Elemental themes are primary in Duncan dance. The body is in relationship with the earth, with water and wind and other natural forces. We teach small high sways with the image of tossing a flame from palm to palm. We are encouraged to catch each other’s wind as we explore ensemble improvisation. These aspects of Duncan dance are the reason why the movement is sometimes characterized as “natural” dance. We look to the movement of forces in nature to learn nature’s organic movement patterns in order to apply those principles of gravity, suspension, resistance, and release to our own bodies. Nature is dynamic. And Texas, this week, has experienced one of her most dynamic forces—fire.
|Pedernales One/Spicewood Fire, Highway 71|
Duncan, herself, was no stranger to the experience of fire. In our 21st century, Western world, we are relatively sheltered from the devastation and loss that fire can incur. In Duncan’s time, when more building was done from wood and the use of candles and gas and kerosene lights was the norm, incidences of fire occurred more frequently. In the first chapter of her autobiography, Duncan writes, “My first memory is of a fire” (My Life). She goes on to narrate having been tossed, as a young child, from a burning building. Later she writes of a time in New York, when her family lost everything in a fire in the Windsor Hotel, where they were living and where her sister Elizabeth was teaching dance. In fact, Duncan credits that second fire as the catalyst that propelled the family’s move to Europe, where Duncan synthesized her artistic ideas and found her audience.
In the natural world, fire purges, creates space, and clears the way for new growth. But its method is destruction and it is very difficult to hold hopeful space in our hearts when encountered with the loss of homes and relics of family history. As a result of the fires that have raged through central Texas this weekend, many families have seen their homes burned to the foundation. They have lost everything but their lives. Fire prioritizes our perspective. We are grateful for the preservation of life, and we experience directly the impermanence of the material world. We also realize that survival and new growth require the support of community.
There are many opportunities to give and to provide support for those faced with the prospect of rebuilding their lives. Firefighters are also in need of assistance to continue battling the blazes. The Texas Wildfire Relief Fund is organizing ongoing support (water, food, equipment, etc) for firefighters, and the American Red Cross of Central Texas is providing resources for those who have lost their homes.
Movement in Duncan’s work is ebb and flow, a rhythmic giving and receiving. The perspective of fire enables us to express gratitude for what we receive and inspires us to give to those who have lost. May we maintain such gratitude and empathy in all aspects of our everyday lives.