Monday, November 8, 2010

Selkie, a Sea Tale

Rather than pondering what Isadora would have thought of the selkies, I’m inclined to argue that she was one. Given her penchant for myth, her Celtic heritage, and the image of seal-skin-shedding selkies dancing on the beach in the moonlight, I’m kind of surprised Duncan didn’t animate their legend through movement. But, perhaps, the selkies would have fallen into that “nymph…fairy…coquette” category that Duncan was disinclined to dance, favoring instead “woman in her greatest and purest expression” (Duncan, The Art of the Dance).

Selkie, a Sea Tale premiere at
Obsidian Art Space in Houston
Of course, Isadora herself was constantly drawn to the sea, even narrating the beginning of her life story by declaring, “I was born by the sea, and I have noticed that all the great events of my life have taken place by the sea. My first idea of movement, of dance, certainly came from the rhythm of the waves” (Duncan, My Life).

The rhythm of wave movement is central to Duncan dance technique—there is a pulsation between doing and not-doing. The moments of not-doing, or complete repose, are difficult for very trained bodies to experience, but when dancers find that place of softness, they open up to the swelling of an internal impulse to move. Following this impulse, by opening the body to the possibilities of unencumbered momentum in motion, enables the dancer to explore great joy and freedom in movement. This approach also accounts for the organic quality of Duncan technique.

Yet, in creating movement vocabulary for Divergence Vocal Theater’s production of Selkie, a Sea Tale, I departed a bit from pure Duncan technique. Rather than initiating all movements from the center of the torso at the solar plexus, I began to carve through space leading with the distal tips of my fingers. I did maintain, however, a strong sense of my spine, from the tip of the tailbone through the crown of my head (or the long neck as we would say in Noyes Rhythm).

Selkie, a Sea Tale at Obsidian Art Space in Houston
Moving with awareness of the back of the body creates a different sense of embodying space—in yoga we analogize the back body with the universal and the front body with the individual. In some way, this exploration begs the question of whether moving with back-body awareness creates a more animal-like quality, while front-body awareness portrays beings that feel more human? Needless to say, I was gratified to hear composer Elliot Cooper Cole liken my seal-inspired, selkie movements to water—even while I departed from Duncan’s method of coordinating successive movement from the center to periphery, I maintained the organic, wave-rhythm quality, characteristic of early modern dance.

So Austinites, if you missed last weekend’s premiere in Houston, don’t fret! There will be opportunity to hear Misha Penton’s haunting voice, as well as the longing and lament in her poetic lyrics set to Cole’s evocative score, when Selkie, a Sea Tale comes to Austin next May—I’ll keep you posted!