Monday, August 8, 2011

An Early Modern Dialogue

I have written before about the synergy between Isadora Duncan’s dance and the work of her contemporary Florence Fleming Noyes.  Both women developed movement practices in the early twentieth century that work with a high center and are informed by the line and shape of the body in classical Greek statuary.  Both women danced barefoot in tunics and in accordance with organic (or natural) movement principles. The work of both women has also been preserved and passed down through body-to-body lineages of dancers for over a century.

I came to the Noyes Rhythm work as an Isadora Duncan dancer, but my process in the Noyes work has been to shed my Duncan dance identity in order to enter fully into the Noyes Rhythm experience. My immersion in Noyes has, nevertheless, been informed by my Duncan work, and last week Lori Belilove, Artistic Director of the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation and my primary Duncan dance mentor, came to spend a week at Noyes as the Artist in Residence. The week also brought a few other Duncan dancers to the Noyes work, including Beliloveable Rachel Herzog, whom I also taught when I was working with Lori in New York, and Audrey Cozzarin, who came up for an afternoon.

What an amazing week! We had a full schedule of Noyes Rhythm work in the mornings and two hours of Duncan dance in the afternoons. It was a full camp, and the Duncan dancers opened up to the Noyes work, and the Noyes dancers caught the spirit of Duncan. It was great to see dancers from both practices begin to make connections between the movement forms. We also had informative dialogue about the different intentions of the practices and held space for the similarities as well as the distinctions. 

I do have to admit, early on during playtime, I realized that my dancing was more Duncan when I passed close to Lori and more Noyesian when I flew past Clio (Noyes master teacher Nancy Nichols), and it was a great challenge to let go of my awareness of the presence of so many teachers and just have my own playtime experience. We had some wild and fun improvisations this week, and our dancing was supported by the presence of two amazing pianists.

Saturday Night was a riot—and the irreverent spirit of Saturday Night was in full force when the two emcees opted to portray Duncan and Noyes time traveling to the year 2011. I ached from laughter when they incorporated Rachel into a skit as their mutual student and asked her to simultaneously dance as woman (Duncan’s perspective) and to embody animal rhythms (metaphor of many Noyes techniques). Rachel hysterically portrayed confusion when told she had no body and no head and was also asked to explore conversational gesture. After so many years of work within both of these techniques, I especially appreciated the push and pull of that particular skit.

There were several more serious memorable moments in the last Saturday Night of the season, including Noyes master teacher ThaLia’s (Barbara Luke) interpretation of a Chopin Nocturne, sharing the Duncan Tanagra Figures with the Noyes community, and Lori’s offering of Duncan’s choreography The Mother. I was also tasked with directing the last masque of the season, and I chose to work with the story of Danae, mother of Perseus.

In honor of the passing rhythm metaphor in the Noyes work, and of my personal experience of the passing rhythm between Duncan dance and Noyes Rhythm, I asked Rachel to dance Duncan’s Chopin Prelude as the first part of the masque introducing the character of Danae as a self-realized, young woman. Then a group representing the tower closed in on her, as she struggled for escape. We worked with a metaphor of creative, feminine energy that cannot be bounded and contained, and the group dancing Zeus’s shower of gold came down from the hill carrying lanterns through the darkness.  The two groups then patterned through space, circling and weaving together before moving into an image of Danae and Perseus locked in a barrel and cast into the sea. The masque concluded with a series of strong chords sending the dancers heroically off into the darkness—emphasizing the aspect of Danae responsible for gestating and birthing a heroic force.

I also made my recorder debut playing duets of two songs—“Cukoo” and “Oats, Peas, Beans, Barley and Corn.” After a few do-overs, and the realization that laughing while playing recorder does not produce the most pleasing tone, I managed to play something recognizable. Thank goodness for that, because during last week’s auction fundraiser, I did auction off a recorder serenade for next summer, and even though I have made my debut, there is still (whew!) ample time for improvement.

All in all—a rich and inspiring week. I am looking forward to an expansion of the dialogue between these historic, yet still so relevant, dance practices and the tunic-draped women that comprise these communities.