Monday, March 7, 2011

Duncan & Stanislavsky

Constantin Stanislavsky saw Duncan’s first Moscow concert in 1905 and later recorded his impressions of her in his autobiography My Life in Art.  He describes his reaction as that of a “newly baptized disciple,” and expounds, “when I became acquainted with her methods…I came to know that in different corners of the world, due to conditions unknown to us, various people in various spheres sought in art for the same naturally born creative principles” (Stanislavsky, My Life in Art).

Duncan in Russia
Duncan and Stanislavsky met when she returned to Moscow in 1908, and he reminisces, “we understood each other almost before we had said a single word” (My Life in Art).  Both Duncan and Stanislavsky crafted their performance arts through their ability to organically convert an internal, emotional impulse into expression.  Both artists were able to achieve a state of being present in the moment and imaginative circumstance of performance and to respond with either dialogue or movement to the textual or musical cues.  Both artists sought to create a reciprocal dialogue between life and art, and they maintained a correspondence continuing their dialogue about their performance methods.

Duncan's Moscow School
Duncan wrote to Stanislavsky, “Today, I worked all morning and put many new ideas into my work. Rhythms again. It is you who have given me these ideas” (Victor Seroff, The Real Isadora). Stanislavsky wrote to Duncan, “You have shattered my principles. After your departure, I kept looking in my art for the thing you have created in yours. It is beauty, as simple as nature” (The Real Isadora (by the way, this book is the only source where I have found English translations of parts of the Duncan/ Stanislavsky correspondence— when I was in Moscow in 2005, I requested to view the letters, which are housed in an archive at Moscow Art Theatre, and my request was denied)). Although Stanislavsky was unsuccessful in his attempts to bring Duncan's school to Russia, in 1921, when Duncan finally did establish a Russian school, her students were frequent audience members at Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theatre productions.

Building for Moscow School 2005
Glimpsing the working dialogue between these two great artists is exciting. It feels kind of like being a voyeur through the lens of time. I wonder, at what point, they realized the parts they were mutually playing in the revolution of performance methods? I also wonder what texts future historians will use to gain insight into artists' creative relationships, especially as we continue to move into a paperless, digital age. Emails and texts have displaced old-fashioned letters as the primary means of written correspondence. But perhaps blogs, with their innate capacity to self-archive, will still be around to provide future historians some clue as to the creative practices and processes of artists of our time.

Look out for more ruminations on artists’ awareness of their own historicity in next week’s post—the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s final tour is coming to Austin.