Blogs The Green Room Dana Caspersen

Dana Caspersen is a dancer, choreographer and writer and a long-time member of the Ballet Frankfurt and now The Forsythe Company.

Categories, Beauty and Dance

Hello all, It was wonderful to be in Mpls, and it’s been a pleasure reading the beautiful and thoughtful postings. I have a few (belated) thoughts in regards to some of Lightsey’s postings that I have put together below: Lightsey, in your posts you commented (in italics): Dana’s words weren’t making so much sense to […]

Hello all,

It was wonderful to be in Mpls, and it’s been a pleasure reading the beautiful and thoughtful postings.

I have a few (belated) thoughts in regards to some of Lightsey’s postings that I have put together below:

Lightsey, in your posts you commented (in italics):

Dana’s words weren’t making so much sense to this observer. For example, the emphasis on “ decoration” and “ decorative” as pejorative terms. I’m not sure quite what was meant by that–what’s defined as decorative, in this style. I don’t trust the essentialism implied, though–the idea that this way of moving is somehow more pure, more animal.

By decorative I mean ways of using the body that are extraneous, in that they are not the product of coordinative integration. This has nothing to do with a particular dance style.

Actually, the movement reminds me of Fosse–that same torsion and tension, that same level of perverse detail. (A brief primer: classical ballet is very detailed–each muscle active–and controlled, but in classical ballet the overall effect is openness. Here, the details tend to be at sharp angles–kinks might be a good word.) This is really a compliment, because I like Fosse and I find that I like to look at this motion as well. Its complexity interests me, and its potential for expression of thought and emotion. But, like Fosse, this is a mannered style. It doesn’t resemble people in the street–or, despite what Dana said, my pet cat. (Lightsey Darst)

I am wondering what you mean by “ mannered”. Could you define that?

You mention that the movement in the workshop didn’t look like people on the street. This particular workshop didn’t have that as a goal. But you bring up an interesting subject: categories. Dancing is an endeavor that benefits from an active investigation into categories, because the ability to differentiate is what gives the thinking body its articulateness. Pedestrian (people on the street) is a category of motion quality, a useful one, but not all motion falls into the category of pedestrian. What I think is interesting is that there is no hierarchy of value among categories, there is only the question; is this category of motion quality effective in the environment where it is being utilized?

As I recall, when I mentioned a cat in the workshop I was commenting on how a cat’s entire body and focus tends to be perfectly integrated with its intention. The point being not to look like a cat when dancing, but to see this beautiful example of pure focus and connection and to consider how and when that can apply to our bodies in motion.

Control, articulation, intricacy, isolation- these are words that come to mind when I consider the similarities between Fosse’s work and the work that we do. These are all, however, categories of motion quality, not affectations or mannerisms, (unless they are executed in an affected way! which is another matter altogether…).

As I was saying to the kids from the performing arts high school, to be highly trained in multiple techniques, to be skilled, does not imply increased artificiality and does not detract from the ability to be authentic, but rather, in the best case, creates a situation where the possibilities for detailed expression are increased. The more subtle one’s grasp of a language, the greater the possibility for depth of expression. When I am working with people on dancing I am thinking with them about possibilities, not in order to limit the set of possibilities, but to enlarge it.

Thinking about your comments on ballet and beauty:

My other thought is about ballet. Ballet is, importantly, a aesthetic system. Its rules describe a canon of beauty. To turn the leg out this way and point it, always with the toes extending the line of the leg and the heel coming back toward the ankle, is beautiful; to turn the leg in and sickle the foot is ugly. At least, that’s what ballet technique tells us. We’ve been talking a bit about the space-defining nature of ballet–its geometry–but we haven’t addressed its description of beauty. I see Forsythe as taking that standard of beauty and warping it this way and that way–not to be perverse, but because our imaginations have changed. We now see the purposely sickled foot as another form of beauty. We love complexity and difference where our ancestors longed for simplicity, universality. I’m oversimplifying, of course. But it’s worth remembering that ballet’s beauty arose in a time and place. What beauty fits this time and place? (Lightsey Darst)

This is another interesting subject. I tend to agree with Roland Barthes that the classical is relational. I see the balletic primarily as a set of ideas about relationship: the body’s relationship with itself and with the room. I don’t think that it is an aesthetic system. Classical balletic vocabulary is a language, and its expression lies with the speaker. For example, I see the piece “ The The” as a piece that speaks in the classical vocabulary. Ballet is not a finished project and in my experience balletic technique itself does not direct us toward a particular expression of beauty, but rather toward a myriad of questions as to what it might become. I read a great quote this morning from Lord Tennyson who said “ The old order changeth, yielding place to the new, and God fulfills himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world.” I think it is important to distinguish between traditional ballet repertoire (which in regard to Tennyson I would see as a custom) and ballet as an artistic practice (that which fulfills itself in many ways). The balletic is contained in the great flow of categories of motion that are available to the human body; it is possibility, not end-state.

So, I think beauty arises through the classical, but that the classical is not a system predicated on beauty. What do you all think?