'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

26 September 2010


click to enlarge
Rhythms for life. Movement of the body to reflect sadness, celebrate joy and reveal the essence of the subconscious where words are unnecessary. 
For the Ancient Egyptians music and dancing were an integral part of life. At parties, singers and dancers performed to the music of harps, lutes, drums, flutes, cymbals, clappers and tambourines. During festivals, priests and crowds chanted and clapped, carried along by the rhythm of orchestras, while dancers performed amazing feats, leaping twirling and bending their bodies in time with the music. Music and dance appeared early in the Pre-Dynastic periods (pre 3100 BC). Large numbers of musical instruments have been unearthed and banqueting scenes found in many ancient tombs include depictions of dancers and musicians. A satirical papyrus even depicts an ass playing a harp, a lion with a lyre, a crocodile with a lute, and a monkey with a double oboe. In the Pre-Dynastic period images of female figures dancing with their arms raised above their heads indicate its early role in ritual. Labourers worked in rhythm to the sound of songs and percussion, and street dancers entertained all.Troupes of musicians and dancers were hired for banquets and celebrations and even for the temples. A well-born Egyptian would however not dance in public. Others provided the entertainment. Priests danced in processions and the army had styles of dance. Muu-Dancers in kilts and reed crowns performed beside funeral processions. Men and women however were never shown dancing together. 
Around 3000 - 1400 BC the Minoan civilization of Crete developed music, song and dance, as part of their religious ritual as well as for entertainment. Dance was performed most often in open or closed circles around a tree, an altar, or special objects and later around a singer or a musician, but it also included couples and swaying dances of women choruses.
Young men always have and still do want to dance. In Ancient Greece dance taught balance to a youth and was a part of military training. Dance was also entertainment at banquets, just as it is at any festivity in most cultures. Men often dance together in the majority of cultures except in the English speaking West.
Beauty, physique and graceful strength still draw many to the art of dance. Youth has once again taken over the image of the dancer and high emotion as well as sex appeal draws more people to ballet then the gentle expression of once revered music. While the classic ballets still draw an old and a very young audience, it is the more energetic and modern Ballet in Australia that has always been popular and there are many national, state and regional companies that receive much deserved  acclaim. Choreographers abound and the works of the our companies fill our stages with works that honour our theatres and fire our imagination. 
In the history of modern dance there existed stars that inspired and their names remain legendary to this day. The Dance like all the arts had stars in the past, but like all facets of life, the age of the great personalities seems over and ensembles are the norm. Perhaps this is democratic, but without true heroes to inspire us I am not sure that greatness is achieved. There is often an ordinariness in art and the talents. Everyone wants to be ordinary (average?). There are great performers but their name is great today but surpassed tomorrow. The talent is there, but the grand personality is not. We in Australia call such things the 'tall poppy syndrome', where no one is allowed to be too great. They are admired, but if they get too popular we tend to knock them down, so once again everyone is average or at least seen to be. Perhaps it is only in Hollywood or teen music that heroes are still created by the media, but often too soon and within months as I said they fall by the wayside to be quickly replaced. Where are however those who deserved their own legend? Pride is perhaps not a great human quality, but I am willing to allow the occasional pompous personality to exist when their talent warrants it. I am not their spiritual judge, I just admire their talent and no more. Let there be more who know their superior rank in the arts.
Throughout history and contrary to modern imagery it has been vigorous male dancing that has been the centre of ritual and celebration. Women in many societies were banned from such activities. This is still found in many cultures. We often have the belief in the West particularly that as an art form it is feminine and gentle, but this appears to have been popularised in recent times, in part, by the influence of the French, particularly under the influence of the Jockey Club of the nineteenth century; a band of males who attended the theatre to talk and drink and admire the girls on stage The ballet was often added just to satisfy the voyeuristic needs of these, usually, young men of high society. This had little to do with the performance, but became part of the accepted fabric of entertainment. Even many Italian operas were re-written for the French to include a mandatory ballet sequence for the entertainment of the men. Vaudeville or burlesque for the mass entertainment, along with the rise of female liberation also led to the flirtatious prominence of female dance.

One American responsible for reasserting the status of the male dancer in the 30’s was Ted Shawn who founded an all male company which continued until 1940. He emphasised strong ‘masculine movement and subjects. The photo is of his students striking a pose naked in the open air.
On the return from Europe a few years ago and having spent the entire trip listening to a tape of Carmina Burana I was so excited to find it being performed here soon afterwards as a ballet. The evening of strong emotive and sensuous dance came to a climax as the full orchestra boomed and a curtain rose to show the 200 voice choir, white faced on black, mounted behind the dancers in a swirl of blinding red smoke as bodies soared on ropes into the sky. Just an image that has remained with me.

Another memory of great nights of Ballet was many years ago when the 52 year old Dame Margot Fonteyn danced act two of Swan Lake here. Fearing for her age we went with trepidation, but as she made her entrance on point and skimmed diagonally across the stage we left our seats to stand in the aisle so that no inch of her spectacular body in motion would be missed. As you might imagine the cheering was over the top.

I also saw Rudolf Nureyev Dance in Giselle which was a great and thrilling performance, but a tired old ballet for me. A ballet I have, in my life, seen far too many times, even in Shanghai. I do prefer modern and sensual dance.

James Dean having dance Lessons from Eartha Kitt
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