Saturday, August 13, 2011

Exploring the Arc

I've been reading one of my favourite books again this summer - "The Dance Technique of Doris Humphrey and its creative potential" by Ernestine Stodelle. The book was published in 1978. I was lucky enough to stumble upon it in a used book store in 2003. It was only $14 and includes that wonderful musty 'old book smell' that no e-reader could ever replicate.

Doris Humphrey (1895-1958) was part of the second generation on modern dancers in the USA. She, like the infamous Martha Graham, studied at the Denishawn school, and went on to be a driving force in the development of modern dance. She was instrumental in encouraging José Limón's talents and was the Artistic Director of the José Limón Dance Company from its inception until her passing in 1958.
Doris Humphrey / Photo from Wikipedia

Not only does the book gather many sources such as letters Humphrey wrote to her family, but it also includes stick figures and descriptions of some of the exercises and written excerpts snippets of her choreography! (Some of these exercises will find there way into our classes I'm sure.)

What I find most interesting about Humphrey is her inquisition into her practice. She seemed to always be asking "Why?" and her writings on the philosophy behind her movement explorations are just fascinating.

Humphrey was inspired by German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche's writings in "The Birth of Tragedy" - the idea of a split in the human psyche between our Apollonian side (rational, intellectual) and our Dionysian side. This manifested in her movement vocabulary through fall (Dionysian) and recovery (Apollonian) and dance is what happened in between these extremes, which Humphrey called "the arc between two deaths."

Reading about and physically exploring her work is a great reminder for me to always be open to sources of inspiration and the interchange of ideas between artistic disciplines and ... well ... open to life.

No matter how many dance classes we take, we are ultimately responsible for what and how we learn. I hope that by creating connections between my own experiences inside and outside of the studio that I can be as diligent an explorer of the "Why?" and "How?" of this artform as Doris Humphrey was.

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