación entre coreología y estudios de género en el mito de Carmen”, Atti del Convegno La disciplina coreologica in Europa: Problemi e Prospettive, Cecilia Nocilli e Alessandro Pontremoli (eds.), Rome, Aracne, 2010, pp. 105-120.

“Sulle tracce di Letter to the World: lo studio di una coreografia di Martha Graham fra ricostruzione e precarietà”, in La danza fuori dalla scena – Cultura, media, educazione, Conference Proceedings, Ornella Di Tondo, Alessandro Pontremoli, Francesco Stoppa (eds.), La Rivista Abruzzese, no. 81 (monographic no.), 2010, pp. 81-94.

"'Is a Word Dead When it is Said?': Relationship between Text and Performance in Martha Graham’s Letter to the World”, in Expression in the Performing Arts, Inma Álvarez, Héctor J. Pérez e Francisca Pérez-Carreño (eds.), Cambridge, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010, pp. 151-166.
“‘After Great Pain, A Formal feeling Comes’: Emily Dickinson’s Poetry and Figure in Martha Graham’s Letter to the World”, in USA: Identities, Cultures, and Politics in National, Transnational, and Global Perpsectives, AISNA (Italian Association of North American Studies) XIX Conference Proceedings, Marina Camboni, Valerio Massimo De Angelis, Daniele Fiorentino, Tatiana Petrovich Njegosh (eds.), Macerata, Edizioni Università di Macerata, 2009, pp. 539-552.
“The p.s. (precarious scholar): using the concept of precarity as a creative tool”, Conversations Across the Field of Dance Studies – Dancing Economies, Society of Dance History Scholars Newsletter, vol XXIX, 2009, pp. 14-17.
““Accade in letteratura…e non solo: New Italian Epic, letteratura, danza e altre arti”, online essay in four parts: 
“Danzare il cante jondo: ipotesi di contaminazione fra Martha Graham e il flamenco”, Corpi danzanti. Culture, tradizioni, identità, Conference Proceedings dedicated to Giorgio Di Lecce, Ornella Di Tondo, Immacolata Giannuzzi, Sergio Torsello (eds.), Nardò, Besa, 2009, pp. 209-230.
“Bringing Carmen Back to Spain: Antonio Gades’s Flamenco Dance in Carlos Saura’s Choereofilm”, Dance Research, vol. 26, n. 2, Winter 2008, pp. 189-203.
Sappiano le mie parole di sangue e New Italian Epic”,
http://www.carmillaonline.com/archives/2008/09/002794.html, 28 settembre 2008.

“Looking Back at Martha Graham’s Letter to the World: Its Genesis, Its Reception, Its Legacy”, in Looking Back/Moving Forward, SDHS (Society of Dance History Scholars) Conference Proceedings, 2008, pp. 52-57.

“Alberto Spadolini e la danza”, in Bolero-Spadò: Alberto Spadolini, una vita di tutti i colori, Marco Travaglini (ed.), Modigliana, Litografia Fabbri, 2007, pp. 118-126. Exhibition Catalogue, Sala Imperatori, Porto San Giorgio (Fermo), 10 August – 9 September 2007.
"Spadolini: danzatore primitivista o pittore di ballerine?”, www.albertospadolini.it, April 2007.
  
ARTICLES
“Dead or Alive?: Martha Graham’s Legacy Twenty Years After she Passed Away”, http://www.ballet-dance.com/201201/GrahamJan2012.html, January 2012.

 “Moving Fabric: Costumes and Movement in Tero Saarinen’s Dances”, http://www.ballet-dance.com/200911/articles/feature_tsaarinen_20091002_simonari.html, November 2009.
““New Italian Epic e gender: riflessioni sparse”, Leggere Donna, n. 140, May-June 2009, pp. 29-30, avbailable online at: http://www.carmillaonline.com/archives/Rosella_Simonari_New_Italian_Epic_e_gender.pdf

“Martha Graham atti di luce con Emily Dickinson”, Danza&Danza, n. 195, December 2006, p. 18.
“In Search of Alberto Spadolini: the Incomplete Mosaic Behind an Extraordinary Life”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200608/articles/Spadolini20060700.html, August 2006.


“Dancing Carmen, Dancing Freedom: Antonio Gades’ Dance Adaptation in the Light of a Long and Enduring Genealogy”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200607/articles/Carmen200606.html , July 2006. 


“Henri Oguike Dance Company: Open Rehearsal for Tiger Dancing, plus extracts from Front Line, Finale”, http://www.ballet-dance.com/200603/articles/Oguike20060127.html, March 2006.

“Tero Saarinen Company, Open Rehearsal: 'Borrowed Light'”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200410/articles/Saarinen20040728.html, October 2004.


"Lilith, The Pioneering Woman, The Woman in White…Examples of 'Knowing Figures' in Martha Graham's Dances",
http://www.criticaldance.com/features/2003/mgdc_knowing_20030900.html, October 2003.

"Lettera al mondo: Martha Graham danza Emily Dickinson", Leggere Donna, n. 93, July – August 2001, pp. 38-39.

REVIEWS
“Nobody Knows and “I Lost Something on the Hill”: Fernando Suels Mendoza and Luna Dance Company”, http://www.ballet-dance.com/201105/Luna11Dec2011.html, December 2011.

“Menhir Company: Nina e le nuvole (Nina and the clouds)”, http://www.ballet-dance.com/201105/Menhir21May2011.html, Summer 2011.
“Anne Bogart and Martha Graham Hand in Hand Across America – SITI Company and Martha Graham Dance Company ‘American Document’”, http://ballet-dance.com/201011/articles/sitimgdc_american_20100611_simonari.html, November 2010.
“Fists Up and Moving. Dance is a Weapon – Martha Graham Dance Company”, http://ballet-dance.com/201010/articles/mgdc_joyce_20100609_simonari.html, October 2010.
 “Martha Graham reinventata da Anne Bogart”, Danza&Danza, July – August 2010, p. 12.
“Venice Biennale ‘Degree Zero’ – International Colloquium of Contemporary Dance”, http://www.ballet-dance.com/200908/articles/venicebiennale_colloquium_20090626_simonari.html, Summer 2009.
“Emio Greco / PC – Hell”, http://ballet-dance.com/200906/articles/greco_hell_20090505_simonari.html, June 2009.

"First Position: A century of Ballet Artists – book by Toba Singer”, http://www.ballet-dance.com/200811/articles/book_firstposition_20081000_simonari.html, November 2008.
“Painting the Stage Conference – Examining the interrelationship of painting and the performing arts”, http://www.ballet-dance.com/200711/articles/paintingthestage.html, November 2007.

“Alberto Spadolini Exhibition – Bolero-Spado': Una Vita Di Tutti I Colori”, http://www.ballet-dance.com/200710/articles/albertospadoliniexhibition.html, October 2007.
“Waving good-bye to Manon - Alessandra Ferri's Final Season with ABT”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200707/articles/ABT20070611.html, July 2007.


“Il danzatore che dipingeva la danza”, Danza&Danza, 201, July – August 2007, p. 19.

“Putting it Down in Words: Dance Theatre Journal Writing on Performance Conference”, http://www.ballet-dance.com/200705/articles/DTJ20070331.html, May 2007.
“Errand into Graham’s Maze: The Martha Graham Dance Company in Italy”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200704/articles/MGDC20070216.html, April 2007.

“500 Years of Italian Dance: Treasures from the Cia Fornaroli Collection”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200703/articles/ItalianDance2006.html, March 2007.
“Compagnie Linga: When a Table is Centerstage”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200702/articles/Linga20061222.html, February 2007.
“Homage to Milloss”, http://www.ballet-dance.com/200610/articles/Milloss20060610.html, October 2006.

“Takao Kawaguchi’s D.D.D.: Dancing to the Rhythm of the Heart”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200608/articles/Kawaguchi20060609.html, August 2006.

“Enlightened by Death: Ismael Ivo’s Illuminata”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200608/articles/Ivo20060610.html, August 2006.


“What is There Under the Skin of the Dancing Body?: Underskin – Venice Biennale Dance Symposium”, http://www.ballet-dance.com/200607/articles/Underskin20060609.html, July 2006.

“When Art Dances: The Dance of the Avant-Gardes Exhibition”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200606/articles/AvantGardes20060421.html, June 2006.
“Between Present and Future: Cullberg Ballet’s New Route”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200605/articles/Cullberg20060319.html, May 2006.
“Aterballetto: Mozart, Love and the ‘Colours’ of the South of Italy”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200604/articles/Aterballeto20060223.html, April 2006.
“Shen Wei Dance Arts’ Conntect Transfer: When Dance Paints Movement”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200602/articles/ShenWei20051126.html, February 2006.


“Tero Saarinen Company: “Borrowed Light”, The Light of Community”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200508/articles/Saarinen20050409.html, August 2005.

“Henri Oguike Dance Company: The Energy Between Light and Sound”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200508/articles/HenriOguike20050712.html, August 2005.
“Tanya Khabarova - 'Reflection': Eve, evolution, and the journey into life”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200501/articles/Khabarova20041216.html, January 2005.

“Yolande Snaith Theatre dance - 'Jardin Blanc': The white garden of movement”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200411/articles/Snaith20041025.html, November 2004.

“Tero Saarinen Company - ‘Westward Ho!’, ‘Wavelengths’, ‘Hunt’”, http://www.ballet-dance.com/200408/articles/Saarinen20040716.html, August 2004.

“Graham Pleasing and Political, Martha Graham Dance Company”, http://www.ballet-dance.com/200403/articles/Graham20040222.htm, March 2004.

“Satyric Festival Song, Martha Graham Dance Company”,
http://www.criticaldance.com/reviews/2003/MarthaGrahamDanceCo20031100.html, December 2003

“Oh my Goddess!”, Micheal Clark Dance Company,
http://www.criticaldance.com/reviews/2003/Clark20031004s.html, November 2003.

INTERVIEWS
“Pina Bausch and Beyond: Interview with Fernando Suels Mendoza”, http://www.ballet-dance.com/201201/MendozaJan2012.html, January 2012.

“Ritmo di parola e gesto: intervista a Valeria Simone”, http://dancescriber.blogspot.com/2012/02/ritmo-di-parola-e-gesto.html, 22 May 2011.

“Albero, ecologia dell’anima: intervista a Elisa Latini”, http://dancescriber.blogspot.it/2011/07/albero-ecologia-dellanima.html, 31 May 2011.

"An Interview with Susan Sentler: Exploring Martha Graham’s “Primitive Mysteries””, http://www.ballet-dance.com/200612/articles/Sentler200609.html, December 2006.

“Tero Saarinen: Dance that H(a)unts, Dance that Enchants”,
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200503/articles/TemoSaarinen20040724.html, March 2005.

"Visioni di/da donna tatuata: intervista a Betti Marenko",
http://www.donneinviaggio.it/articoli2.asp?id=96 (no longer available), October 2004.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

lecture performance (brief reflection)


Teaching is one of my vocations. I have taught the Dance and Mine undergraduate course at the University of Macerata for four years (2003-2007) and I believe that teaching dance history could become a subject open to more people than university students.
For this reason I created a different way, in fact a spectacular way, to deal with the topics of my research. I termed this way 'lecture performance' because while I deliver a dance history lecture, I interact with other languages such as music and dnace itself.
It is a format I experimented for the first time in 2006, when I delivered a paper at a conference organised by myself (hope to be able to speak about it soon), in collaboration with dj Nooz (a great graphic designer as well as dj) who was mixing music of different kind as background to my presentation. At my back a series of videos related to my paper and in mute mode were being showed. The result was interesting and, for some people, alienating. My intent was to stimulate the audience from different points of view and give life to a multisensory experience of the event. 

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Occupy Wall Street Adbusters Poster



On July 13th 2011 this Adbusters poster appeared online to present the Occupy Wall Street protest. It features a dancer on the top of the bronze bull which is situated near Wall Street. At the back there is a group of people immersed in a foggy atmosphere and ready to fight.

There is a sharp contrast between the shape created by the dancer and that of the bull. The former, in fact, stands on one leg performing an attitude to the back (a ballet position on one supporting leg, with the other bent at the knee to a ninety degree angle) with her arms in a loose second position. Her focus is downward left, her hair is composedly combed and her sleeveless dress is tight and short. Her pose suggests a sense of balance and stability.

On the other hand, the bull is portrayed in a very dynamic manner, with its forefeet off-balance to the right and its tail curled upwards. The bull was created in 1989 by artist Arturo DiModica as a Christmas present to the city of New York to praise its endurance after the 1987 stock market crash. Since then, it has become Wall Street mascot.

According to Wray Cummings, there is an interesting parallelism between this picture and one of the Major Arcana in Tarot decks, that is Strength. This card presents the figure of a woman with her hands on the jaws of a lion. It is not clear whether she is opening or closing them, but the usual interpretation of the card refers to humans’ ability to tame instinctual forces. The parallelism is quite appropriate as in the case of the Adbusters poster, the dancer tames the charging bull with her steadiness and grace. It is as if non violent protests could really make a difference in a world dominated by economic powers. So far the Occupy Wall Street movement has become an almost mainstream motto to be used in numerous protests’ activities in different parts of the world. In Italy, for example, it has recently been used to promote a campaign against animal testing (see here).

Watching this image, I asked myself why did Adbusters choose a classical dance pose and not, say, a hip hop one. But then maybe the contrast would not be as sharp as this one. Classical dance is a technique based on tough discipline and rigour and in the poster it is used to exemplify grace and steadiness (Cummings refers to the dancer’s pose atop the bull as improbable though) which are also its characteristics. 

Interestingly, classical dance has been used in another kind of political visual message, that is on the cover of Francesco Raparelli’s La lunghezza dell’onda – Fine della sinistra e nuovi movimenti (2009) [The wave length – The end of the left and the new movements], a book which analyses the Italian students’ protests (nicknamed ‘the wave’) from 2008 to 2009 as a new political agent in a country where the Berlusconi government repeatedly tended to erase the students’ rights. The cover is an interesting mix of ballet and activism as it presents the coloured drawing of a dancer performing an attitude to the back. However, if her legs are in the correct position, her arms escape ballet grammar in that they are placed one straight downward and the other bent upwards, with both hands in a fist. They eloquently express strength and the will to fight. At the back replicates of this figure announce an army of people ready to fight. The effect is further enhanced by the sense of perspective given by the baby blue rays that stem from the right low corner of the image.  

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Ecstasy and the Demon

This review also appears in one of my other blogs, www.dancescriber.blogspot.com, at this link.

Susan Manning, Ecstasy and the Demon – The Dances of Mary Wigman [1993] (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2006).


Manning’s book is not just a groundbreaking analysis on Mary Wigman (1886-1973), but it also represents a fundamental shift in perspective in the field of dance studies. Manning does not take a mere biographical approach, but investigates the social and political events that shaped Wigman’s career as dancer, choreographer and teacher. Thanks to her research, we find out about Wigman’s influence on Rudolf Laban and his considerable influence on her, her work as choreographer of solo as well as group pieces, her controversial relationship with the Nazi Regime and her neglected reception in the United States.

Wigman emerges as a prominent figure in German modern dance (the so called Ausdruckstanz, 'expressionist dance'), a figure who often had to struggle for the survival of her art. The initial phase of her career was very much influenced by the sense of community and freedom experienced at Monte Verità, “an artists’ colony in the Swiss Alps where Wigman spent the years of the First World War in voluntary exile with Rudolf Laban and his circle of dancers”. There she experimented her movement approach and managed to canalise her energy into a “working method”. The solo pieces resulting from this practice were quite radical and innovative. An example is Ecstatic Dances (1917), where Wigman presented the transformations of a character into, among other things, a nun, a dervish and a temple dancer. Through these transformations, she blurred the line between what was perceived as masculine and feminine, thus posing the question of gender construction.

“The twenties were the great decade of Wigman’s career”: she opened a school in Dresden and successfully moved “from solo dancing to group choreography”. In this period her group was formed by women only (men began to be included in 1928). There she developed an approach to dance based on improvisation, Laban’s movement scales, spinning and circles. Group pieces from this period comprise The Seven Dances of Life (1921) and Scenes from a Dance Drama (1924), where the traditional narrative structure was eliminated in favour of a ritual-like vision, where she analysed the notion of (female) community. One of her most renowned solo piece from this period is her reconstruction of her 1914 Witch Dance (1926), where she wears a mask and a loose dress, seating on the stage floor. “Wearing a mask, the female dancer objectifies herself rather than allowing herself to be objectified by the (male) spectator”.

1930 was a critical year as Wigman passed “from a modernist to a fascist aesthetic”. This crisis reflects the larger crisis the Ausdruckstanz (expressionist dance) movement was undergoing. At stake was the survival of the movement, the preservation of its origin in physical culture and its relationship with “the discipline and theatricality of ballet”. In addition to this, economic problems were beginning to become a major issue and, when the Regime came to power, both the movement and Wigman had to face the difficult choice of either accommodating to its aesthetic or succumbing. With regards to this, Wigman’s proto-fascist work, Totenmal (1930), represented perhaps the first step towards what would always be her ambiguous relationship with National Socialism. Conceived as “a multimedia spectacle memorializing soldiers killed in the First World War”, it was done in collaboration with Albert Talhoff.

The change in the political climate in the 1930s and beginning of the 1940s, led Wigman to shift her vision and turn it towards a more Duncanesque imagery, in that she staged a more traditionally seen feminine persona: “woman as wife and mother, woman as mourner fro the war dead, woman as heroic martyr”. Significantly, among these were the series of dances named Women’s Dances. As Manning herself states, “did her choreographic ambivalence serve as a limited resistance to fascist aesthetics or as a means of coming to terms with her accommodation?”. This remains an open and crucial question.

The last part of Wigman’s career was characterised by a decrescendo, with her retirement from the scene in 1942 and the closing of her school in 1967. In 1957, however, she was given an important commission by the Berlin Minicipal Opera, to choreograph her version of the Rite of Spring, a landmark piece in dance history, first choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky in 1913 with the music by Igor Stravinsky. Wigman inserted a female figure to replace the old sage. She called it a Mother Figure and surrounded her with two other female ‘mothers’, thus giving a unique taste to the piece. Manning highlights how this work embodied Wigman’s “self-mythologisation as the survivor, the victim of fate”.

Wigman died in 1973, but her legacy survived in the rise of another movement approach to dance, that is Tanztheater, with figures such as Pina Bausch and Susanne Linke. The final chapter of this book explores the reception of Wigman in the United States, a reception filled with neglect and distortions caused by the North American strife to create a national dance idiom.

Done into Dance

 This review also appear in one of my other blogs, www.dancescriber.blogspot.com, at this link.

Ann Daly, Done into Dance – Isadora Duncan in America [1995] (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2002).

This is a masterpiece of cultural history. Ann Daly manages to bring to life an iconic figure such as Isadora Duncan in a fresh and stylish way, going beyond the romantic stereotypes surrounding her legend and tracing an exceptionally well-researched portrait.


This is not a biographical work, but rather a monograph that looks at Duncan’s life and work from “a massive void” in what we could call the Duncan Studies, that is her body. As is known, in fact, there is basically no video available of her performances and most of the photographs we have were taken in a studio and were, therefore, carefully constructed.
Daly focuses on Duncan’s body from different angles. She dedicates a chapter to her dancing body which was the result of three interconnected “American movement traditions: social dance, physical culture, and ballet”. From the first tradition, Duncan gained the idea of dance “as a model of social, sexual, and moral behaviour”; from the second, the belief that dance could improve individual as well as collective body-and-mind conditions; from the third, she obtained material she could go against.
Another chapter is dedicated to the dancer’s natural body, a pure and powerful construction. Duncan repeatedly talked of the Greek culture as a culture in close connection with nature and “narrativized the origin of her identification with ‘Nature’”. This was a kind of nostalgic and bucolic response to the rise of modernity. In this sense, a famous painting from the Italian Renaissance, Botticelli’s Primavera, is used by Daly to exemplify Duncan’s complex relationship with what she saw as Nature.
Daly’s book is also highly informative of the period and cultural movements that influenced Duncan’s work, such as the so called “Delsarte System of Expression”, which
Established a harmonious theory of the human system: first, life, the sensitive state of the vital realm, expressed through the limbs and excentric (outward) motion; second, soul, the moral state of the moral realm, expressed through the torso and balanced motion; third, mind, the intellectual state, expressed through the head and concentric (inward) motion.
Delsarte’s theories were reshaped in the United States by his follower, Steele MacKaye and, more successfully, by MacKaye’s student, Genevieve Stebbins, whose work was quite influential among, besides Duncan, other modern dancers like Ruth St. Denis.
Through Daly's analysis, Duncan emerges as still a fundamental figure in dance and cultural history, but with a more refined and detailed contour. Daly’s study is also filled with beautiful photographs and artworks inspired by Duncan's dancing image.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

a couple of things about myself


I am an independent dance historian.

I am also a cultural historian (literature, culture, gender studies), a language teacher (English, Italian and Spanish), a translator (mainly English to Italian), a self-taught cartoonist, a blogger and an activist.
Rosella Simonari, photo M.T. De Roberto.

I was temporary lecturer (docente a contratto) of the Dance and Mime course at the University of Macerata, Italy from 2003 to 2007. In 2012 I completed a PhD in literature at the University of Essex, UK, with a research project on Martha Graham’s Letter to the World, supervised by Marina Warner. Before that, in January 2006, I had completed a Master’s Degree at the same university, with a thesis on two dance adaptations of Carmen.

After the degree in foreign languages and literatures gained in 1999 from the University of Macerata, Italy, and supervised by Marina Camboni, I moved to London where I continued my research on dance at Laban (now TrinityLaban), attending the Dance Research Programme (2000) and worked as teacher of Italian in places such as Cryodon College and CityLit.  In July 2002 I returned to Italy for family reasons and decided to stay there teaching English and Spanish as a private teacher and substitute teacher in public schools. In spite of this, I managed to frequently travel to the UK to continue to work on my research projects attending both the MA and the PhD as a part-time student.

In September 2003 I attended the NOISE Summer School, an advanced course in Women’s Studies promoted by the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands, organised by philosopher Rosi Braidotti. In 2006 I began a research on Italian music-hall dancer and painter Alberto Spadolini, research which is still in progress.

Roberto Lori in Simonari's lecture performance on Spadolini, photo M.T. De Roberto.
I have presented papers at conferences in Italy, Sweden, The Netherlands, England, Scotland, the United States and Spain. I have published essays and articles in English, Italian and Spanish mainly on Martha Graham, Carmen and Alberto Spadolini. I have organised dance-related events, such as conferences, workshops, meetings with choreographers and lecture performances. My research method is based on cultural and dance history and gender studies. In particular, I am interested in the relationship between dance, culture and literature. 

I was part of a Collective called Via Libera 194 that fought for women's reproductive rights. I am part of a Book Club called Libera la Lettura which is tied to the Centro Studi Libertari Luigi Fabbri and its rich historical, political and sociological archive.

At present I am a member of  SDR (Society for Dance Research) and AAS (Association of Adaptation Studies). I collaborate in Italian with the cultural journal Leggere Donna, in English I have collaborated with www.ballet-dance.com for ten years.

I have four other blogs:

It is in Italian and represents a kind of alter ego to this blog, but it does not necessarily contain always the same material.

It is in English and Italian and has exsisted since 2008. I use it to experiment new ways to talk about dance writing and relfect on my research, with poems, cartoons and articles among other things. With time I have began to insert other questions only loosely related to my studies. 

It is in Italian and was born on January 2014 as a blog dedicated to my language (especially English) teaching activity following a new method based on great stories mainly taken from literature. 

It is in English and Italian and has exsisted since 2008. It was born out of dancescriber.blogspot.com and is dedicated to a strip whose protagonist is the p.s. (precarious scholar). It is the result of a research I am conducting on the concept of precarity in the academic and not only academic world. 

You can also find me on:

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(updated on 9 October 2015)